WHEN IT COMES to the disinformation game, the Russians have got “form”. Perhaps their most nefarious exercise in deceiving the world is the evil concoction known as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
The harm this antisemitic tract has caused since its publication in 1902-03 is incalculable. Adolf Hitler was enraged by it. The American automobile manufacturer, Henry Ford, was convinced by it, and caused hundreds-of-thousands of copies to be distributed throughout the United States. Even after the Second World War, the publication could be still be found in anti-Zionist bookshops across the Middle East. Tragically, the Internet has given the document a whole new audience to deceive.
Thousands of people around the world remain convinced that The Protocols is an accurate account of an actual secret meeting of Jewish leaders in a Prague graveyard! The purpose of this covert conclave? The systematic subjugation of the entire human race to the will of “International Jewry”.
The true authors of The Protocols were agents of the Okhrana – the Tsarist Secret Police. Antisemitism was rife throughout the Russian Empire, especially in those parts of Eastern Europe where Jewish communities had, over many centuries, established themselves. Whipping up hatred of the Jews was a time-honoured way of diverting the anger of the Russian peasantry away from their aristocratic masters and onto their defenceless neighbours. The Protocols were created with the express purpose of fuelling that anger. Bloody pogroms followed its distribution in the first decade of the twentieth century.
Not only did the “success” of The Protocols demonstrate the alarming effectiveness of propaganda based on conspiracy theories, but it also shows how little most people understand about the origins and purposes of the communications that excite and motivate them. Certainly, the lessons learned by the Tsar’s secret police were not lost on the secret policemen of the Soviet state which replaced the Russian Empire – nor on their successors in the security services of today’s Russian Federation.
Not that the Russians are the only people capable of concocting and distributing disinformation. When it comes to the operations of the “Deep State”, Britain’s secret services have been practising the dark arts of deception since at least the sixteenth century.
In 1924, for example, His Majesty’s spies concocted what became known as the “Zinoviev Letter”. This out-and-out forgery purported to prove that the Soviet Government, hand-in-glove with the Communist Party of Great Britain, was planning to take advantage of the recently-elected Labour Government’s diplomatic recognition of the Soviet Union to step-up its revolutionary agitation throughout the British Isles. Published in the Tory-aligned Daily Mail, the Zinoviev Letter played a crucial role in bringing down Britain’s first Labour Government.
There can be little doubt, however, that the British disinformers’ finest hour came as Great Britain battled on alone against the triumphant forces of the Nazi Reich. Britain’s wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill, knew that Hitler could only be defeated if the United States entered the war on Britain’s side. Accordingly, he and the secret services were prepared to throw everything they had into a top-secret struggle to persuade the American people to abandon their isolationism and join the fight against Hitler.
Britain’s “man in New York” was a remarkable Canadian-born businessman, William Stephenson. From June 1940 until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941, Stephenson oversaw an astonishing, multi-million pound campaign of disinformation and media manipulation designed to change America’s mind about the war.
Stephenson’s propaganda offensive, chronicled brilliantly by Henry Hemming in Our Man in New York: The British Plot to Bring America into the Second World War, involved fake news agencies distributing carefully-crafted fake news. It commissioned world-class forgers to produce bogus German plans for the subversion of South American governments. It infiltrated America’s leading polling agency where its agents were able to insert “useful” questions in its opinion surveys. Best of all, Stephenson was able to enlist the support of William “Wild Bill” Donovan, the man who would later set up the Central Intelligence Agency. Indeed, Hemming makes a pretty strong case for the CIA, along with its forerunner, the Office of Strategic Services, being designed in London, by London, for London.
In 1948, the newly-established CIA was ready to show its British teachers what an attentive pupil it had been. Determined to prevent the election of a Communist Party-led government in the Italian elections of that year, the CIA unleashed a no-holds-barred propaganda campaign designed to undermine the Italian Left and secure victory for the Christian Democratic Party and its backers in the Catholic Church and the Mafia. The CIA poured millions into US-controlled newspapers, US-influenced trade unions, and US-made newsreels – often featuring appeals from prominent Italian-Americans like Frank Sinatra to resist the communist menace!
So, the next time the United States Congress complains long and loud about Russian interference in American elections, the rest of the world would be wise to pose the question: “What took Moscow so long?” After all, the American-designed-and-executed campaign to secure the re-election of the Russian Federation’s first president, Boris Yeltsin, took place in 1996! The Russians waited 20 years before using carefully-crafted propaganda and conspiracy theories to help secure the election of America’s worst president – Donald Trump.