INTELLIGENCE. Disinformation driving contemporary wars


The Russian-Ukrainian war presented, besides a firefight with real dead and wounded, an old weapon with a new face: disinformation through social platforms and digital media.

Not only and not so much on the Russian-Ukrainian fronts (there are chats and forums to plead the cause of one against the other) but also aimed at targeting, from time to time, the different countries that are allies or enemies of the Russian Federation, Ukraine, the United States, Europe, NATO, and so on. Not only that, when news is spread by so-called accredited sources, no one dares to deny it, even if, objectively speaking, it is difficult to verify and therefore cannot be classified as such.

Going back in time there was the great hoax about the death of General Khalifa Haftar, 13 April 2018, which became news after it was also posted by Anadolu Agency, a Turkish news agency published, however, with reference to alleged medical bulletins and without a photo to testify to the event. Khalifa Haftar was alive and well and was in France for medical checks and is still alive today.

More recently in March 2022, on the 14th to be precise, we saw a front page of the Press reporting a Russian attack in Ukraine, which was true news, but with a photo of a Ukrainian attack in the Donbass, photo by photographer Eduard Kornienko of URA.RU.

Things like this happen every day, all over the world. On 1 November, for example, the hoax of the day was the announcement of an imminent Iranian attack in Saudi Arabia expected within 48 hours.

The posts in the social sphere related to Russia and Ukraine read: ‘Riyadh shared information with Washington on an imminent Iranian attack against targets in Saudi Arabia. Based on this information, the level of combat readiness of the US military and other forces in the Middle East has been increased’.

The same slightly modified news item was re-posted at 9.36pm also on 1 November: ‘US and Saudi air defence forces in the Middle East have been put on alert in anticipation of Iranian drone attacks’.

A rendering of how the Shahed -136 could carry out an attack against Saudi Aramco infrastructure was also posted online. The Iranian Foreign Ministry felt called in and denied the imminent attack. On 4 November, i.e. four days later, there was no Iranian attack on Saudi facilities.

Recall that Iran has its finger pointed at by the whole world for the possible supply of Shahed -136 drones to Russia. Also on 1 November, Washington expressed confidence that Iran has supplied Russia with its drones and Moscow probably wants more. Supply partially admitted on 5 November. At the same time, US intelligence has no specific information on whether Tehran has supplied Russia with ballistic missiles. In short, the news is not verifiable at the moment, although Israel has brought remnants of Iranian drones taken in Saudi Arabia and Ukraine showing that they are identical.

The fact is that Iran and Russia have been building the same drones under different names since at least 2011. As written in another article.

In Iran there have also been a series of demonstrations against the regime for several weeks, which began with the protests to demand justice for the killing of Mahsa Amini by the security forces that have already led, according to Iranian sources living abroad, to more than 300 deaths throughout the region. Riots in which weapons are arriving. Within the insurgent groups just as happened in Syria in 2011 or Iraq in 2019.

In countries like France, many professionals have been enlisted to try to unravel the online lies. But all have so far achieved partial results. The fact is that to understand false or partially true news, in addition to algorithms that search for human geographical references, dating photos, bots, etc., it takes historians, communication graduates, and people who know the geopolitical context and a great deal of political will that is not there. It almost makes one think that the market for disinformation has a lot of value….

Graziella Giangiulio