cover image Active Measures: The Secret History of Disinformation and Political Warfare

Active Measures: The Secret History of Disinformation and Political Warfare

Thomas Rid. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30 (528p) ISBN 978-0-374-28726-9

The shadow war of lying—and truth-telling—between Russia and the U.S. is explored in this revealing study of covert propaganda. Rid (Rise of the Machines), a strategic studies professor at Johns Hopkins University, revisits attempts by Soviet/Russian and American intelligence agencies (plus a few by the East German Stasi and others) to influence foreign governments and public opinion by spreading false claims or leaking true information. He examines dozens of operations, including the Bolsheviks’ establishment of a fake Tsarist group to confuse their real Tsarist foes in the 1920s, CIA forgeries of East German magazines in the 1950s, Soviet-sponsored conspiracy theories that AIDS started as an American bioweapon, and the Russian hacking and publishing of Democratic National Committee emails during the 2016 election. There are plenty of clever, clandestine capers in Rid’s well-researched, briskly paced narrative, as well as shrewd analysis of the subtleties of making disinformation both damaging and believable, and the difficulty of knowing whether it is effective. The excellent discussion of Russian pro-Trump social media propaganda concludes that “it is unlikely that [Russian] trolls convinced many, if any, American voters,” and that its main impact was the media hysteria it generated. Rid skillfully illuminates and demystifies this ballyhooed but much-misunderstood subject. (Apr.)