The Industry of Lies During the Cold War and Today

Comeback or a New Premiere?

Comparison of the method and context of disinformation campaigns Infektion and Plandemic.

This essay is a part of the collective monograph on the Hybrid War. Its name is The wars between Smoke and Mirrors. The monograph will be published in November 2020 in Academia Publishing House, Czech Republic.

The term fake news has become a so-called buzzword over the last four years. Political and military deception today has many derivatives and forms (disinformation campaigns, cyber propaganda, cognitive hacking), which we summarize as the term information warfare. It is part of a growing security problem: manipulation of public opinion designed to influence the real world and its geopolitical coordinates.

Information technologies have changed our lives first through the speed of information transfer, then by their quantity, and finally their quality. The advent of the information age has been rapid; unfortunately, the knowledge economy has subjugated us, without adapting our institutions, without making sufficient changes to our legal systems, without even registering our lack of preparedness. Not only have we not adapted our institutions to the new state of affairs; we have not adapted our knowledge to it. Even today, our institutions are managed by people whose knowledge in the field of information technology is very limited. The punishment would not wait long. It came in four waves as the Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The state of cyber vulnerability came first. Many entities at the forefront of information technology development have ceased to be dependent on laws, starting with antitrust law and ending with citizenship privileges. Neither cyber nomads nor multinational companies often need these outdated rules or ties. Many of them use the insufficient IT literacy of institutions and individuals. They trade in data markets outside the reach of states and their legislation. They take anything they need or want through legal commerce or hacker attacks.

The second factor was the advent of data storage and analysis technologies. In 2005, when companies and countries were fascinated by today’s obsolete data warehousing technologies, few imagined what the direction of such a development would be. We are not yet at the end of it and we can already see that the analysis of data in petabyte volumes is capable of the most incredible operations, which predict with high accuracy and are able to target the correct units through the right information channels — boards, governments, voter groups and entire nations.

The third surprise in a row was the unexpected synergy of cutting-edge marketing practices and information operations based on behavioral psychology. Their cooperation resulted in an unexpectedly destructive, seemingly non-lethal way of fighting, for which we use the collective name information warfare.

The Covid-19 pandemic became the fourth “horseman” to set up a mirror for our unpreparedness for the onset of the new information paradigm. The Western world, with weakened cognitive abilities and unprepared institutions, had to face the intense informational influence of undemocratic regimes and individual actors. And it wasn’t even the least bit friendly.

This study deals with a small aspect of our current problem. The pandemic accelerated and strengthened the effect of misinformation on a global scale and underlined the danger of the essence of the modern information war. So let’s compare specific examples of today’s disinformation with similar campaigns from the Cold War, where we already have a wealth of documentation and experience. I will try to describe the different and identical features of two campaigns in two different epochs, to put both sets of disinformation operations into a contextual framework and to evaluate the main factors of effectiveness then and now.

I would also like to narrow the focus to one particular set of disinformation operations of Soviet origin during the Cold War and compare it with one particular current set of disinformation using modern technological dissemination capabilities. Both cases compared have a common basic narrative, which is the alleged origin of a dangerous infection. According to the creators of the disinformation content, in both cases, it was an “escape from American military laboratories”. In the first case, it was the HIV virus, in the second it was the new coronavirus. The first operation went down in history as Operation Infektion (it was named by the creators themselves), the second (current) is still waiting to be named, as far as we know.

Operation Infektion — the invisible climax of the Cold War

The Cold War era was characterized by clearly defined competition between the two power blocs represented by the United States and the Soviet Union. The overall balance of forces during the Cold War in the field of disinformation subversion was characterized by a high temporal and capacity advantage of the Soviets over their Western rivals. Kathleen Bailey, head of the American Active Measures Working Group[1] (AMWG), told The New York Times that the United States underestimated the Soviets. For almost thirty years, they have been reluctant to admit that Soviet information subversion, if carried out on a long-term, systematic and mass scale, could cripple the US’s international capacity for action and credibility while severely damaging its internal political situation. Politicians overestimated the technological, financial, and military superiority of the United States, and for a long time did not see these “soft ways of fighting” as an equivalent security threat. After the Soviet test of the Tsar Bomba hydrogen bomb in 1961, their attention was focused on nuclear competition. In the interview, Bailey also states that the AMWG (founded only in 1981) was heavily underfunded and relied on the voluntary work of specialists after working hours.

