Disinformation has been around for as long as we have had rumors. There is simply too much to be gained from using false information for one’s own gain. Political campaigns, revolutions, and belligerents have made liberal use of propaganda over the years, as have armies employed deception campaigns at part of overall strategy.
The Western Allies, prior to the D-Day landings in Normandy, France, conducted a complex and widespread deception campaign (codenamed Operation Bodyguard) to convince the German high command that the landings would in fact be made at the Pas-de-Calais and occur later than planned. Through a variety of deceptions methods, such as visual deception, double agents, and radio traffic, the Western Allies were able to delay the German army by 7 weeks—enough time to establish a beachhead in Normandy.
Exploiting Confirmation Bias in Deception Campaigns
Bodyguard played on a psychological phenomenon known as confirmation bias, or the tendency to believe information that confirms one's existing beliefs.
The Western Allies exploited the German high command’s anticipation that the landing would take place at the strategic Pas-de-Calais by disseminating information that confirmed this idea.
Most German spies operating in the UK had already been turned into double agents, a fact unknown to the Germany high command.
Messages of a Pas-de-Calais landing received from these spies confirmed what the high command had seen evidence of elsewhere (false buildups) and what it already believed to be the case.
A deception campaign launched after the Normandy invasion to convince the German high command that Normandy was a diversion proved highly successful at delaying the German army because it confirmed the original belief of a Pas-de-Calais landing.
Soviet KGB Active Measures
The Soviet KGB was also known to conduct successful disinformation campaigns across the world. In their book titled Disinformation, Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa—the former head of foreign intelligence under Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, and highest-ranking Eastern Bloc defector—and Prof. Ronald Rychlak assert that the KGB conducted a smear campaign against Pope Pius XII. Using imaginative techniques, including commissioning a British author to pen the aptly titled novel “Hitler’s Pope”, the KGB attempted to shift Western public opinion of the Pope.
The goal was to give rise to the notion that the United States had invented HIV/AIDS as a result of biological weapons research.
Even today, research and other information disseminated under INFEKTION is still being cited, most notably by former South African president Thabo Mbeki.
Sought to turn Indonesian public and government opinion against the United States and compromise the US ambassador and head of espionage.
Anti-America materials were seeded in the media, triggering demonstrations in front of the US embassy. Eventually, American companies were nationalized, the head of espionage was expelled, and diplomatic ties were severed.