A Brief History of ‘Fake News’

The original concept of fake news was called “disinformation,” an invention of Joseph Stalin, who coined the term.  Some writings from the time indicated that the Soviets in many cases considered disinformation to be a higher intelligence priority then actual intelligence collection. This appears to be a continuing philosophy, with intelligence collection left to independent hackers and the thrust of state sponsored intelligence going to disinformation (dezinformatsiya).

Disinformation is false information spread deliberately to deceive and cause chaos. Ion Mihai Pacepa, the highest-ranking defector from the Soviet bloc explained in his[i] book Disinformation that the ultimate measure of success for disinformation was when the major organs of the media coud be tricked into unknowingly propagating deliberate falsehoods.

But the Russians are far from the only ones practicing disinformation designed against political systems. The current investigations of alleged “Russian collusion” on Capitol Hill are the result of a disinformation campaign that was begun by the Democratic Party and continued when the mainstream media were fooled into publicizing the accusations as fact.

This is not to say the Russians weren’t involved. There was much made of the former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele’s “Trump Dossier.” The dossier contained a lot of unverified allegations against Trump that would lead the reader to assume the Russians were either in contact and helping him or that they had enough information to blackmail him once he was in office. What is less well publicized is that Steele paid for the information, that he paid what turned out to be Russian operatives, and that he was never able to verify the information he received. There have been attempts to breathe life into the dossier by pointing out that parts seemingly have been verified by recent independent revelations. This is, however, part and parcel of a disinformation campaign, finding ways to shore up the reports you have already pushed out.

Of course, this type of reasoning can drive you crazy. If any lie can be proved true, then what is true?  Actually, it’s not that difficult.  You need multiple sources to confirm a story and they must be vetted to be trusted. This is where the disinformation campaign falls apart. The deeper you dig, the less the “facts” hold up.

This process appears to be happening now with the investigations into the Trump campaign and the Russians. The so-called multiple contacts between the campaign and Russian operatives were a bunch of disconnected and unrelated data points. So-and-so met with this person that has a connection to the Russian government. Look deep and there is a good and legitimate reason.  President Trumps’ son-in-law attempted to set up a back channel to Russia. This is standard stuff and we only knew about some of it by intercepting the Russian ambassador’s communications with Moscow, that he knew were being intercepted and read. So, there was a meeting between Jared Kushner and the Russian Ambassador. This we know is true, but the exact contents may or may not have been revealed. If they were, it is still nothing, as back channels are a normal part of statecraft. We also know, or at least most believe, the DNC was hacked and e-mails released. This, however, is not a disinformation campaign since what was in the e-mails is true. This is a crime, as hacking is a crime, but it is not disinformation.

What was begun as a political talking point to explain the unexplainable, that Clinton lost to Trump, morphed into disinformation and is being carried so far that now the Russians have latched onto it to continue a campaign of disruption of the American government and political system.

What is happening now is that very good people are putting out misinformation, information that is not true but is believed to be so by those making the statements. Unfortunately, the process of countering the lies takes time and energy.  But as with Jared Kushner, the lies must be exposed and ended. I understand that the Dems would like to keep this going to win back the House of Representatives and the Senate, but the damage it is doing to the country is not worth it, even if it could work which is looking less and less likely. The American people are facing fatigue on this issue.

Disinformation only works if people refuse to think or find it easier not to. I ask all to please think about what is being laid in front of you and see if it makes sense.

Paul Davis is a retired Army Military Intelligence Analyst who began as a Soviet analyst and moved on to Korea and the Middle East and worked as a consultant to the Intelligence Community after retirement.  

[i] with co-author Ronald Rychlak

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