Coincidentally, Bailey led the group at the critical years of 1985–1987, when the United States struggled with the global consequences of Operation Infektion. It was this operation that became the first visible embodiment of the information war. Its effects were so tangible that it became the subject of negotiations at the highest level between Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan. Gorbachev, extremely interested in an agreement with the United States for domestic political reasons, on the basis of a direct confrontation with the facts, apologized and promised to stop the operation.

But let’s go in order.

Operation Infektion was (today we can confirm this with certainty) the most destructive disinformation operation of the Cold War and today is part of many textbooks of political and military strategy. Its course took place in the following chronological order:

On July 17, 1983, a small article appeared in an insignificant newspaper called The Patriot, in Delhi, India. It stated that a dangerous virus had escaped from Fort Detrick, Maryland, a secret biological weapons research facility. This was supposed to be the HIV virus. The report claimed that the virus was being developed in a covert program designed to exterminate the gay and African American populations. An interesting pearl is a fact that the American Church of Scientology inadvertently also helped to spread the rumours later. It provided the public with a wealth of material on the existence of Fort Detrick at its own request under the Freedom of Information Act in 1969. Thanks to this initiative, President Nixon eventually had to ban the research the same year[2]. It was this information that the Soviets later relied on to produce a “credible” story.

The AMWG was an interagency group with a range of information from the US secret services. They followed the Indian tabloid in question as a medium that had the reputation of being a “Soviet mouthpiece.” Therefore, the AMWG paid attention to the report, which initially had no general impact. At the time, the KGB made extensive use of the Indian media, and the Americans were well aware of it.

A year after the Indian premiere, the report was taken over by the Soviet newspaper Literaturnaya Gazeta, referring to an Indian source. The structure of the article also strikingly resembled the original source. It was a process called “info-laundry”, that is the theft and obscuration of the origin of the information. However, even after its publication in the Soviet media, the report gained no special response.

The coveted breakthrough came in 1985, as the Soviets advanced to the second and third phases of the disinformation action according to their own scenario, namely targeting the audience and finding a “useful idiot.”

They chose the African and African American populations as the target audience. For understandable reasons. At that time, AIDS began to spread at an incredible rate in Africa, creating the most prolific carrier of any misinformation: Instinctive Fear. That’s why they went to the African media. Africa suited the Soviets for many reasons. First, the narrative called Africans victims, which reinforced the natural dynamics of conspiracy theory: Hegemon, the imperial state, goes against ordinary people. And second, the United States was a very unpopular power on this continent (not only because of the persisting racism on its own territory but also because of the propaganda activities of the Soviets themselves). The narrative that the United States is the culprit of the epidemic was very catchy and built on many built-up and well-established prejudices. The choice of goal was important and manifested itself immediately. The news spread across the media on the African continent and began to spread unofficially from mouth to mouth.

Another, no less important phase (third) was finding an expert. In our case, biophysicist Jakob Segal (originally Russian, born in St. Petersburg in 1911) and his wife Lilli played this role. These were scientists from Humboldt University in East Berlin who backed its credibility with a scientific report. Their involvement in the event was personally managed by Colonel Rolf Wagenbreth, an officer in the East German HVA, [Main Directorate for Reconnaissance i.e. The Foreign Intelligence Service of the Ministry of State Security] whose disinformation department employed 60 people at the time. Unfortunately for the West, Segal was not only a fanatical communist but also a renowned scientist with a certain reputation in Western circles.

Colonel Wagenbreth presented him with disinformation materials to study and let him “draw conclusions” himself. The result came as expected. Seagal believed very easily that the imperialist enemy of communism was pursuing a bacteriological war, and he was very convincing in his role. The more colleagues expressed doubts about his conclusions, the more he tried to prove them wrong. He became a zealous advocate and a victim of his own prejudices.

It was this scientific report[3] that became a tool to dispel any doubts, and the media also quoted it frequently. This then played a significant role in spreading disinformation on another continent, in Asia. Operation Infektion arrived on the scene in 1986. This expanded its scope worldwide and quickly overcame any obstacles.

In the same year, it orbited the globe and anchored in the media of the originally selected target countries. In Britain, it launched the campaign with an article in the Daily Express. In order for the Soviets to overcome a possible psychological obstacle (the „expert“ was from East Germany, and also from the communist bloc), they found a local expert who played the role of a useful idiot locally. This role was played by Dr. John Seale, a doctor from the prestigious Harley Street [a healthcare and research district] in London.

On March 30, 1987, the disinformation operation reached its peak. Dan Rather, a star of American journalism, began a news report on CBS: “A Soviet military publication claims that the US government …[4]” followed a narrative repeated exactly according to the script. What is interesting about today’s amount of knowledge, however, is the fact that even such information is properly framed and presented if it is exciting enough, it is considered to be true. Today, we already know that the Russian origin of disinformation does not matter if the target audience is ready to believe.

