Disinformation is a word now everywhere in the news. Cleared personnel become more aware of the dangers lurking behind its strange purpose every day. Students of this practice can see how it has served to have effect without revealing the source of the information.

Half Truths are the Secret Sauce for Disinformation

First, disinformation need not be completely false. For example, if I say that thousands have died from a fuel or sewage leakage from your plant in a well-publicized environmental accident, that would be true. If I then went on to falsely suggest with no evidence that the accidental leakage was caused because your company didn’t care to pay for minimal protections of the people nearby, that would make the story disinformation. Outrage, demonstrations, even potential violence with demands to throw your company out could ensue.

This is because disinformation is not necessarily a falsehood. What is false is the spin, or suggested cause offered by some unnamed source.  The East German communists leaked to newspapers in unwitting foreign nations that AIDS was caused by a leak from a devious CIA laboratory. All the factors were there for ‘disinformation’. A little understood disease, developed under ‘apparent’ malicious circumstances by an all-purpose ‘evil’ agency, got loose. This satisfies the human need for closure – for understanding. Reduce the lie to a slogan, and the story spreads like wildfire. The beauty of this tactic is that you can’t prove a negative. “We didn’t do it!” is a cry no one wants to hear unless you can ‘prove it’. Try that with your kids who claim you ‘ruined their life’ by being chaperone at the dance. Simple but effective.

Disinformation from the History Books

General Ian Pacepa was commander of the Romanian communist KGB during the Cold War. He defected and brought astounding news with him. His agency had served as a surrogate for Soviet KGB disinformation actions abroad for many years. What’s more, time would show that other former East Bloc countries did  the same service for their masters in the Kremlin. Western politicians were smeared by Communist agents in stories leaked to friendly ‘third world’ newspapers as “Nazis”, ‘proven’ by forged documents magically discovered in lakes. The Pope was particularly targeted and ‘revealed’ as a ‘secret Nazi’ when the Soviets wanted to win close elections between Christian Democrats and Communist parties in heavily Catholic France and Italy. The Soviet goal was to bend elections. They found an obscure German play, “The Deputy,” which claimed Pius XII was a Nazi. No evidence but circumstantial and imagined evils substantiated this assertion, cleverly presented. Magically the playwright found his play demanded by theaters around Europe, and money for production flowed from seemingly benign sources. Soviet rumors spread, filling dinner table discussions in France and Italy.

Disinformation Has Goals

Disinformation begins when a goal can be achieved, not legitimately or in the open, but must be pursued surreptitiously, preferably behind ‘cutouts’. These are the ‘transmitters’ who provide deniability as to the true originator of the disinformation. If I wanted to spread distrust of a program, such as a classified program, how better than to make it seem that such an activity is run by ruthless fanatics who don’t care what damage to health or well-being occurs?

Today disinformation is even easier with the advent of the internet. I can target down to precinct and personal level. Private corporations employ such targeted advertising campaigns. Our own cybersecurity specialists have deployed to study Russian tactics in targeted countries, the better to defend our nation. We see this on the national level, yet it can indeed be effected on local, even corporate level as well, through use of accounts purchased on major social media. This spreading of disinformation is mammoth, because it is picked up by phony bots, transmitted as ‘real endorsements’, and then real private senders retransmit the lies around and around. Mission accomplished.

Understanding the Spin Zone is Crucial in National Security

Understand disinformation and how it can affect you and your classified work. If you don’t know where to begin, contact the FBI or your military counterintelligence support. They can help get you started.

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John William Davis was commissioned an artillery officer and served as a counterintelligence officer and linguist. Thereafter he was counterintelligence officer for Space and Missile Defense Command, instructing the threat portion of the Department of the Army's Operations Security Course. Upon retirement, he wrote of his experiences in Rainy Street Stories.