Of dissembling and Disinformation.
Posted by democratist on December 12, 2010
12th December 2010,
While it is usually fairly easy to spot the various forms of Russian disinformation campaigns in state-controlled media such as Russia Today, it is rare for the public at large to have an opportunity to examine a piece of Russian diplomatic dissembling, as practiced by an expert.
However yesterday an example of the genre came to light, courtesy of Wikileaks and The Guardian.
Dissembling is the art of concealing one’s true intentions, or seeking to arouse sympathy for a cause by the spreading of falsehoods or rumours. While the use of the mass-media for this purpose might be termed “macrodisiformation”, in as far as it is aimed at as wide an audience as possible in the hope that some will believe it, dissembling is a form of “microdisinformation,” practiced on a individual-to-individual basis, and is generally targeted at smaller groups, such as journalists themselves, or the diplomatic communities that one finds in most national capitals throughout the world.
In each case the end goal is the same; that the targeted individual(s) will repeat the rumours that you have fed them, thereby influencing the perceptions of others. In the case of diplomatic dissembling, the expectation might be that the target will repeat the rumour in a cable back to their Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), and that this will cast enough doubt on alternative versions of the event being described (where the truth is not yet fully established) to influence decision-making in one’s favour, or at least temporarily prevent potentially unfavourable decisions being taken.
This surely, was at least partly the logic behind a reported meeting in Paris in late 2006 between Russian special presidential representative (and former intelligence officer) Anatoliy Safonov, and US ambassador-at-large for counter-terrorism (and ex-CIA bureau chief) Henry Crumpton, shortly after the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, during which Safonov told Crumpton that “Russian authorities in London had known about and followed individuals moving radioactive substances into the city, but were told by the British that they were under control before the poisoning took place”.
Democratist suspects that the Safonov’s main motive was to try to forestall potentially negative US actions in support of the UK during the tense period that followed the Litvinenko murder by; i) implying that the FSB was not involved, and that the murder was the work of non-state actors and, ii) perhaps seeking to imply that the British spooks allowed the murder to take place because they had their own agenda, and they could later use Litvinenko’s death as a cause célèbre.
Interestingly, the Russians have sought to use a very similar (albeit more open) tactic in relation to the recent Zatuliveter case. In the same article, the Guardian reports, “Alexander Sternik, chargé d’affaires at Russia’s embassy in London…denounced the move [to deport Zatuliever] as a “PR stunt” designed to mask Britain’s own problems. “These problems are many over the last couple of months,” Sternik said. “You can cite the unflattering leaks from WikiLeaks and [England’s] unsuccessful [World Cup] bid.”
While no hard evidence of Zatuliever’s guilt has come to light so far, Sternik’s explaination of the UK’s actions lacks credibility when seen in the context of the KGB/SVR’s history of dissembling, as practicsed by Safonov.