In the United States, this misinformation has fueled disputes over racial hatred, which are still latent in the American population. The disinformation fell on fertile ground and took hold very quickly.

Ladislav Bittman, a Czechoslovak disinformation specialist who had fled to the United States, was the first to point out the norm of the Soviet disinformation scenario, namely that any successful disinformation must be based on a small core of truth[5]. This was the fact that the US Biological Weapons Research Center was actually located at Fort Detrick. The spread of disinformation was also helped by the unclear origin of the virus, which could not be reliably determined for a long time. It was also Bittman who later estimated that Operation Infektion in the United States would affect hundreds of thousands of people.

In parallel, the East German HVA succeeded in a great piece of news. The author of thrilling bestsellers Johannes Mario Simmel published the novel With the clowns came tears, a book about the ruthless biological war between the U.S. and the USSR, where he quoted Segal in the introduction. The disinformation operation has simply entered a phase where disinfo becomes a subcultural legend[6]. Its effects were astounding. It has severely damaged American foreign policy relations in Africa and Asia and has enormously increased racial tensions on the domestic scene.

In 1992, head of the SVR [Foreign Intelligence Service] Yevgeniy Primakov publicly proclaimed that Russia was the author of the operation [7].

During the period during which the Active Measure Working Group monitored the effects of active measures and misinformation of Soviet origin, it was possible to compile a kind of “playbook”[8] according to the recurring pattern of operations. This scheme was later confirmed in their works by all major defectors who had something to do with Active Measures (Bittmann, Bezmenov, Pacepa, Kalugin).

The essence of the scheme is to find cracks in the functioning of society. Find anything that prevents it from constructively solving problems, removing obstacles and conflicts, and defending itself effectively. One needs to look everywhere. In economics, in cultural narratives, in demography, anywhere. These cracks need to be studied as a doctor studies a disease. Instead of treatment, however, you prescribe the escalation of symptoms.

1. Create a BIG LIE. It must be a lie so large that people would doubt that anyone would be able to think up such a story at all.

2. Find a core of truth. A big lie must be created on a small basis of truthful information and based on pre-existing facts, but also prejudices and opinions.

3. Launder the source. Conceal the origin of the information so that it appears that its source is someone completely different, with whom the perpetrator of the misinformation has no obvious connection.

4. Find a useful idiot: a person with a reputation in the target group or in the target country who can act as a disinformation promoter. By manipulation, this public authority must be persuaded to accept disinformation and defend it to the core.

5. Deny, deny, and again deny. There is no need to comment on this rule, which was repeatedly quoted by the Soviet defector Oleg Kalugin.

6. Play the long game. During the Cold War, a successful disinformation campaign was calculated for five years and above. The Soviet regime also assumed that disinformation should produce an incredible amount and not cease producing it under any political circumstances. Each KGB agent had to spend 15 percent of its activities on the production of misinformation, and according to the effectiveness of this activity, it was then personally evaluated at the end of each year. Disinformation was an integral part of the life of the Russian secret services. Up to 15,000 people took part in their production in the USSR (but it was also misinformation intended for the inside of the state, not only for foreign countries).

If we summarize the main features and context of the most successful disinformation campaign of the Cold War, we will find the following significant facts:

Internal aspects of the operation

· Long preparation and duration;

· A narrative against the United States, aimed at a split between White and Black populations, between heterosexuals and homosexuals;

· The origin of the information needed to be laundered several times before reaching the U.S. 1[9];

· The role of a useful idiot was played by an ideologically kindred scientist of Russian origin who hated America.

Contextual signs of the operation

· The operation took place in an asymmetric environment. The Soviets did not have to fear retaliation on their own territory (absolute control of information sources) and knew that the only thing left for the United States was to devise a defensive strategy;

· Friendly Eastern European secret services assisted in the operation [10];

· The operation was led and financed directly by the Soviet state — its secret services with the knowledge of the relevant part of the apparatus;

· Only the media in India and Africa used intermediaries; the others had to be manipulated;

· No external subcontractors were involved in the operation and it was highly confidential.

