Re-posted in part from The Saturday Evening Post.
When the Post reported on Russia’s intelligence services back in 1967, the KGB’s “Department D” did not get a lot of attention. It was the height of the Cold War (the Berlin Wall had gone up only a few years earlier) and the Soviet Secret Services posed deadly threats to the West. But today “Department D” has a new relevance.
The letter “D” stood for dezinformatsiya, a word coined by Soviet premier Josef Stalin to describe a policy of generating “fake news.” The department’s mission, according to the CIA, was to “defame and discredit” the United States by planting false or misleading articles about America in the media. Each year the department turned out over 350 derogatory news items, designed to “isolate and destroy” the United States.
Dr. Jim Ludes, who recently completed a study on Russian disinformation for the Pell Center, says that back in 1967, the Russians were exploiting racial unrest in America. They planted stories in American papers claiming Martin Luther King was a collaborator and an “Uncle Tom” because they thought his push for unity would strengthen America. After he was assassinated, they used the press to stoke resentment in the black community over his death.
Fifty years later, the old KGB is gone, replaced by the FSB, which does much of the same work and answers solely to President Vladimir Putin, an ex-KGB officer. But as American intelligence organizations have reported, some form of “Department D” is still very much alive.
According to Dr. Yuval Weber of the Daniel Morgan Graduate School of National Security in Washington, D.C., Department D is run by people like Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Putin confidante who ran a “Department of Provocations” — essentially a troll farm used to spread divisive and inflammatory stories before the 2016 presidential election. Weber says, “They engage in those sorts of activities without being official members of government, and if they’re successful can seek quasi-legitimate advertising contracts to cover disinfo operations. If they’re unsuccessful, they move on. It’s like a start-up culture in a sense.”
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Yuval Weber, Ph.D., is Daniel Morgan Graduate School’s inaugural DMGS-Kennan Institute fellow. Most recently, Dr. Weber taught at Harvard University, where he was a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department on Government and a Kathryn W. and Shelby Cullom Davis Research Fellow at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies. His work has appeared in Problems of Post-Communism, International Studies Review, Survival, Cold War Studies, Orbis, and the Washington Post.