There is much on the Internet these days about documents allegedly hacked by Anonymous; these documents belong to the "Integrity Initiative" and describe a multi-country effort, funded by London and Washington, to counter "Russian propaganda" and "fake news". Since the initial story broke, a good deal of confusion has been laid down: Wikileaks is doubtful, and Anonymous itself is being evasive. On the other hand, Integrity Initiative doesn't entirely deny.
But even if entirely false, they would be in that curious category of "fake but true": Integrity Initiative does actually exist and here is its website. It is certainly engaged in anti-Russia propaganda. It publishes articles locking the barn door after the horses have escaped: yes, "Novichok" is terribly deadly but that doesn't mean it will kill you. But, if it isn't strong enough to kill you today, it may be strong enough to kill someone four months later. Its most memorable statement is surely this:
The Kremlin has invested more operational thought, intent and resource in disinformation, in Europe and elsewhere in the democratic world, than any other single player.
A statement that would stun anyone who's ever been in a hotel and gone channel cruising: RT's in there somewhere along with CNN, MSNBC, Fox, BBC, DW, France Télévisions, Rai and so on. A tiny voice in a bellowing crowd. But, after all, these are the people who tell us that Russia affected the US election with one FB message per 400 million others.
The Integrity Initiative is one of many. We had, and still have, the Legatum Institute which worried about "Russian disinformation" back in 2013, a pair of British thinktankers two years later also worried about "Russia's information warfare in the UK". Then it was time for "hybrid war", a supposed Russian invention. The so-called intelligence assessment (of "all 17 agencies", but actually a hand-picked group from only three, one of which only had "moderate confidence") on Russian hacking devoted nearly half its space to a four-year old rant about RT!
Such an obsession with RT and Sputnik! How many eyeballs do they reach? Not that many by all evidence. We're talking small – not 1/413,000,000th small – but small. A good deal less than the BBC alone. Amazing! But the West bravely marshals its feeble power against the colossus of RT and creates the British Army's "77th Brigade" of Twitter commandos, the US has its soldiers at Fort Bragg trolling away, NATO's Centre of Excellence in Tallinn pumps it out and now the Integrity Initiative extrudes copy. Even little Canada has got into the act. Then we have the so-called independent think tanks busy creating "objective" "impartial" "scholarly" expliqués of the Russian threat. Some of these are nothing but beards for the arms industry. An example is CEPA ("a tax-exempt, non-profit, non-partisan, public policy research institute") supported by, inter alia, the US Mission to NATO, NATO Public Diplomacy Division, US Naval Postgraduate School, US Department of Defense, US Department of State, Lockheed Martin Corporation, Raytheon Company, European Defense Agency, Chevron Corporation, Bell Helicopter, Textron Systems and BAE Systems. Its "non-partisan" reports tell us Russia is sowing chaos, that we must defend the "Sulwaki Corridor", Nord Stream is a bad idea and so on. You may not have noticed Moscow's hand in Catalonian separatism, but they have. All very predictable and just the sort of thing a company making big weapons wants out there to buttress its sales pitch. Bearded guys in turbans and sandals with IEDs are not big business; Russians in tanks are. A rather curious idea of "non-partisan".
But, despite this, we're supposed to believe that RT and Sputnik have awesome powers and that one little tweet from a Russian bot has an overwhelming effect against which these "non-partisan" outfits have a tough struggle. An intelligent child can see the nonsense.
But enough sarcasm, this isn't funny: it's actually very serious. Apart from the dangers of building up war fever against a power that could obliterate the West, it's a telling indication of the decline of the West. And so triumphant and so confident only two decades ago!
In the Cold War Moscow's sin was that it was actively trying to overthrow us and send those of us it didn't shoot to the GuLag. Today its crime is contumacy: it persistently refuses to accept the blame that the West puts on it.