Defence context

· Defense against the operation came in late, after many years of inaction by U.S. administrations against this Soviet strategy;

· A small interagency group was created, which was underfunded and its human capacity did not correspond at all to the predominance of the information aggressor;

· The “expose Russia” strategy chosen by the AMWG was effective mainly because, after Gorbachev came to power, the Russian “leadership” became interested in an agreement with the United States for various reasons, and Gorbachev preferred this agreement rather than the Russian secret services’ strategic goals defined in long-term concepts;

· Defectors to the American side helped to understand the standard methodology of operation and the creation of disinformation campaigns.

Operation Plandemic: Return of the Cold War or the beginning of a new quality of power games?

The massive comeback of the use of Cold War instruments in the struggle for power, territory and financial influence has been taking place since about 2004 when Russian foreign policy began to react sharply to the events of the Ukrainian Orange Revolution. “The emphasis on the linguistic connection has led Kremlin political technologists to the idea of ​​creating unified, linguistically interconnected information space in order to influence narratives and interpretations of events.[11] Russia came up with the massive concept of influencing the information space first and brought it to a high degree of perfection. But today it is no longer alone. In recent years, we have seen the involvement of other players in the field of misinformation: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and others. Right now, as you read this work, the media of Russian and Chinese propaganda surpassed in the reach (reach and share) the capacity of world-renowned media, according to a study by The Computational Propaganda Project at Oxford University[12].

Thanks to advanced information technologies, the paradigm of the environment and the method have fundamentally changed. At present, we are no longer talking about the media or channels of narrative dissemination, but about entire dissemination ecosystems. The spreading ecosystem is basically a complex of information units cooperating in taking over, sharing, commenting on and enriching basic Russian narratives. These units include social media accounts associated with live people or robotic software, data experts, meme-boards, disinformation media, extremist media, mailing lists, blogs, videos, podcasts, some journalists, public figures and other disseminators. The author of the term spreading ecosystem is Dr. Jonathan Albright of the Berkman-Klein Center at Harvard, [13] a specialist in disinformation dissemination analysis.

Today, the creation of disinformation is no longer based on a single-center, which is subject to rigid rules of organization and hierarchy, or the requirement of absolute secrecy. Instead, the Russians chose the path of intermediaries, subcontractors, and helpful idiots as the most important players in the industry — all at once. Various actors are involved in the production and distribution of disinformation, from subordinate Russian and Russian-controlled oligarchs who hire subcontractors in target countries, through “proxy media” and pseudo media that do not cooperate with the Kremlin components in any visible way. Also, through troll factories of false debates and false counterfeits to circles of domestic sympathizers and consumers of conspiracy theories, who run this activity voluntarily and with enthusiasm, driven by various personal motives.

The second part of our comparison, therefore, is a series of disinformation campaigns conducted during April and May 2020, shortly after the spread of Covid-19 reached the dimensions of a pandemic. In the monitored period, according to several top workplaces dealing with data tracing of individual disinformation operations, a system of similarly constructed disinformation appeared, which by its narrative and structure resemble the former Operation Infektion.

In response to the beginning of the era of modern disinformation campaigns, an inter-ministerial agency known under the acronym GEC (Global Engagement Center) was established in the U.S. in 2016, which, together with the U.S. Department of State has the mandate to combat disinformation.[14] As before, the AMWG aims to uncover Russia’s disinformation strategy and methods. The aim is to inform allies and the public about ongoing events so that disinformation goals are not met. Sufficient information should create conditions for resilience.

This center issued the Pillars of Russian Disinformation and Propaganda Ecosystem report in August 2020[15]. It identifies several different levels of cooperation with Russian creators of disinformation narratives, from completely obvious to unprovable ties. In the shielding from the center and the enormous number of these “proxy voices,” there lies one of the essential features of the modern method. Above all, the report thoroughly analyzes the key middle level — “proxy voices” — i.e. disseminators with a partial connection to official Russian structures or disinformation media (thanks to the system of the internal organization of information distribution in Russia, these sources merge).

The GEC notes one Russian foundation, one think tank with ties to military structures, one Canadian circle of Western intermediaries, and four disinformation Russian branches. Their numbers of followers are not noticeably high, because they are mainly workshops for cultivating narratives and recruiting talented authors. The lowest, third level of disseminators takes care of the real million-user reach, namely accounts and pages on social networks, robotic accounts and variously interconnected media of the disinformation scene, which usually no longer have a direct connection to state actors, only take over their narratives and push them inside the circle of its consumers.

