We are at war and we must defend ourselves

By Martin Slávik

It's not fiction, it's fact. Democracy, the political system in which we live and which guarantees our freedom, our rights and, last but not least, our standard of living, is eroding away. It is being threatened by individuals and groups to whom the concepts of freedom and the rule of law are alien. They feel frustrated by free society, often perceiving it as a threat or endangerment to their positions and standing. They defend themselves by attacking. We are thus part of a conflict in which there are no rules except that, unlike in Ukraine, conventional weapons and direct violence have not yet been used here.

Hybrid and information warfare

These are media buzzwords today. They first appeared in the public sphere in 2013, when a text penned by the Chief of the Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov, who spoke about new concepts in the waging of modern warfare, came to the attention of security analysts, soldiers and strategists. A Hybrid War is a conflict that combines the use of conventional military tactics with additional non-military methods, on which great emphasis is placed.

"The role of non-military means of achieving political and strategic goals has increased and, in many ways, surpasses the power of conventional weapons. The focus of conflict management is shifting towards political, economic and information means, whose strength lies in exploiting the population's potential to protest."

In other words, the aim of such efforts is to the greatest extent possible tear down the system and stability of the country which is perceived as a threat, or that is being targeted. In this way the state becomes a much easier target for a military attack or for establishing dependent political leadership in the country.

The Russians have put this concept into full practical effect. The European Union is well aware of this. On 23 November 2016, the European Parliament (EP) adopted a resolution on EU strategic communication to counteract propaganda against it by third parties, which inter alia states:

"[The European Parliament] recognises that the Russian Government is aggressively employing a wide range of tools and instruments, such as think tanks and special foundations (e.g. Russkiy Mir), special authorities (Rossotrudnichestvo), multilingual TV stations (e.g. RT), pseudo news agencies and multimedia services (e.g. Sputnik), cross-border social and religious groups, as the regime wants to present itself as the only defender of traditional Christian values, social media and internet trolls to challenge democratic values, divide Europe, gather domestic support and create the perception of failed states in the EU’s eastern neighbourhood; stresses that Russia invests relevant financial resources in its disinformation and propaganda instruments engaged either directly by the state or through Kremlin-controlled companies and organisations; underlines that, on the one hand, the Kremlin is funding political parties and other organisations within the EU with the intent of undermining political cohesion, and that, on the other hand, Kremlin propaganda directly targets specific journalists, politicians and individuals in the EU"

NATO has also clearly pointed out Russian activities in connection with information and hybrid warfare. [1]

The old new threat

The way of thinking of Russia's current political and military leadership has remained practically unchanged since the Cold War and the collapse of the USSR. From the perspective of impartial observers who are familiar with history, it is evident that there is personal and mental continuity. The paranoid perception of the free world as an enemy trying to destroy Russia in every possible way has not yet changed. The current president of the country is a former officer of the Committee for State Security – the KGB Communist Secret Police…

These former members of the KGB - the elite segment of the Communist totalitarian regime – are devoted to the regime and enjoy the benefits this brings. They in turn defended it mainly by spreading fear and repression. The basis of all totalitarian and undemocratic regimes is lies, manipulation and fear. And because the same people are still in power in the current security forces of the Russian Federation, these methods and tools (manipulation, distortion of facts and misinterpretation of reality) still play a leading role today. They are still perceived as a reliable means of maintaining power.

This continuity of thought and various phobias (like the fear of losing power) are attributes that would make it naive to believe that it is an unnecessary exaggeration and fabrication to say that we are at war. It is also no fantasy to say that the aim of these attacks is to undermine trust in society, trust in the system, and mutual trust between individuals and groups by stirring up conflict. Let's ask ourselves the simple question: Is it easier to "control" an internally weakened and divided society, without the trust of citizens in their representatives, torn apart by political conflicts and scandals, or a society in which none of this is going on?

A proven strategy?

The present can be defined as a post-fact, post-truth era, where facts and information have lost their value. Where emotions play a primary role. This is of course also related to the development of the Internet and social networks through which we get a huge amount of information. It is also related to the functioning of the human brain. People are more attracted to photos and short "explosive messages" and less often concern themselves with the origins or truthfulness of the same. It's convenient to form an opinion quickly and cheaply. This is what most of us do. But therein lies the risk of falling prey to various forms of manipulation.

