THE latest grisly accusation being made against the United States is that it is kidnapping handicapped children in Central America and shipping them to the US as unwilling donors of their organs. The story has all the hallmarks of a disinformation effort - part of the campaign by enemies of the US to discredit it, particularly in third-world countries.
A prime suspect as the source is the Soviet Union, a specialist in planting such phony stories in pro-Soviet newspapers in such nations as India and Nigeria. The stories are then picked up by the Soviet news agency, citing the local newspapers as the source. Sometimes the stories gain further currency as Western news agencies transmit them, citing the Soviet news source.
Some of the stories are so preposterous that US officials have been slow to officially deny them, reasoning that nobody will take them seriously.
That attitude is changing, especially as the flow of disinformation emanating from Moscow since Mikhail Gorbachev assumed power is as vigorous as ever. Some officials think it has increased.
They also pinpoint as a disinformation source the former Soviet ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Dobrynin, a sophisticated observer of the American scene for a quarter of a century. Now that he is back in Moscow, Mr. Dobrynin runs the International Department of the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee, which works closely with the KGB secret police in the USSR's disinformation effort.
The handicapped-baby kidnapping story, however, has not been confined to some abstruse newspaper whose journalists have been paid off by Soviet agents. It surfaced in debate earlier this month in the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe. There a Dutch member presented a report on the abduction of children from Guatemala and Honduras and El Salvador for adoption, and prostitution, and for the use of their organs.
American diplomats in this instance were quick to pinpoint the story as a probable disinformation effort and are actively working to trace the source.
The USSR is involved in several other bizarre attempts to smear the US.
One charge is that the US government, and specifically the Central Intelligence Agency, was responsible for the Jonestown massacre in Guyana in 1978, as well as the death of a US congressman killed at the scene. The charge is contained in a book printed in 100,000 copies and distributed throughout the USSR, including at the most recent Moscow book fair.
A second charge is that the US is developing a so-called ethnic weapon, one specifically designed for the Middle East, and another for Africa. In the case of the Middle East, the US is supposed to be developing a bomb with the Israelis that will kill only Arabs. In the case of Africa, it is alleged that the US is cooperating with South Africa in the development of a weapon that will kill only blacks.
Meanwhile, totally false stories have emerged in some Nigerian newspapers charging that the US used Israel to set off a neutron bomb in the Lake Nyos area of Cameroon last year, in which thousands of Cameroonians were killed.
The Soviets have also been having a field day with a disinformation effort alleging that the US is responsible for the AIDS problem. The accusation is that the Americans developed the AIDS virus as part of a biological-warfare program. According to the Soviets, the Indian daily newspaper Patriot was the original source of the AIDS charges. The story was then picked up by the Soviet weekly Literaturnaya Gazeta and propagated by other Soviet sources.