JavaScript is disabled
Our website requires JavaScript to function properly. For a better experience, please enable JavaScript in your browser settings before proceeding.
Disinformation is intentionally false or misleading information that is spread in a calculated way to deceive target audiences. The English word, which did not appear in dictionaries until the late-1980s, is a translation of the Russian дезинформация, transliterated as dezinformatsiya. Disinformation is different from misinformation, which is information that is unintentionally false. Misinformation can be used to define disinformation — where disinformation is misinformation that is purposefully and intentionally disseminated in order to defraud.
Usage of the term related to a Russian tactical weapon started in 1923, when the Deputy Chairman of the KGB-precursor the State Political Directorate (GPU) called for the foundation of "a special disinformation office" for clandestine operations. The term was used in 1939, related to a "German Disinformation Service". Ion Mihai Pacepa, senior official from the Romanian secret police, said the word was coined by Joseph Stalin and used during World War II. In the book, Disinformation, Pacepa wrote Stalin gave the tactic a French-sounding name in order to put forth the ruse that it was actually a technique used by the Western world. Soviet intelligence used the term maskirovka to refer to a combination of tactics including disinformation, simulation, camouflage, and concealment.
Disinformation saw wider use as a term of Soviet tradecraft, defined in the 1952 official Great Soviet Encyclopedia as spreading "false information with the intention to deceive public opinion." As a result of the defections of KGB officers, more information about disinformation campaigns came to light during the late 1960s through the 1980s. Examples of prominent disinformation campaigns included the fraudulent publication in 1968 of Who's Who in the CIA, and Operation INFEKTION, a widespread attempt to influence world opinion to believe that the United States invented AIDS.
The U.S. government did not devote significant resources to countering disinformation campaigns during the 1970s; this changed during the Carter Administration in 1980 when a fake document reported the U.S. supported the Apartheid government in South Africa. President Jimmy Carter was shocked by the fabrications and afterwards the Central Intelligence Agency spent more efforts to counter Soviet disinformation. The U.S. engaged in disinformation campaigns of its own — notably during the during the CIA effort to substitute Mohammed Reza Pahlavi for then-Prime Minister of Iran Mohammad Mossadegh and in 1979 during the during the Soviet–Afghan War. Use of the term in the English language became more prominent in 1986 after revelations that the Reagan Administration government had engaged in a disinformation campaign against then-leader of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi.

View More On
Back Top