Why is the strategy of spreading misinformation, fake news and hoaxes internally within democratic countries so successful?

The risk to democracy is all the greater because we live in a time of mobs. A mob does not necessarily mean only a large gathering of people in one particular physical place. It may well be the gathering of (dissatisfied, frustrated) people on social networks who are influenced by interaction, where their shared emotions based on a specific stimulus play a central role. [2]

The masses, under the sway of strong emotions, with atomized individuals, can be easily manipulated (in the age of the Internet and social networks, real social interaction is ever rarer and the spreading of lies ever easier). In the past, this socio-psychological phenomenon and its purposeful reinforcement by propaganda, deliberate manipulation and the spreading of lies ushered into power those for whom other people were merely a means of acquiring that power. They then exercised their power above all to suppress the freedoms and rights of all others.

It would be naive to think that this is all a thing of the past. There will always be groups that will use these phenomena to their advantage, create, promote and spread disinformation, fake news and hoaxes, trying to mould the world into "their own image". Without true and verified information and facts, it is hard to trust anything. A targeted attack on truthful, verified information is an attack on trust.

If we do not believe anything, do not trust institutions, laws, or the people around us, we can end up lonely, isolated, and disoriented. Everything can end in apathetically dismissing the world, or an escape to where we feel the guarantee of certainty, some kind of "order", which can easily be in the arms of an authoritarian. Apathy and fear of freedom are a guaranteed recipe for the onset of various forms of totalitarianism. This is what happened in the past, and those who inherited the thinking of totalitarian rulers know this and continue to use it.

American philosopher of Spanish origins George Santayana coined today's well-known saying, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it". It is understandably very good to know the past, learn from it and recognize old new threats.

Through this project we wish to show the points of contact, the thread we can follow to unmask the historical origins of today's disinformation activities. The mechanisms behind the creation and the many objectives of misinformation have remained practically unchanged since the Cold War. Only the means by which they are carried out are changing.

Disinformation before the Internet

We will point out that even before the advent of the Internet, there were sophisticated tools of propaganda and lies that were intended to influence public opinion in this country or to influence political decisions. Fake news and other instruments of hybrid warfare did not just appear overnight, but were introduced by people with a wealth of experience and a rich tradition in spreading lies, misinformation and half-truths.

In this project we will focus mainly on disinformation campaigns led by Directorate I of the FMV (Federal Ministry of the Interior) – the intelligence service of communist Czechoslovakia.[3] Directorate I of the FMV was a satellite service of the Soviet First Chief Directorate of the KGB, and representatives - KGB advisers - worked in FMV departments until 1989. These campaigns were conducted in cooperation with the KGB. Given the continuity in the Russian intelligence services mentioned above, examples of specific Cold War era disinformation operations are a valuable source of information and give us valuable insight into the ways, forms and working methods of these services. The new old methods are also evident in today's activities.

By bringing historical facts into sharp focus, we want to motivate the reader to reflect on reality and encourage them to react to other critical questions. One of the most effective resources against passive acceptance of unverified information from dubious sources posing a particular threat to democracy and freedom is the ability to critically evaluate and verify information.

The term "active measures" is often used in NATO documents and other security analyses to indicate activities aimed at the disintegration of society from within. [4] Again, this is no novelty. Active measures (AM) were part of the work of the secret services of the entire former Eastern Bloc. They were aimed outwards and were supposed to work in enemy countries, but they were also, along with propaganda, focused on the population at home.

The Czechoslovak communist intelligence service defined active measures as top secret measures aimed at the eventual goal of supporting the foreign policy and security of the worldwide socialist system, or at fulfilling a certain operational goal. The aim of active measures was to:

  • Unveil daringly aggressive politics of imperialism (especially that of America and West Germany), promote the politics of disarmament and peaceful coexistence.
  • Break down and slow down the activities of existing or emerging imperialist military-political and economic groups.
  • Foment conflict and distrust between individual imperialist powers themselves, their governments, representatives and institutions.
  • Create distrust between neutral developing countries and the main imperialist powers.
  • Create situations leading to political, economic, military or other conflict and crises in the imperialist camp.
  • To assist nationalist movements and other anti-imperialist movements
  • Actively assist and support nations or states that have escaped from the clutches of capitalist rule.

