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That Time the K.G.B. Slipped Me Vodka

For those of us who worked in the old Soviet Union as reporters or diplomats, all the talk of “kompromat” and “dezinformatsiya” that has emerged with the Trump dossier — unverified — has been a blast from what we thought was a distant past.


In the Soviet mind-set, foreigners were a permanent but inescapable danger to be isolated in guarded compounds, monitored with ubiquitous bugs, followed in the streets, restricted in their travels and manipulated through propaganda. To be on the safe side, the K.G.B. presumably compiled compromising materials (kompro-mat) on foreigners so they could be blackmailed or thrown out if necessary.


Like many another foreign correspondent, I was the target of a few such attempts — or at least there were a few I became aware of. One time at the bar of the hotel in Odessa run by Intourist, the agency that handled foreigners’ travels, a young woman jumped suddenly on my neck as flashbulbs went off. In Samarkand a colleague and I were surreptitiously given vodka at an outdoor teahouse and then arrested for drinking it. Another colleague, a strict teetotaler, was slipped a Mickey Finn meant to make him look totally drunk. In each such case, we promptly filed a formal protest and thought little more of it, accepting it as the price of being Western reporters in a paranoid police state.


These tactics at times bore fruit. Diplomats, spies and reporters were occasionally compelled to leave over some sordid revelations. But as in the current case, these were usually unverified — kompromat, after all, ceases being useful once it is made public.


Even so, it had propaganda value, to demonstrate to the Soviet public how dangerous and immoral foreigners are. In fact, Soviet efforts to frighten their own citizens about the evils of the “imperialists” — and therefore to stay away from foreigners — were far more elaborate than anything we expats experienced. Vladimir Vysotsky, the great underground bard of the Soviet era, had a song about a simple Soviet worker who won a trip abroad and is then driven to total panic about the subversive temptations he will encounter in “that Polish Budapest.”

纽约时报中英文网 http://www.qqenglish.com/

即便如此,它仍具有宣传价值,可用于向苏联民众证明外国人多么危险和堕落。事实上,苏联用“帝国主义者”的邪恶来恐吓自己的公民,进而让他们远离外国人的行动,远比我们外国人经历的任何事情周密。苏联时期伟大的地下诗人弗拉基米尔·维索茨基(Vladimir Vysotsky)有一首歌,说的就是苏联的一名普通工人赢得了出国旅行的机会,后来却被迫陷入了对自己会在“那个波兰布达佩斯”遇到的颠覆诱惑的极度恐慌中。

It should not be surprising that some of these tactics have survived or been resurrected. Today’s Russia is not the Soviet Union, but Vladimir Putin’s regime has similar instincts — like labeling any foreign enterprise a “foreign agent” or denying hard evidence of doping among Russian athletes as an international conspiracy.

我们不应对部分策略得到了保留或恢复感到惊讶。今天的俄罗斯不是苏联,但弗拉基米尔·普京(Vladimir Putin)领导的政权具有类似的本能,如给任何一家外国企业贴上“外国特工”的标签,或否认给俄罗斯运动员使用兴奋剂的铁证,称其是国际阴谋。

In the spy-vs.-spy game, which is not unique to Russia, kompromat no doubt has had its victims — a diplomat blackmailed into spying, a meddlesome journalist forced to leave, a politician discredited. But in the greater game of geopolitics, meddling in another country’s political processes runs the risk of doing far greater damage.


The kompromat and dezinformatsiya of the Soviet era served largely to reveal the regime’s insecurity and weakness. It’s hard to see how it would help the Kremlin today.




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