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Disinformation is false or inaccurate information that is spread deliberately. It is synonymous with and sometimes called Black propaganda. It may include the distribution of forged documents, manuscripts, and photographs, or spreading malicious rumors and fabricated intelligence. Disinformation should not be confused with misinformation, information that is unintentionally false.

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 the candidates 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 techniques may also be found in commerce and government, used to try to undermine the position of a competitor. It is an act of deception and blatant false statements to convince someone of an untruth. Cooking-the-books might be considered a disinformation strategy that led to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

Unlike traditional propaganda and Big Lie 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.

Another technique of concealing facts, or censorship, is also used if the group can effect 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 a lot of easily-disproved false claims.

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).

The Cold War made disinformation a recognized military and political tactic. Military disinformation techniques were described by Vladimir Volkoff.

Examples of disinformation

World War II

A classic example of disinformation was during World War II, preceding the D-Day 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 Channelmarker from Kentmarker, Englandmarker. 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.

Disinformation by the CIA

In 1957 the CIA knew about the Mayak accident but the information was not released publicly because of the " (...) reluctance of the CIA to highlight a nuclear accident in the USSR, that could cause concern among people living near nuclear facilities in the USA. (...) ".

In 1986, national security adviser John Poindexter wrote for President Ronald Reagan a "disinformation program" aimed at destabilizing Libyamarker's Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi by planting reports in the foreign press about an impending conflict between the two countries. However, the false information eventually reached The Wall Street Journal—a phenomenon known in the trade as blowback.

Disinformation by the KGB

According to senior SVR officer Sergei Tretyakov, the KGB "created the myth of nuclear winter". Tretyakov says that during the 1970s the KGB wanted to prevent the United States from deploying Pershing II cruise missiles in Western Europe. The KGB, directed by Yuri Andropov, fostered popular opposition to Pershing II through false scientific reports from the Soviet Academy of Sciencesmarker and by funding European peace groups opposed to arms proliferation. (In fact, US government agencies had discussed the possibility of a nuclear exchange causing atmospheric cooling before the deployment of Pershing II.) The Soviet Peace Committee, a government organization, spearheaded the effort by funding and organizing demonstrations in Europe against US bases. Soviet propaganda was distributed to peace groups, the environmental movement and Ambio, a publication of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which carried a key article on the topic in 1982.

The following examples of Soviet disinformation against the United Statesmarker are described by Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin:
  • Promotion of false John F. Kennedy assassination theories through writer Mark Lane who had meetings with several Soviet agents including Genrikh Borovik. Lane denies these allegations.
  • Discreditation of the CIA, using historian Philip Agee (codenamed PONT). Agee has denied the claim.
  • Attempts to discredit Martin Luther King, Jr. by placing publications portraying him as an "Uncle Tom" who was secretly receiving government subsidies.
  • Stirring up racial tensions in the United States by mailing bogus letters from the Ku Klux Klan, placing an explosive package in "the Negro section of New York" (operation PANDORA), and spreading conspiracy theories that Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination had been planned by the US government.
  • Fabrication of the story that AIDS virus was manufactured by US scientists at Fort Detrickmarker; the story was spread by Russian-born biologist Jakob Segal.


Former Mossad case worker Victor Ostrovsky claims that the Israeli secret service successfully used disinformation techniques to cause the US to blame Libya for the 1986 bombing of La Belle Discothèque in West Berlin.

See also


  1. Arjun Makhijani, A Readiness to Harm: The Health Effects of Nuclear Weapons Complexes.
  2. Daniel Schorr, "Official US deception: Can it be trusted?", Christian Science Monitor, March 1, 2002; retrieved on February 22, 2007.
  3. 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 161-177
  4. US National Research Council, Long-term worldwide effects of multiple nuclear weapons detonations, Washington DC, National Academy of Sciences, 1975.
  5. 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 169-177
  6. Opposition to The Bomb: The fear, and occasional political intrigue, behind the ban-the-bomb movements
  7. 1982 Article "Moscow and the Peace, Offensive"
  8. 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 169-177
  9. Paul Crutzen and John Birks, "The atmosphere after a nuclear war: Twilight at noon", Ambio, 11, 1982, pp.114-125
  10. Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin (2000). The Mitrokhin Archive: The KGB in Europe and the West. Gardners Books. ISBN 0-14-028487-7.

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