But neither do many of us. So, if you, as I do, think that the Western version of the MH17 story is a bit fishy, doubt that Assad is dumb enough to do the one thing that would invite Western missiles, regard Whitehall's Skripal story as laughably incoherent, doubt that Litvinenko could write a perfect English sentence, find it absurd to assume that Putin kills people by such easily noticed means, know that there were Russian troops in Crimea all along, notice that the White Helmets have received millions yet can only afford dust masks and flip flops, had heard of the Crimean Tatars before, notice that NATO has expanded up to Russia's borders and not the other way around, know something about Ossetian-Georgian relations, know what the Ukrainian Constitution says about getting rid of presidents, remember Nuland's telephone call, can remember all the people falsely demonised by the Western propaganda machine… If you dare to think those thoughts, these people will call you a victim of (or accomplice in) Russian disinformation and say you need re-education. Certainly they don't want you to be heard.
Of course no one is calling for the end of freedom of speech, just a shutting down of "fake news". Social media is doing its best to do so, advised by such "impartial" organisations, in the case of Facebook, as the Atlantic Council. Which is funded by, well, many of the same organisations as CEPA, but with more foreign governments and oil companies. Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrup Grumman, United Technologies, Boeing: they're not interested in funding a venue for people who question the Russian threat meme, are they?
Once upon a time truth was considered to be the best defence. In the Cold War there was little effort to silence Soviet propaganda. Anybody could listen to Radio Moscow, read Soviet newspapers or anything else. Most countries had a legal communist party working, under Moscow's strict control, for a communist takeover and pumping out propaganda as hard as it could. Innumerable front groups pushed communist and Soviet policy under a variety of covers. We didn't worry too much: truth was the best defence. But the USSR did worry and it spent enormous efforts jamming Western broadcasts. A child could figure it out: the side that's blocking the other side is afraid of the truth, it's afraid of dissent, it's afraid of freedom.
Twenty years ago most Russians would have agreed that Pravda & Co were lying both about the USSR and about the West. But not any more: read what Margarita Simonyan, the head of the dreaded RT, says: "Лет пятьдесят – тайно и явно – мы хотели жить как вы, а больше не хотим" ("For fifty years, secretly and openly, we wanted to live like you, but not any longer"). Reflect on what produced this contemporary Russian bittersweet joke: "Pravda lied to us about the USSR, but it told the truth about the West".
So, in the end, Russians didn't "drink the Kool-aid". Willing once to believe, they believe no more. And that is Russia's sin. It's not bolsheviks lusting for blood, with nooses in their hands, charging down Park Lane and Wall Street these days, it's Russians stubbornly being Russian. And that is unforgivable to a West that has lost the confidence that its positions stand strong and unaided.
Which it has. Why else these attempts to manipulate public opinion and block disagreement? It is, in a word, Soviet behaviour. The side that's mostly telling the truth isn't afraid of the other side's lies. Again, a child could figure it out.
What they are telling us (forget all that Magna Carta, freedom of speech and thought, European Values stuff they were boasting about a few years ago) is this:
We don't trust you to make up your mind, so we'll do it for you.
Accept, Believe, Repeat. It's a big slip down the slope.
Remember the notion, popular at one time, that the Soviets and the West would converge? Well, maybe they did and just kept moving past each other. Soon we'll be fully Soviet in our response to Big Brother: believe the opposite, read between the lines, notice what you're not being told.
But the "Russia information war" pays good money for people who can say with a straight face: "Novichok is deadly except when it isn't" or "Our intelligence agencies rely on Bellingcat to tell them what's going on" or "Assad gasses civilians when he's winning because he likes being bombed" or "Putin kills all his enemies except the ones who are telling you he does" or "the Panama Papers prove Putin's corruption even though his name isn't mentioned" or, indeed, "Russia swung the US election with a trivial number of social media posts". Oh, and RT is rotting our minds. Even if no one you know has ever watched it.
They are paid to believe what they believe to be paid.