Fake News: The Intensification of Information Warfare

Posted by on August 9, 2017 in Government, Military with 0 Comments
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Video Source: Corbett Report Extras

By James Corbett | BoilingFrogsPost.com

The old adage that “Knowledge is power” has been apparent to warriors and would-be rulers throughout history.

A well-known illustration from the annals of history revolves around Nathan Rothschild, the British representative of Meyer Amschel’s infamous Rothschild banking dynasty. At the Battle of Waterloo, Rothschild’s riders and messengers were able to get news of Napoleon’s defeat home to Nathan a full day in advance of the government’s own news carriers. As the story goes, Nathan was able to convince the public that he had in fact received news of Wellington’s defeat by selling heavily on the English stock market.

When panic selling ensued, Rothschild had his agents buying up the stocks at pennies on the pound. By the time the news of Napoleon’s defeat actually reached Britain’s shores, Rothschild had already secured his position as one of the richest men in Britain, a fortune that was only further leveraged in the ensuing years lending post-war stabilization funds to Europe’s monarchy

Regardless of the story’s historical veracity, it serves to illustrate the fundamental precept: knowledge is indeed power. It also suggests a corollary: misinformation is a way of leveraging one’s power over an enemy. This, too, is an ancient idea that has been used throughout the centuries as a tool of psychological warfare to confer one’s army an advantage over its enemies.

Military deception is an ancient and time-honored art. Throughout recorded history, military commanders have attempted to spread false news and seed false information as part of psychological warfare operations to deceive, confuse, and demoralize the enemy.

During the Crusades in 1271, Sultan Baibars successfully took the Crusaders’ Krak des Chevaliers in Syria by conveying a letter to the knights garrisoned there telling them to surrender. The letter, supposedly from the head of their order in Jerusalem, was in fact a crude forgery, but the gambit worked. The knights capitulated and the Sultan took the castle.

However it wasn’t until the invention and widespread use of technologies like the printing press and then the radio and the television, that the modern conception of “news” was formulated. The broadsheet, the magazine and the newspaper started to give people a sense of a regularly published digest of “news” stories. These technologies also enabled the possibility of mechanizing “false” news to spread propaganda to the enemy.

Some of the most dramatic examples of this came in the 20th century, with the use of airplanes to spread propaganda leaflets, and the use of radio to direct transmissions across enemy lines in a hope to sway public opinion.

This was by no means limited to psyops against the enemy, though. The very same techniques have been used throughout history to fool one’s own troops in an effort to raise morale.

In the Civil War, false “news” was routinely distributed to Confederate soldiers to boost their sprits before a battle, from false reports of Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s death to rumours that a world war was about to break out with England and France siding with the Confederates.

In WWII, false news of reinforcements for the beleaguered American-Filipino garrison resisting the Japanese invasion of the Philippines kept them fighting long past the point of their impending defeat.

One of the most extreme examples of “false information” spread to confuse, panic or disarm a nation, however, are news stories that are completely made up from whole cloth and broadcast as if they are real. These stories, too, although more rare, can be devastatingly effective in confusing and demoralizing enemies or panicking the public.

The pedigree of fake news stories goes back some time, but perhaps the most famous was the Halloween 1938 edition of the weekly radio drama, Mercury Theatre on the Air. This adaptation of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds was presented as a fake news broadcast of an alien invasion. Famously, many of the people listening did not realize that the transmission was fake, and assumed the nation was actually being invaded. Some believed aliens had actually landed, others assumed it was a Nazi ploy, as tensions swelled in the run-up to WWII.

Although commonly dismissed as a sensationalistic media hoax, the phenomenon provoked by the broadcast became the subject of intense academic research. One of the bodies that took special interest in the broadcast was the Princeton Radio Project, a Rockefeller Foundation-funded body researching the effect of radio in influencing public opinion. Closely connected to organs of the US psychological warfare program, the group, which included Nelson Rockefeller’s Dartmouth College roommate, Hadley Cantril, eventually published a study on the public reaction to War of the Worlds.

Since that time, fake news broadcasts have been aired on otherwise “mainstream” networks from time to time, often with little or no notice that the “news” story being aired is completely fictitious.

Sometimes the fake news is deliberately seeded into the public consciousness by way of a carefully coordinated public relations campaign.

Other times the fake news consists of staged or manipulated interviews, designed to give a false impression that the on-the-ground reality is different than it really is.

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