According to a report by NATO on countering disinformation, foreign state actors and others, launched a series of disinformation campaigns in Europe in connection with Covid-19 in April, 2020, one of which involved disseminating false information that Canadian troops were responsible for infecting Latvia with the Covid-19 virus.
The disinformation campaign involved an elaborate scheme that manufactured a fake journalist’s interview in Latvia, fake documents published on social media and a statement alleged to be from Latvia’s Minister of Defence that was fabricated and sent from a fake email address. Presumably, the disinformation campaign was to elicit unrest.
Poland and Lithuania
At the same time, NATO says that two other similar disinformation campaigns were launched in Poland and Lithuania. In Poland, a forged letter from a Polish military leader was released purporting to criticize US troops. In Lithuania, a forged letter from NATO’s Secretary General was published alleging that NATO was withdrawing its troops from Lithuania.
False narratives were disseminated on social media accounts, including a fake social media account of a well-known journalist. The disinformation campaign went so far as to publish on YouTube, an edited speech given by NATO on an unrelated topic, repurposed to appear as if it was in respect of Covid-19, when it was not.
All of the pieces of disinformation were laundered through multiple news outlets and on social media – some wittingly and some unwittingly. The report by NATO highlights the fact that it is not simply the creation of false narratives that impacts international security that is of global concern, but the laundering of false information through trusted platforms.
Depending upon its content, disinformation falls within the category of a national security threat or an international security issue because it sows discord and undermines confidence and trust in our democratic intuitions. When there is distrust of democratic institutions, they are at risk of remaining resilient. Disinformation can pose immediate threats when it causes people to question information from government sources and make decisions that affect national well-being. A prime example is a population’s response to government directions during a pandemic.
Inventor of disinformation
It is sometimes believed that the KGB invented and/or mastered disinformation but that is not accurate or supported by intelligence research.
The modern inventor of disinformation campaigns and fake news to manipulate foreign governments and the public and to elicit military action was a Canadian named William Stephenson. He faked his name (his real name was William Stanger), his background, his past and his education and used it to land a top-level job working for MI6 during WWII. Stanger was close to James Bond creator Ian Fleming and many of the 007 characteristics we all know (such as a Vodka Martini shaken, not stirred) are based on William Stanger.
Although Canadian, Stanger engaged in deep disinformation tactics in the US (against the American people in favour of the British) to incentivize Americans and the US government to financially support the UK during WWII, and join the war. Because his conduct was in furtherance of efforts to defeat Hitler, history has been kind to Stanger and he was knighted at the request of Churchill.
In today’s world, neither Stanger nor his techniques would be publicly lauded, like they were back then. Political disinformation of the breath, reach and manipulative effect that Stanger practiced as a foreign agent to manipulate a country that was an ally, was on another level altogether. It is now accepted in the intelligence community that deep disinformation poses significant threats to the rule of law and erodes trust in government institutions.