Information is the world’s lifeblood. It pulsates in torrents of facts and images. We are swamped with it.
But information can be poison, a dangerous weapon. Disinformation, or organized lying, can be used to wage political warfare. As the historian Thomas Rid wrote in “Active Measures,” his book on the subject, disinformation can weaken a political system that places its trust in truth. “Disinformation operations, in essence, erode the very foundations of open societies,” he wrote.
A disinformation operation now being waged by Russia shows in stark detail how this malevolence works. Taking a program by the United States that was intended to make people healthier and safer in the former Soviet Union, a program it had welcomed and participated in for 22 years, Russia twisted facts into a cloud of falsehoods. The campaign, rooted in decades-old traditions of disinformation by the Kremlin, has intensified during Russia’s ruinous war on Ukraine in the last year.
In a previous editorial in this series, we examined how young people who posted freely on social media have been wrongly arrested and sentenced to years in prison by authoritarian regimes. This editorial looks at disinformation as a tool of dictatorship. Disinformation is not just “fake news” or propaganda but an insidious contamination of the world’s conversations. And it is exploding.
A helping hand
On Aug. 29, 2005, Barack Obama, then a Democratic senator from Illinois, and Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Republican of Indiana, visited a laboratory at Kyiv’s Central Sanitary and Epidemiological Station in Ukraine. This facility was not well secured and, by the nature of its public health work, held dangerous pathogens. Andy Weber, a U.S. Defense Department official, showed Mr. Obama a tray of small vials: samples of Bacillus anthracis, the bacterium that causes anthrax. “I saw test tubes filled with anthrax and the plague lying virtually unlocked and unguarded — dangers we were told could only be secured with America’s help,” Mr. Obama recalled.
Read Complete Editorial: "How Russia turned America’s helping hand to Ukraine into a vast lie", Washington Post, March 29, 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/03/29/russia-disinformatio…