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How the KGB Weaponized Fake News (and How It’s Still Hurting Us Today)

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 27, 2019

The US government created HIV. The CIA killed Kennedy. The KGB deliberately spread disinformation designed to hurt the US and its allies for decades. In this excellent three-part video series from the NY Times, they show how this KBG program worked and how, under Vladimir Putin, it continues to affect world politics.

The first installment is an introduction to how the KGB wielded disinformation as well as a profile of one of their most successful operations: convincing the world that the US government created the AIDS epidemic. It took almost 4 years, but an article planted by the KGB in an Indian newspaper was eventually reported by Dan Rather on the CBS evening news, embraced by anti-AIDS activists, and believed by many foreign governments.

In the words of a KGB agent that defected to the US, the goal of Soviet disinformation was “to change the perception of reality of every American to such an extent that despite the abundance of information, no one is able to come to sensible conclusions in the interests of defending themselves, their families, their community, and their country.” It was a denial of service attack on the truth.

Fast forward through the end of the Cold War and to the rise of former KGB agent Vladimir Putin. Now Russia is creating fake news stories like Pizzagate which now form the basis of US domestic and foreign policy because our President watches Fox News every morning. In the second segment, the Seven Commandments of Fake News are introduced:

The commandments are:

1. Find the cracks in the fabric of society, the social, demographic, economic, and ethnic divisions.
2. Create a big lie, something that would be very damaging if you could get people to believe it.
3. Wrap the lie in a kernel of truth.
4. Conceal your hand, make it seem like the story came from somewhere else.
5. Find yourself a useful idiot.
6. Deny everything, even if the truth is obvious.
7. Play the long game.

In the third video, they look at what can be done to combat Russia and other players in this war of disinformation, and how ineffective the response has been on the part of the US government (including the Obama administration) and social media companies:

There are certainly no shortage of useful idiots for Putin to exploit. Fox News and Trump top the list along with the alt-right media charlatans, but YouTube’s algorithms, Facebook’s business model, and the everyday American citizens like you and me are also to blame. Add into the mix that Trump is also waging his own disinformation campaign against the American public, and there’s a lot to ponder and despair.

See also Putin’s Playbook for Discrediting America and Destabilizing the West.