‘Fake news’ in the US 2016 Presidential election. I have Facebook friends and relatives who repost without respite their unfiltered political or doomer or climate or religious mania. Used to be one encountered Uncle Frank once a year on Thanksgiving or at the 4th of July family picnic. No longer does an empty beer provide escape.1
Fake News is not new news.
I recently read ‘the Buzzfeed.com Trump Report’ wherein former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, hired to do opposition research for the Never-Trump Republicans, then for the Hillary Clinton campaign, distributed his Russian-sourced rumors to the world.
The Trump Report (‘Golden Rain’ among the cognoscenti) became part of a larger story that Russian intelligence services influenced––significantly, somewhat or not at all, depending on your political leanings––the 2016 US presidential election with ‘fake news.’
Any American adult 40 years old or more, has to have undergone a historical lobotomy to not know that Russia––be it Imperial, Soviet or the Russian Federation Russia––had attempted, attempts and will attempt forever to influence the internal politics of its ‘main enemy.’ Through most of 1980s I and other described in classified and unclassified channels Soviet deception/disinformation operations directed against United States domestic and foreign interests. I have elsewhere written (See article here):
In 1947 the KGB designated the United States ‘the main enemy’ replacing Great Britain. For much of the twentieth century the Soviet Union had loomed as a brooding presence over American political discourse. To some observers, the Soviet Union was less threatening, to others more, but to all a threat nevertheless. It was a state so obsessed and so successful with secrecy that it was impossible to perceive to what extent the threat against which the U.S. prepared so assiduously existed in reality or only in our fears.
This was no accident, as the Communists were wont to say. The flip side of the coin of secrecy is deception. Through the use of a formal deception program directed from the highest Soviet echelons, the Soviet State participated mightily, if covertly, in the US defense debate in the period 1959 to the mid-1980s. The Soviet leadership sought to guide the US defense debate in directions conducive to Soviet Union.
In the 1980s the US State Department chaired the Active Measures Working Group2, its purpose to identify, dissect and counter fall Soviet-sourced news (I.e. active measure3s) Conferences were held and textbooks written about Soviet Deception.4 The US responded slowly to this ‘perceptions management’ threat, but by the first half-decade of the 1980s U.S. Intelligence was documenting convincingly and in detail Soviet deception and active measures efforts so that any Soviet statement with which a U.S. Official might be confronted, dismissed it with a curt retort, dezinformatsiya!, 5 leaving the reporter feeling a fool.
That foreign powers take an interest in American politics should surprise no one. As Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau once noted in a comment to an American reporter, “Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”
Both enemies and friends eye the American electorate. Enemy and friend are mightily tempted to nudge the American electorate in their direction. Winston Churchill and Adolph Hitler, the former more effectively than the latter, participated mightily in the U.S. political process thus to harness US power to their ends.6
I am not overly concerned that revitalized Russian active measures campaigns will cause the the collapse of our republic, even were this the Russian objective. We learn to smile and ignore Aunt Claudia’s politics, but listen with interest that her daughter has ben accepted at Princeton. It is rather my sense, and only my sense, that incessant Soviet domestic deception caused the USSR to collapse from within. The Soviet state functioned on a principal that truth was fungible, to be wrought in a manner to further a goal. And the Russian citizen withdrew, quietly, cynically and deceptively (They pretend to pay me, I pretend to work.), his support.
Did the Russian Federation intelligence arms favor Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in the US 2016 presidential election? To believe that Russian Federation disinformation campaigners wanted to turn the election for or against either candidate is to grant the FSB department (formerly the Communist Party Soviet Union International Department) responsible for foreign deception operations prescience, but grant none to all US polling organizations, political commentators, news networks and the Republican and Democratic National Committees. Unlikely.
It seems rational to assume that the Russian Federation disinformation apparatus has the same purpose today as it has had for the one hundred years: discredit the ‘main enemy’, since 1947 the United States of America.
It is a rule of thumb among deception planners that a deception operations is proportionally more effective the more truth it contains. However, one can posit some sense in the ‘Golden Rain’ disinformation campaign. Trust nothing Russian sourced. There is an apocryphal story that when Felix Dzerzhinsky, the first chief of the Cheka, was seeking a narrative the undermine the White opposition during the Bolshevik State’s early uncertain years, Lenin’s guidance was ‘Tell them what they want to hear.’
Nothing new here, save that historical ignorance of Russian SOP burned an ex-British intelligence operative, BuzzFeed and CNN, and by association, America’s media. They are all no better than The National Enquirer. Gotcha.
This is unfortunate because the US media––NYT, WSJ and Washington Post especially––has been steadily publishing informed and astute articles on Russian Federation foreign and domestic deception operations.
1 Unfriend Uncle Charlie? Come on! Aunt Claudia must use some App to repost her OccupyDemocrat (or Breitbart.news) news feed. Can there be no App which sorts diatribe from graduation photo?
2 A working reporter would be well served to read the full document over his favorite latte at his favorite coffee house.
3 Active measures (Russian: активные мероприятия) is a Soviet term for the actions of political warfare conducted by the Soviet security services (Cheka, OGPU, NKVD, KGB) to influence the course of world events, in addition to collecting intelligence and producing “politically correct” assessment of it.
4 I use Soviet Strategic Deception by Brian Dailey and Patrick J. Parker
5 The Wikipedia article on Disinformation is quite good.
6 See here for books and documents describing British covert operations in Pre-WWII United States of America.