The third — the lowest — propagation level is used for amplification and can no longer be referred to as a “proxy”. It is a separate distribution network, which can be filled with custom narratives to order; the customer can be anyone, it does not have to be just Russia. This level and its relationship to the whole structure of the disinformation ecosystem is very clearly mapped in the White Paper of the Taiwanese research firm Trend Micro[16]. It offers a very clear insight into the organizational structure of the Russian and Chinese propaganda machinery. Its authors, developers and security experts Gu, Kropotov and Jarochkin, provide even to a less familiar eye with an insight into both concepts of the disinformation “machine”.

The study mainly maps the technological tools used in marketing and their hierarchy in propaganda use. These are mainly tools that marketers know under the following names:

Content Marketing Service (CMS)

Analytics Services (AS)

Social Media Promotion

Content Takedown

Click Farms

Online vote manipulation (hacking)

The study also notes the comprehensive concept of Russian technologies, which it compares to the business concept of “one-stop-shop”, thus anticipating its rentability. Here, too, Online vote manipulation and Petition manipulation appear as an offered service.

The study explains the motivations of state and private actors hidden behind the production of disinformation. It is unique in that it does not omit private actors and creates a kind of technological map of the use of the disinformation mechanism.

Let’s go back to the study of the American GEC for a moment. In the current of pandemic disinformation campaigns, now popularly called “COVID hoaxes”, we will stop at the western part of the network of disseminators and intermediaries. It is the Ottawa Center for Research on Globalization (with the Global Research website) under the leadership of Michel Chossudovsky, a Canadian conspiracy creator of Russian-Irish descent.

The center is of note not only because it has many times more supporters and shares in the world than other intermediaries closer to Russia. The number of supporters and the sharing of content in this middle level of disinformation is not so important. The platform functions as the author’s incubator, as a recruitment unit of “useful idiots”, ie people with authorship or scientific prestige, which the average Western reader does not identify as misinformers on their websites. Global Research also serves as a source of “Western-style” citations. It is also interesting that the media of the Czech disinformation scene also like to search for and quote this center.

Michel Chossudovsky has contributed to the spread of almost all key Russian disinformation narratives, including those related to Russia’s engagement in Syria[17]. That is why he got into the search for specialists for disinformation operations in NATO[18]. Recently, especially in the time of Covid-19, it has also played the role of a narrative “proxy station” for Chinese disinformation activities. A noteworthy fact is that the advertisement of the interconnection with other intermediaries of the Russian disinformation scene disappeared from the Global Research website during the same week that the British media dealt with the scandal of exposing the practices of Cambridge Analytica.

Other, most university sources [19], which deal with the monitoring of narratives and amplification within these disinformation ecosystems, recorded the occurrence of the six most important disseminated topics during the period observed.

· Origin of the virus in the U.S., escape from military laboratories (faithfully copies Operation Infektion. China in particular benefited from this, and it was in its interest to divert attention from the origin of the virus in any way. Dishonest intentions of vaccine manufacturers, explanation of their “global conspiracy” with global elites, microchipping

· Bill Gates is the author of the virus so he can sell the vaccine and to chip people;

· The effectiveness of the alleged miracle drug, the antimalarial hydroxychloroquine;

· The 5G network causes Covid-19;

· Video Plandemic, which combines all the previous elements and adds a “scientific explanation” of why not wearing masks;

· Seventh is sometimes added to these six topics — drinking or injecting disinfectant into the veins. This topic far outperformed all the others, but it was not possible to reliably determine how much of the contributions were made by President Trump’s statement as making fun. Researchers, therefore, had to inadvertently omit this narrative from the statistics.

All these narratives appeared at different times in the examined middle level of “proxies”, from where they travelled to the lowest level of the ecosystem, intended for mass spread. Zignal Labs, a research company that monitors the amount of content distributed based on the analysis of large volumes of data, identified the hoax about Bill Gates[20] as the strongest narrative in April and May 2020. In contrast, the Plandemic video showed a remarkable rapid acceleration of spreading; within a few days, the number of shares rose to 2.5 million. Plandemic was far from the success of other narratives[21], although a subculture of the world’s followers, the aggressive conspiracy theory QAnon, which, after being forced to removed the video from Facebook and YouTube, was involved in spreading it under other names, was the main contributor to its dissemination. This movement is also developing its activities in the Czech Republic, and the Plandemic video was also disseminated in Czech.

The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene mentions in its latest study on the relationship between disinformation and human health damage that consuming a single item of disinformation — the recommended treatment for Covid-19 by drinking or injecting disinfectant — has already claimed 800 deaths and 5,900 hospitalized with serious health consequences. The study also looks at other disinformation narratives based on the cultural specifics of different countries in the world. [22]

The spread of COVID hoaxes is also interesting in that they overlap with domestic issues of American political disputes[23]. The ecosystem of their spread is often involved in other information operations, such as disputes over the Black Lives Matter[24], movement, misinformation about the Yellow Vests, protests in Hong Kong, the Antifa, George Soros or the harmfulness of vaccination.

