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Disinformation is intentionally false or inaccurate information that is spread deliberately. It is an act of deception and false statements to convince someone of untruth. Disinformation should not be confused with misinformation, information that is unintentionally false.
Unlike traditional propaganda techniques designed to engage emotional support, disinformation is designed to manipulate the audience at the rational level by either discrediting conflicting information or supporting false conclusions. A common disinformation tactic is to mix some truth and observation with false conclusions and lies, or to reveal part of the truth while presenting it as the whole (a limited hangout).
Another technique of concealing facts, or censorship, is also used if the group can affect such control. When channels of information cannot be completely closed, they can be rendered useless by filling them with disinformation, effectively lowering their signal-to-noise ratio and discrediting the opposition by association with many easily disproved false claims.
In espionage or military intelligence, disinformation is the deliberate spreading of false information to mislead an enemy as to one's position or course of action. In politics, disinformation is the deliberate attempt to deflect voter support of an opponent, disseminating false statements of innuendo based on a candidate's vulnerabilities as revealed by opposition research. In both cases, it also includes the distortion of true information in such a way as to render it useless.
Disinformation may include distribution of forged documents, manuscripts, and photographs, or spreading dangerous rumours and fabricated intelligence. Its techniques may also be found in commerce and government, used to try to undermine the position of a competitor.
In early 1799, a French fleet under Vice-admiral Bruix was to depart from Brest, bound for the Mediterranean. In March, the French purchased the chasse-marée Rebecca and in April, they sent her with four swivel guns and seven men, carrying a capitaine de frégate with false dispatches for Ireland and the mission to let herself be captured. Rebecca gave herself up to the hired armed cutter Black Joke on 27 April 1799, luring Admiral Bridport to Ireland, away from the route of the French fleet which successfully sailed south-west into Bruix' expedition of 1799.
World War II and Cold War
A classic example of disinformation occurred during World War II, preceding the Normandy landings, in what would be known as Operation Fortitude. British intelligence convinced the German Armed Forces that a much larger invasion force was about to cross the English Channel from Kent, England.
In reality, the Normandy landings were the main attempt at establishing a beachhead, made easier by the German Command's reluctance to commit its armies. Another act of World War II–era disinformation was Operation Mincemeat, where British intelligence dressed up a corpse, equipped it with fake invasion plans, and floated it out to sea where Axis troops would eventually recover it.
The comparative Russian word is дезинформация, transliterated as "Dezinformatsiya", and was used throughout the Soviet Union with a great deal of information about the KGB's activities coming to light with the fall of the Soviet Union. In 1992 the head of Russia foreign intelligence Yevgeny Primakov admitted the existence of Operation INFEKTION: an elaborate disinformation campaign which began in 1985, to influence world opinion to believe that the United States had invented the AIDS virus. This included the allegation that the purpose was the creation of an ‘ethnic bomb’ to destroy non-whites. According to senior SVR officer Sergei Tretyakov, the KGB was responsible for creating the entire nuclear winter story to stop the Pershing II missiles. Tretyakov says that from 1979 the KGB wanted to prevent the United States from deploying the missiles in Western Europe and that, directed by Yuri Andropov, they distributed disinformation, based on a faked "doomsday report" by the Soviet Academy of Sciences about the effect of nuclear war on climate, to peace groups, the environmental movement and the journal AMBIO. Another successful example of Soviet disinformation was the publication in 1968 of Who's Who in the CIA which was quoted as authoritative in the West until the early 1990s.
- Definition of Disinformation, Merriam–Webster, Inc. (online)
- James (1837), Vol. 2, p.256.
- Roche, vol.1, p.327
- The Propagation and Power of Communist Security Services Dezinformatsiya, International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence Volume 19, Issue 1, 2006
- U.S. Department of State. Soviet Influence Activities: A Report on Active Measures and Propaganda, 1986-87. Washington D.C.: Bureau of Public Affairs, August 1987., pg. 34-35, 39, 42
- Pete Earley, "Comrade J: The Untold Secrets of Russia's Master Spy in America After the End of the Cold War", Penguin Books, 2007, ISBN 978-0-399-15439-3, pages 167–177
- AMBIO, AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment
- J. Ransom Clark, "Crude, Anti-American Disinformation: "Geheim" and "Top Secret" Magazines: Purveyors of Crude, Defamatory Disinformation"
- James, William (1837). The Naval History of Great Britain, from the Declaration of War by France in 1793, to the Accession of George IV. 2. R. Bentley.
- Roche, Jean-Michel (2005). Dictionnaire des bâtiments de la flotte de guerre française de Colbert à nos jours 1. Group Retozel-Maury Millau. ISBN 978-2-9525917-0-6. OCLC 165892922.