Home / World News / Opinion | Operation Infektion: A three-part video series on Russian disinformation

Opinion | Operation Infektion: A three-part video series on Russian disinformation

“Co-exist!” May 21st, 2016 in Houston, Tex. This is an anti-Islam protest outside a mosque in the heart of downtown. “Our neighbors were slaughtered by these — ” And literally across the street, a counter-rally. “Pack it up!” “Take it home!” But not a single person here — on either side of the street — realizes they’ve been duped. They’ve been brought here — same place, same time — by two separate Facebook events, posts which we now know both came from the same source, thousands of miles outside Texas, in Russia. – [non-English speech] Cold War-style “active measures” in the American heartland in 2016. The same techniques, the same origin. Even the same perpetrators. “The military who prevented the hard-line coup from succeeding.” When the Soviet Union fell in 1991, pretty much everyone assumed that its disinformation apparatus died too. “Our government’s view was problem solved. No more active measures. No more disinformation.” It also meant the end of Vladimir Putin’s KGB career. But within a decade, he was back, first as head of the renamed KGB — the FSB — and not long after, as the president. “Putin is a child of the KGB. He spent years in the KGB being evaluated every year according to the active measures and disinformation he produced.” As soon as he took office, Putin got right to work. His first few years were spent testing disinformation inside Russia on Russians. But then he took it overseas, launching Russia Today, a global English-language news channel. It was soon available in millions of American homes with a memorable slogan and familiar faces. “I’ve been hearing about it. I’ve been reading about it.” Conflicts with Georgia, and then the Ukraine, gave Putin a chance to practice disinformation on a bigger stage, and he also started funding something called the Internet Research Agency, slowly putting his pieces into place. But Putin isn’t sowing all this chaos just for fun. All along, he’s had a single goal. See, in terms of population and G.D.P., Russia is actually a pretty small country, especially when compared to a unified Western world. But Putin knows that if he can pit the West against itself and break up our alliances, Russia is suddenly much more powerful and can take on other countries one by one. He’s trying to reshape the world order in his favor, and disinformation is one of his favorite tools. Now, to do this he’s using a carefully crafted game plan — a playbook of sorts — that he deploys again and again. “It’s magnificent in its conception.” “That playbook is designed to achieve a change in the behavior, perception and viewpoints of foreign audiences and governments.” Both Todd Leventhal and Kathleen Bailey fought Moscow’s disinformation more than 30 years ago for the U.S. government. “They are good.” And if you thought convincing millions of people that the U.S. government created AIDS as a biological weapon was audacious, wait til you see what they’re up to today. But first, we need to take a super-quick timeout here, because there’s an awkward question you might be asking yourself. “Have we ever tried to meddle in other countries’ elections?” “Hmm.” Yes, America is no stranger to interfering in other countries. “The U.S. has attempted to influence elections around the world for years.” But when it comes to disinformation, Russia is in a class by itself, with unmatched scale and sophistication. And unlike the U.S., with its myriad of investigations, Russia does it without even a shred of public or historical accountability. “We must never allow the end to justify the means.” O.K.? Time in. Now, do you remember Pizzagate, the one about Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring from the basement of a pizza parlor? It was everywhere just a few weeks before the 2016 election, and even inspired a believer to turn up at the restaurant with a gun. “A shooting in a D.C. pizza restaurant that was tied to a fake news story — ” But that whole story was a classic Soviet-style con, straight out of the playbook. “Look, there’s the playbook, and it’s been a playbook that’s been around for a very long time.” “And so they’re using that tool box in order to try and get what they want.” “So it’s a textbook thing that they’ve known about for 20, 30 years and actually taught as part of their tradecraft.” So this is textbook, tool box, playbook thing, whatever you want to call it, the experts we spoke to kept talking about it on these terms. Ed Lucas has studied Russia for decades. First as a journalist and now as a disinformation analyst. Dr. Claire Wardle is an authority on internet verification at Harvard. She’s been tracking online lies since 2008. And this is Clint Watts, former F.B.I. and military. He’s been shouting from the rooftops about disinformation for years. With the help of our experts, not to mention our spies and our detectives, we’ve reverse engineered the seven commandments of Russian disinformation, a time-tested, step-by-step recipe to creating the perfect fake news story. So rule No. 1, look for cracks in the target society, social divisions you can exploit and wedge open. “They look for economic, social, demographic, linguistic, regional, ethnic, any source of division.” “And how can we actually emphasize those divisions and actually make people lose trust in one another.” “So it’s like being a doctor. You have to understand a patient. Oh, he’s got a bad knee. He’s got a sore hip. He’s got a disease that causes weakness here. But instead of trying to make it better, we try to make everything worse.” Rule 2, create a big, bold lie, something so outrageous no one could possibly believe it was made up. “Also, so egregious that if they could get people to believe it, it would be totally damning.” Rule No. 3, wrap that lie around a kernel of truth. “Propaganda is most effective when there’s a little bit of truth in it.” “The most successful operations of that kind contain some truthful element so that the disinformation is eventually accepted as a whole.” Rule 4, conceal your hands, making it seem like the story came from somewhere else. “Nobody was searching about the origin, how it started, who published the story first. This was, of course, a method then repeated again and again.” Rule No. 5, find yourself a useful idiot. “Useful idiots are essentially people they would identify who unwittingly will take the Kremlin’s message and