As defined in the New York Times interview, Dr. Claire Wardle from the Berkman-Klein Center at Harvard, modern types of disinformation campaigns are characterized by great variability in the method and choice of media. In 2016, she identified six types of basic disinformation genres.

1. Authentic material set in a fictional context

2. Fraudulent sites that mimic existing media by design or name

3. Disinformation media

4. Disinformation contents in common media

5. Manipulated content

6. Parodic and memetic use of disinformation narratives

An interesting phenomenon was noticed by Joan Donovan from John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. The Source Hacking[25] strategy has been in place in these operations since 2016. It is a strategy of creating groups of fake accounts on the network, which subscribe to the rhetoric of the opposite part of the political or opinion spectrum. The purpose is to unleash a cultural war that has the potential to escalate into violent clashes. In this case, it was American right-wing extremists who (like the Russians who started in 2016) formed fictitious groups of Black Lives Matter and Antifa accounts and gradually radicalized them in rhetoric to create a recruitment platform for street clashes and the popularity of their own extremist movement has risen.[26]

Compared to the Cold War, we see that there has been a significant shift in quality and context. Let’s sum it up.

Internal features of disinformation operations using COVID pandemics:

• Short preparation and duration. It is on the order of hours to days;

• The narrative against the United States and aimed at splitting among the population remains;

• The origin of the information was laundered only once and then anonymized by taking over within the third level of dissemination in the ecosystem;

• The role of a useful idiot was again played by an ideologically-related scientist (of Russian origin) who hated America. This time it was Michel Chossudovsky. And some other scientists: for example in the Plandemic video, were served by former scientist Judy Mikovits.

Contextual signs

• The operation was again — as during the Cold War — conducted in an asymmetric environment (absolute control of information sources in Russia and, in addition, Russian dominance and lead in leading information warfare);

• The operation was assisted by subcontractors around the world and many volunteers, cultivated in the process of creating thematic media groups on social networks;

• The operation was conducted and financed from various centers; more actors can be expected to benefit from it;

• It used disinformation media as intermediaries around the world, only some of them visibly associated with Russian actors;

• The secrecy of the operation did not need to be ensured, as it took place in many locations at once and was about an hour during which each new misinformation came into world circulation;

• The third level of spreading began to function from a certain period as a separate amplification network “for rent”, where it was used to its advantage by China.

Defence context

• Russia is losing its exclusive position in the field of misinformation. With the advent of the multipolar world, other state actors emerged;

• Strong financial interests of non-state players came into play. This situation makes it extremely difficult to identify the origin of disinformation campaigns and, above all, to defend against them. We cannot say with certainty that all COVID hoaxes are of Russian origin. There is growing evidence that the third level of dissemination is also used by other actors;

The Computational Propaganda Project at the University of Oxford in July 2020 shows that the vast majority of the spread of misinformation during the pandemic probably benefited China or Russia (in addition, 42% of such acts took place in Chinese and 56% in Russian[27]).

In the case of the COVID hoaxes, the reaction of Western governments was relatively forceful and rapid, especially compared to the previous long period of inactivity or incompetence. They have managed to isolate some of the most dangerous misinformation, unmask their carriers, or mark it as untrusted content. The threat of a sharp rise in the number of deaths has suddenly helped bring about a change that has seemed impossible for years — not least because of the opposition of social network managers and stakeholders.

In conclusion:

During the Cold War, when the production of disinformation content essentially relied on the classical structure of media work ( communication technologies allowed disinformation content only a one-way communication flow) it was necessary to pay attention to the quality of the content. Qualitative disinformation was forced to respect the requirements of the framework of which it was a part. Its basic points of support remained the journalistic “who, what, when, where, why”.

With the advent of the new era and Big Data, the quality of disinformation efforts is determined by the basic quality criteria of data operations in general: “Volume, velocity, variety, veracity” (in terms of data consistency and accuracy). Their combination then creates a final quality, a new one, and that is virality.

Operation Infektion lasted six years. A series of similar disinformation about Covid-19 lasted barely six weeks. However, the effectiveness was incommensurable. The reach of Operation Infektion was estimated by the then expert ( Bittmann) at hundreds of thousands of people[28]. However, if one looks at the original AMWG report from 1987, you will find in Appendix E a list of the world’s media that have taken over and disseminated the narratives. It is clear from it that the damage was many times higher.[29] On the other hand, there are numbers about a single hoax about Bill Gates, one of many of its kind. Bill Gates’ contextually manipulated video was viewed by 25 million people in April alone, with up to 40,000 posts per day during the culmination of the campaign (an average daily increase of 18,000 new mentions per day). And we are talking about only one of the myriads of narratives created in the short period of the ongoing pandemic.[30]

The implementation of operations then and now differs mainly in priorities. In the past, due to secrecy, it was necessary to keep organizational work within the structure of the state and secret services, while today there is a clear preference for quantity over quality, so that production takes place in many centers at once. The most destructive element of current operations compared to those of the Cold War is, of course, the easy availability of a third-level amplification “machine” using information technology and social networks. In particular, social networks have long operated on a first-come, first-served basis, without anyone realizing the risks involved in using this tool for the third level of the disinformation ecosystem.

In the field of cyber warfare, it is already clear what is and what is not an act of aggression, and we are slowly moving towards the ability to assess individual types of this aggression in legal language. We are not even approaching anything like this in an information war, even though the damage caused by it is slowly occurring and even though its effects are long-term, often irreversible, with deeply destructive potential. In the field of cyber warfare, no one objects to the evil intent of the attacker, but in the field of information warfare, we still do not find a way to clearly define the act of information aggression as a necessary condition for retaliation.

The European Union was once formed as a trading community of states that decided to jointly control the resources needed for warfare: coal, steel, and later nuclear materials and research. We are in the twenty-first century. It is high time to assign Big Data to these sources. Yesterday was too late.

Resources cited

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GEC Special Report: Russia’s Pillars of Disinformation and Propaganda. (2020). Uploaded from United States Department of State:’s-Disinformation-and-Propaganda-Ecosystem

Gross, T. E. ( 2018). Inside The Russian Disinformation Playbook: Exploit Tension, Sow Chaos. Uploaded from National Public Radio:

Gu, L., Kropotov, V., Yarochkin, F. (2020). The Fake News Machine: How Propagandists Abuse the Internet and Manipulate the Public. Uploaded from Trend Labs:

Islam, Md., Sarkar, T., Khan, S.H., Kamal, A.H.M., Hasan, S.M., Kabir, A, Yeasmin, D., Islam, M.A, Ibne., K., Chowdhury A., Anwar, K.S., Chughtai, A.A., Seale, H: (2020). COVID-19–Related Infodemic and Its Impact on Public Health: A Global Social Media Analysis. The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. Uploaded from;jsessionid=eUXElPrFVEwEIlnHdEE85mLC.ip-10-241-1-122.

KGB, INFORMATION NR. 2742 [TO BULGARIAN STATE SECURITY]. Uploaded from Wilson Center Digital Archive:

Kurfürst, J. (2017). Ruský svět a neuroasianismus. Czech Journal of International Relations, 52(3), pages 23–46. Uploaded from file:///C:/Users/allwa/Downloads/1382-Article%20Text-2798–1–10–20171101%20(3).pdf

The Computational Propaganda Project/Algorithms, Automation and Digital Politics (2020). Coronavirus Misinformation: Weekly Briefings. Uploaded from Oxford Internet Institute:

Rebello, C., Schwieter, Ch., Schliebs, M., Joynes-Burgess, M., Elswah, M., Bright, J., Howard, P. N. (2020). Covid-19 News and Information from State-Backed Outlets Targeting French, German and Spanish-speaking Social Media Users. COMPROP DATA MEMO, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, UK.

Selvage, D. N. (2014). Die AIDS-Verschwörung. Das Ministerium für Staatssicherheit und die AIDS Desinformationskampagne des KGB (BF informiert, 33/2014), 33.

Selvage, D. N. (2019). Operation “Denver”: KGB and Stasi Disinformation regarding AIDS. Uploaded from Wilson Center Digital Archive:

The New York Times (Producent), Ellick, A. (Autor), & Westbrook, A. (Režisér). (2018). Operation Infektion — Russian Disinformation: From Cold War to Kanye [Film]. Uploaded from

Wakabayashi, D., Alba, D., Tr 2020). Bill Gates, at Odds With Trump on Virus, Becomes a Right-Wing Target. The New York Times. Uploaded from

Ward, M., Pierson, S., Beyer, J. (2019). Formative Battles: Cold War Disinformation Campaigns and Mitigation Strategies. Uploaded from Wilson Center Digital Archive:

[1] The Active Measures Working Group was established on the basis of a “shock experience” with the incredibly persistent and global action of Soviet disinformation against the US. It was founded by Ronald Reagan in 1991 as an interagency group that coordinated the fight against Soviet “Active Measures” between the CIA, FBI, Department of Defense, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, DIA, Department of Justice and United States Information Agency. Its first chairman was Dennis Kux. (Ward, 2019)

[2] Boghart, T. (2009). Soviet Bloc Intelligence and Its AIDS Disinformation Campaign. Studies in Intelligence, 53(4). Uploaded from Boghardt-AIDS-Made in the USA-17Dec.pdf.