The preparation, coordination and management of active measures at Directorate 1 of the FMV was the responsibility of the active measures Section. Prior to its inception in 1963, disinformation and psychological operations were carried out by other Sections focusing on political intelligence (actions against West Germany directed mainly against German revanchism; at post communist coup emigration).

After the establishment of a separate disinformation Section in 1964, individual intelligence departments began to coordinate more effectively and streamline their operations. The occupation in August 1968 and the subsequent normalization also had a short-term impact on Czechoslovak intelligence in terms of the number of individual active measures implemented. After "consolidation and normalization", especially concerning personnel in the second half of the 1970s, active measures focused on operations whose objectives were established at international meetings of representatives of intelligence services of socialist countries and further coordinated in regular consultations with Section A1 members of the First Chief Directorate of the State Security Committee (KGB). The objectives of long-term operations changed only slightly, and Eastern Bloc intelligence services committed to, inter alia:

  • "Support socialist countries in their struggle for peace and disarmament strategies, avert a space arms race…, promote arms free zones ..., achieve the destruction of chemical weapons ..., renounce the development of new weapons systems ...
  • Assist the anti-war movement in Western Europe and the US, support peace initiatives by non-participating countries to strengthen political pressure on the governments of NATO countries
  • Weaken the USA's position in Western Europe and intensify conflicts within NATO.
  • Actively engage governments, individual public officials and big business in major capitalist countries to engender a constructive attitude towards socialist countries ...
  • Expose the aggressive nature of US foreign policy, its policy of state terrorism, expose the dangerous consequences of implementing the Strategic Defense Initiative.
  • Expose the intrigues of the Beijing leadership.
  • Discredit enemy secret services, centres of ideological diversion, unmask the actions of special services of Western countries aimed at helping dissidents and the "protection of human rights"."

Individual objectives were broken down into concrete operations, so-called thematic active measures of the intelligence services. Such divisions existed within Directorate I of the FMV all the way up until November 1989.

Overview of methods and means of performing disinformation and psychological operations before 1989

Nowadays, if we observe the medialized and proven activities of Russia within hybrid warfare and compare them with the activities which the KGB and Eastern Bloc satellite services carried out in the Cold War as part of active measures, we can see the smooth continuity in their methods and forms of implementation. For the purpose of comparison, the most elementary ways and means of implementing active measures were:

  • organizing strikes, protest rallies, peace demonstrations, conferences, debates, public meetings
  • using high-ranking people (politicians, journalists), documents of various organizations, government agencies
  • parliamentary questions, debate in parliament, speeches in government, whispers in diplomatic circles, diplomatic notes of ministries
  • resolutions in congress, question time at congress
  • official intervention by ambassadors
  • transmission of information, transmission of misinformation
  • statements by political parties
  • publication of articles, documents, press and radio commentaries
  • Press conferences, Czech News Agency statements
  • broadcasting Czechoslovak radio abroad
  • Media campaigns
  • television programs and films
  • protest telegrams, letters from readers, threatening letters
  • letters of solidarity to government officials
  • publishing of books, brochures, leaflets, stickers, posters
  • use of imitations of newsletters, letters, documents
  • influencing politics through high-profile leaders, organizations or groups.

Disinformation is a security risk and a threat to freedom and democracy. One effective way of countering it is to systematically educate and inform the public and develop a civil society which values freedom. It is not and will not be an easy battle, because freedom necessitates a certain amount of responsibility and not everyone likes this. On the other hand, as expressed by Tomáš Janovic's anecdote, "totalitarianism frees you from thought". The choice is up to you.

We have chosen (while we are still free to make our own choices) to live in freedom and truth. That is why we have created this project.

[1] For a more about the inclusion of these terms in NATO over time, see M. Calistan, P.A.Cramers, 2018. What Do You Mean by "Hybrid Warfare"? Content Analysis on Hybrid Warfare Concept. Available at: https: //www.researchgate.net/publication/329782285_What_Do_You_Mean_by_H ...
[2] Zeľová in Len Bon Gustav Crowd Psychology.
[3] https://www.ibadatelna.cz/cs/slovnik/1-sprava-fmv
[4] https://www.ibadatelna.cz/cs/slovnik/aktivni-opatreni
[5] Implementation of effective active measures - one of the main tasks of Czechoslovak intelligence. ABS f. I. S-ZNB. SF 01.s 1-3