I asked a colleague to write an article on Active Measures after I read a lot of reports which made me gag, they misused the term Active Measures terribly. My colleague knows Active Measures, it was a specialty of theirs.
A personal note, this report only scrapes the surface of former Soviet Active Measures and does not fully cover the extreme potential, if properly leveraged.
A second note, qualitatively, the Russians are attempting to duplicate Active Measures but have failed, for the most part. They seem to have chosen quantity over quality. It seems like they choose to use my spaghetti test, flinging numerous efforts against a wall to see if any stick.
My last note. Taken alone Active Measures can be devastating but none have been any good since the inception of the Russian Information War against the West, starting in 2013. Combined with a myriad of other information warfare tools, however, the results seem overwhelming, until observers and analysts categorize and delineate the efforts.
Active Measures must be viewed as potentially very dangerous and treated as such.
A few years ago I was sitting in a classroom in a building that was close to the heart of the nation’s capital. Located between the White House and K Street, this classroom was an example of how the federal government worked. Here was a place where different worlds intersect and at times collide. DoD, State Department, Congress and the White House, and the private sector all came together to learn and to connect. It was here, sitting among these up and coming professionals that I first learned about the concept of Active Measures. I was enthralled that something that on the surface seemed to be rather simplistic was in reality far more complex. Active Measures, both past, and present can be understood as being an example of the diverse array of weapons that exist in the arsenal of political warfare.
The way that the United States comprehends Active Measures is through the lens of the Cold War. The very idea of governments organizing disinformation and propaganda campaigns run by officials hiding in the shadows of society seems like something out of Cold War film filled with espionage and intrigue. American citizens mostly see the Cold War as a war that they won, which is true. Only the U.S. government in the post Cold War era didn’t retain the knowledge needed to fight back against Active Measures; rather, it appeared to rest upon the laurels of victory while on the other side of the world, the Russian government not only continued to use Active Measures but adapted their weapons so that they could be effective in an era of social media and rapid technological advancements.
The media interpretation of Active Measures comes across as rather flat. A recent NPR article entitled, “The Russian Investigations: What You Need To Know About Russian ‘Active Measures’ “, comes across as being dry as well as in lacking a full understanding of not only the history of the subject but also its relevancy
today. Active Measures, first of all, refers to specific concepts and the term is basically a proper noun and so the words shouldn’t be all lower case. The author mentions that the elements that make up Active Measures are interlocking but it is really so much more than that. Active Measures can resemble either a jigsaw puzzle where each piece while unique but when connected to other pieces reveals a much larger picture or it can seem like a multifaceted diamond where the pieces are capable of shining in the light on their own. Some of the pieces of Active Measures include denial and deception (D&D), propaganda, disinformation, forgeries, and manipulation.
For the NPR article to only make shallow references to recent usage including: “Russian operatives may have forged documents or other secret material in an attempt to confuse FBI or other intelligence officials” is pretty much at this point common knowledge. Why doesn’t the author mention that the creation of forged documents goes back to the Cold War; for an example of this read 1979 article in The Washington Post, “The Soviet ‘Forgery Offensive’”. This decades-old article points out it was suspected that the Soviet forged documents allowed for the transfer of two people to the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Forgery is almost an art form; it has to be done in such a way that appears to be pristine and authentic. The document should be so perfect that it shouldn’t cause any immediate questions and so that its use can result in disruption. Disinformation is another component of Active Measures; both of these terms have been used so frequently by the media since the fall of 2016, that they words have become clichés. Disinformation is extremely intentional. It does more than disrupt; it goes beyond causing chaos. What a good disinformation campaign will do that is most dangerous is cause doubt. It has caused people to doubt the legitimacy of an election, it has caused people to doubt their government; it has caused people to doubt the status of the United States as a leading superpower. Doubt can cause the people and the government to turn against one another and it can cause the government to turn on itself.
Disinformation campaigns are organized at the highest levels of any group, in this case, Putin and the Russian government. Earlier disinformation efforts include Operation INFEKTION, which spread worldwide that the U.S. government was responsible for not only the AIDS epidemic that had grabbed the world’s attention but that the U.S. had also created the disease with the intention of wreaking havoc. Disinformation is glaringly absent in the NPR article which is strange since the article mentions several examples of modern Active Measures that would fall under the category of Disinformation. Disinformation today can be found on social media and in online news articles- if it can be used to spread information then it can be used to spread disinformation. “Russian operatives used fake or deceptive accounts on social media to amplify controversy” is one quote from the NPR article that refers to disinformation but fails to expand upon the point being made.
What the article does focus on, or at last appears to focus on, is the use of cyber attacks as a part of the modern version of Active Measures. Cyber attacks including the hijacking of accounts of not only prominent individuals from within the government but also private citizens demonstrate just how widely used Active Measures is today.
Cyber attacks aren’t limited to taking over online accounts it can also be expanded to include the dissemination of propaganda.
Thanks to the internet, propaganda can be spread faster and can reach a wider audience than ever before. Propaganda pamphlets still exist but for the most part, if Russia is going to try and influence people in the western world they will have to make use of the internet, especially social media. Of course, the NPR writer mentions the influence of the Russian government over the 2016 election. The article makes two mistakes in my opinion; 1) the language regarding the elections is strong in comparison to other points, “Russian operatives visited the United States to conduct reconnaissance” versus “ Russian operatives MAY have attempted to build contacts with American political organizations…” What this tells me is that really there needs to be a deeper investigation to reveal exactly what happened in terms of the election and the role of Russia in it. The second error, in my opinion, is that the points made referencing the election come across as rather one-sided. It fails to mention any possibility that the Russians may have been involved with the campaigns of other candidates. Anyone is capable of going online and reading about the investigations into the ties between the president and the Russian government. While intending to provide readers with a brief insight into understanding Active Measures; the article just doesn’t go far enough.