SOME time ago, an official of the United States Information Agency sent a letter on official stationery to a US Army general, Robert Schweitzer. The letter was unclassified. Its existence was public knowledge. Vaclav Zluva, the press attach'e of the Czechoslovak Embassy in Washington, requested a copy of it.
The USIA official agreed to give the communist diplomat a copy of the letter, but marked it in a special way before handing it over.
Later, the Washington Post and the magazine U.S. News & World Report received copies, mailed to them anonymously, of a letter purportedly written by the USIA official to Sen. David Durenberger, former chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
The letter was a forgery. The official never wrote such a letter. The forgery described an alleged USIA campaign to smear the Soviet Union by exaggerating reports of the number of people killed at the Chernobyl nuclear explosion.
There was no such campaign. The forgery was an instance of communist-bloc ``disinformation'' designed to undermine the United States and influence public opinion against it.
Upon examination by experts, it became evident that those behind the forgery had used the letterhead and signature of the earlier letter requested by the Czech diplomat. But they had substituted in it a completely new text, written to Senator Durenberger - a letter never written by the government official and never received by Durenberger. The telltale markings made on the original letter gave the forgery away.
When confronted with the evidence, the Czech diplomat denied having been involved in the forgery, but admitted sending a copy of the original letter to Prague. From Prague it probably went to Moscow. Either Moscow or Prague then used the letterhead and signature as the vehicle for a disinformation forgery.
The forgery is but one of a series of recent examples of disinformation emanating from Moscow and other communist capitals pinpointed recently by the US Department of State.
In the USSR, disinformation is conducted by Service A of the KGB First Chief Directorate, which works in close concert with the International Department of the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee.
The significance of the current disclosures is that despite hints of reform and more openness in the USSR, and despite protestations of hope for better relations with the US, the Soviets continue a disinformation and propaganda campaign designed to marshal opinion against the US.
Using purloined official stationery and forged or copied signatures of US officials, the Soviets surface their manufactured examples of disinformation in a string of countries, often to journalists, sometimes to officials of third-world governments.
A forged memorandum from President Reagan to the secretaries of state and defense, and the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, was made available anonymously to officials in a Latin American country. They queried the authenticity of the document with US officials, who quickly exposed it as a forgery.
The forgery was printed on White House stationery and the signature was an actual copy of the President's. But the message was invented, intended to play on Latin nationalism and stir anti-US sentiment. It called for the setting up of an inter-American permanent peace force to be used in the event US interests were threatened by ``Soviet or Cuban expansionism.''
These and other recent forgeries show that, despite official words from Moscow designed to charm, and assuage American suspicions, the covert campaign of deception and disinformation continues.