push it into the target audience, the foreign population they want to reach.” “They were idiots in that they didn’t see what was obvious, and they were very useful.” And what happens when those pesky truth-seekers try and debunk your fake story? Well, Rule 6 has you covered. “Deny, deny, deny. Even if the truth is obvious, yet deny, deny, deny.” “They will bluster their way out of things, because they’ve realized that our attention span is quite short.” And finally — and this is a really important one- play the long game. “Russia’s willing to play a long game, put large resources into things that may not bear fruit for many years to come.” “The accumulation of these operations over a long period of time will result in a major political impact.” “And if you think about it as a drip on a rock, today the drip doesn’t have any impact. If that drip hits for a long period of time — years — there will be a hole in the rock. And they know that.” These seven simple rules were a powerful weapon for the KGB, and they applied them again and again and again. But then something came along which changed the game entirely. “The internet has brought anonymity, ubiquity and immediacy in combinations that we didn’t have in the era of telex machines, and shortwave radio, and rotary printing presses.” “During the time of my involvement, one operation can reach maybe 100,000 people if the paper had a nice circulation. Now that’s ridiculous.” And with the internet’s help, Russia has scored some big wins. The explosion at the Louisiana chemical plant that was caused by ISIS. The deadly phosphorous leak in American Falls, Idaho, and the list goes on and on. There’s the claim MH17 was shot down by Ukrainian fighter jets. The thousands of Americans who supposedly petitioned to return Alaska to Russia. There’s the queen warning of a third world war. The Syrian massacre that never happened. Sweden adopting the Islamic State flag. A made-up attack on a U.S. Air Force base. Roy Moore, Brexit, immigration. And in stories that will sound eerily familiar, there’s the claims the U.S. was behind the Ebola outbreak and the Zika virus. From Black Lives Matter, to the gun lobby, wherever there’s been a division in society, Russia has used disinformation to pry it open, sowing chaos across the political spectrum. And now that you know the rules of the playbook, you can see how effective a weapon it really is. Pizza, anyone? To understand what really happened here, we need to go back to March 19, 2016, and just here, actually, Washington, D.C. This is the time and the place where hackers got into the Gmail account of Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta. “So the Podesta emails were the information, the power, the Pizzagate conspiracy.” And you can guess who was behind the hacking of those emails. “Tied to the Russian intelligence services.” Big surprise. In fact, we now know the hacker worked directly for the G.R.U., Russia’s C.I.A. The divisive 2016 election was the perfect crack to wedge open with disinformation and, well, the lies don’t get much bigger than a presidential candidate running a child sex ring from the basement of a pizza parlor. The playbook says you should mix little bits of truth into your lie and John Podesta’s emails provided loads of factual details to weave into the story. Comet Pizza’s a real place, and there were emails between Podesta and the restaurant’s owner. Rule 4 says you need a way to conceal your hand. Well, six months later — “WikiLeaks posted more than 2,000 additional emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta.” Using WikiLeaks was a genius idea, helping to keep its hackers in the shadows. Meanwhile, Russia continues to push the story with fringe social media accounts, all run from the Internet Research Agency. “Over 50,000 accounts communicated automatically and in synchronization we’ve never seen in the history of social media.” Meanwhile, there were no shortage of useful idiots who were duped into backing up the lie. “Pizzagate is real. The question is, how real is it? What is it? Something’s going on. Something’s being covered up.” Now, the story should be laughably easy to debunk. For a start, the pizza restaurant in question doesn’t even have a basement. But there’s a rule for that. “Deny, deny, deny.” So when intelligence exposed Russia’s WikiLeaks connection, WikiLeaks and RT knew exactly what to do. “We can say that the Russian government is not the source.” “Despite there being no evidence to prove this, Isn’t it nice to have your own TV channel? “If I had to rewrite RT’s slogan, it’d be question more, answer less.” “80 percent of their coverage is actually excellent coverage. And because 80 percent of the time they’re doing quality journalism, when 20 percent of the time they’re not, then it enables people to say, well, no, look at this. We are journalists. We have policies. We know what we’re doing.” With days to go before the election, the story had taken on a life of its own, the magnificent long game beginning to pay off. That said, even Russia couldn’t have imagined what came next. “A shooting in a D.C. pizza restaurant — ” Two insane lies, 30 years apart. One story took six years to take hold, the other barely six months. But they both share the same DNA, the same unmistakable trace of active measures and the same goal, to shift the world’s balance of power by turning Western countries on themselves. We’re at war, and we’ve got absolutely no idea. “Those were Russians.” “They were not Russians. I don’t go with the Russians.” And we’re facing a sophisticated weapon designed to bring down democracies from the inside, just as the KGB envisioned all those years ago. “Fighting war on the battlefield is the most stupid and primitive way of fighting a war. The highest art of warfare is not to fight at all, but to subvert anything of value in your enemy’s country, anything. Put white against black, old against young, I don’t know, wealth against poor, and so on. Doesn’t matter. As long as it disturbs society, as long as it cuts the moral fiber of a nation, it’s good.” “The virus that causes AIDS leaked.” “An assault rifle targeting a Washington, D.C. spot — ” “And then you just take this country when everything is subverted, when the country’s disoriented and confused. When it is demoralized and then destabilized, then the crisis will come.”

About brandsauthority

Check Also

Debate Tracker: Live Trump vs Biden Updates

Here’s what you need to know: Joseph R. Biden Jr. has now released the past …

%d bloggers like this: