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Disinformation is intentionally false or misleading information that is spread in a calculated way to deceive target audiences. The English word, which did not appear in dictionaries until the late-1980s, is a translation of the Russian дезинформация, transliterated as dezinformatsiya. Disinformation is different from misinformation, which is information that is unintentionally false.
The term disinformation began as a term of Soviet tradecraft, first defined in the official Great Soviet Encyclopedia as "the dissemination (in the press, radio, etc.) of false information with the intention to deceive public opinion." Former Soviet bloc intelligence officer Ladislav Bittman, the first disinformation practitioner to defect to the West publicly, described the official definition as different from the practice: "The interpretation is slightly distorted because public opinion is only one of the potential targets. Many disinformation games are designed only to manipulate the decision-making elite, and receive no publicity."
Disinformation may include distribution of forged documents, manuscripts, and photographs, or spreading dangerous rumours and fabricated intelligence. A major disinformation effort in 1964, Operation Neptune, was designed to defame West European politicians as former Nazi collaborators.
As KGB tradecraft
The extent of Soviet disinformation came to light through defections of KGB officers and officers of allied Soviet bloc services from the late 1960s through the 1980s. Disorder during the fall of the Soviet Union revealed archival and other documentary information to confirm what the defectors had revealed.
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: A Journal of the Human Environment.
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.
After the Soviet term became widely known in the 1980s, native speakers of English broadened the term as "any government communication (either overt or covert) containing intentionally false and misleading material, often combined selectively with true information, which seeks to mislead and manipulate either elites or a mass audience."
- Active measures
- Black propaganda
- Character assassination
- Counter Misinformation Team
- Denial and deception
- False flag
- Fake news website
- Fear, uncertainty and doubt
- Information warfare
- Internet police
- Mind control
- Post-truth politics
- Operation INFEKTION
- Active Measures Working Group
- Bittman 1985, pp. 49-50.
- Bittman 1985, p. 50.
- Bittman 1972, pp. 39-78.
- Holland 2012
- United States Information Agency 1992
- Earley 2007, pp. 167-177.
- U.S. Department of State 1987, pp. 34-35, 39, 42.
- Shultz and Godson 1984, pp. 37-38.
- Earley, Pete (2007), Comrade J: The Untold Secrets of Russia's Master Spy in America After the End of the Cold War, Penguin Books, pp. 167–177, ISBN 978-0-399-15439-3
- Holland, Max (2006), "The Propagation and Power of Communist Security Services Dezinformatsiya", International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence, 19 (1): 1–31, doi:10.1080/08850600500332342
- Bittman, Ladislav (1972), The Deception Game: Czechoslovak Intelligence in Soviet Political Warfare, Syracuse University Research Corporation, pp. 39–78, ISBN 0815680783
- Bittman, Ladislav (1985), The KGB and Soviet Disinformation: An Insider's View, Pergamon-Brassey's, pp. 49–50, ISBN 0080315720
- Shultz, Richard H.; Godson, Roy (1984), Dezinformatsia: Active Measures in Soviet Strategy, Pergamon-Brassey's, pp. 37–38, ISBN 0080315739
- United States Information Agency (1992), "Crude, Anti-American Disinformation: 'Geheim' and 'Top Secret' Magazines: Purveyors of Crude, Defamatory Disinformation", Soviet Active Measures in the 'Post-Cold War' Era 1988-1991 - A Report Prepared at the Request of the United States House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations by the United States Information Agency, Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office
- United States Department of State (1987), Soviet Influence Activities: A Report on Active Measures and Propaganda, 1986-87, Washington D.C.: Bureau of Public Affairs, pp. 34–35, 39, 42
- Taylor, Adam (26 November 2016), "Before 'fake news,' there was Soviet 'disinformation'", The Washington Post, retrieved 3 December 2016