[3] (KGB, INFORMATION NR. 2742 [TO BULGARIAN STATE SECURITY]), (Selvage, Die AIDS-Verschwörung, 2014)

[4] Gross, T. E. (2018). Inside The Russian Disinformation Playbook: Exploit Tension, Sow Chaos. From National Public Radio:

[5] Boghart. (2009).

[6] Even today it is found in the cultural narrative. Famous rapper Kanye West (considered a presidential candidate) uses this narrative in his lyrics. Gross. (2018)

[7]Boghart. (2009).

[8] The New York Times (Producent), Ellick, A. (Autor), & Westbrook, A. (Režisér). (2018). Operation Infektion — Russian Disinformation: From Cold War to Kanye [Film]. Uploaded from

[9]However, the Soviets couldn‘t prevent being quoted as a resource. (Gross, 2018)

[10] (Selvage, Operation “Denver”: KGB and Stasi Disinformation regarding AIDS, 2019)

[11] Kurfürst, J. (2017). Ruský svět a neuroasianismus. Czech Journal of International Relations, 52(3), pages 23–46.

[12] Rebello, C. & others(2020); Covid-19 News and Information from State-Backed Outlets Targeting French, German and Spanish-Speaking Social Media Users; COMPROP DATA MEMO, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, UK.

[13] Covington, O. (2016). Elon professor’s research on ‘fake news’ ecosystem generating international attention. Uploaded from

[14] Ward, M., Pierson, S., Beyer, J. (2019). Formative Battles: Cold War Disinformation Campaigns and Mitigation Strategies. From Wilson Center Digital Archive:

[15] GEC Special Report: Russia’s Pillars of Disinformation and Propaganda. (2020). From United States Department of State:’s-Disinformation-and-Propaganda-Ecosystem.

[16]Gu, L., Kropotov,V., Yarochkin, F. (2020). The Fake News Machine: How Propagandists Abuse the Internet and Manipulate the Public. From Trend Labs:

[17] GEC Special Report (2020)

[18]Clark, C., MacKinnon, M. (2017). Canadian website in NATO’s sights for spreading disinformation. The Globe and Mail. Uploaded from

[19]Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Berkman- Klein Centre, University of Washington, East StratCom Task Force at EAAS, The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), Zignal Labs.

[20] Wakabayashi, D., Alba, D., Tracy, M.(2020). Bill Gates, at Odds With Trump on Virus, Becomes a Right-Wing Target. The New York Times. Uploaded from

[21]Fischer, S. (2020). The coronavirus conspiracy news cycle. Axios.

[22] Islam, M. S. & others (2020). COVID-19–Related Infodemic and Its Impact on Public Health: A Global Social Media Analysis. The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. Uploaded from;jsessionid=eUXElPrFVEwEIlnHdEE85mLC.ip-10-241-1-122.

[23]Alba, D. (2020). Misinformation About George Floyd Protest Surges on Social Media. The New York Times.

[24]Faris, R. M. & others (2017). Partisanship, Propaganda, and Disinformation: Online Media and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society Research Paper.

[25] Donovan, J., Friedberg, B. (2020). Source Hacking/ Media Manipulation in Practice. Data & Society’s Media Manipulation research. Uploaded from

[26] Donovan, J. F. (2020). Protest misinformation is riding on the success of pandemic hoaxes. MIT Technology Review.

[27]The Computational Propaganda Project. (2020). Coronavirus Misinformation: Weekly Briefings. Uploaded from Oxford Internet Institute:

[28] The New York Times (Producent), Ellick, A. (Autor), & Westbrook, A. (Režisér). (2018). Operation Infektion — Russian Disinformation: From Cold War to Kanye [Film]. Uploaded from

[29] AMWG. (1987). Soviet Influence Activities: A Report on Active Measures and Propaganda. US Department of State, 38–48. Uploaded from

[30] Wakabayashi. (2020).

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Research of Russian disinfo, seminar leader and public speaker. Author of books on Information Warfare.

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