In 1983, an explosive story appeared in an Indian newspaper, The Patriot: the AIDS virus was the result of American biological weapons research. Two years later a Soviet newspaper picked up the thread: The U.S. Army had developed AIDS as a bioweapon at Fort Detrick, Md. Other publications followed suit and by 1986, an East German biology professor was publishing “research” in which he explained that the virus had been tested on service members used as human guinea pigs — who then began spreading it among vulnerable populations. None of it was true. All of it was fiction created by Russian intelligence officers or their allies. But the storyline — that the U.S. government created AIDS — has proven one of the most durable examples of “dezinformatsiya,” as it was known to its practitioners in the Soviet intelligence world.
Both that story (Kanye West believed it) and those practices endure today in the world’s information bloodstream, and former CIA Director John Brennan is set to appear Tuesday on Capitol Hill to talk about “active measures” with the House Intelligence Committee.
Members of Congress want to focus on the ones the Russians used last year during the presidential campaign, but the deliberate crafting of falsehoods for political aims is just one of the tools in this kit, and leaders in Washington say the challenge they pose is just as urgent now as it has ever been.