Journal Article - Brown Journal of World Affairs

Spies, Election Meddling, and Disinformation: Past and Present

| Fall/Winter 2019


Spies, election meddling, disinformation, influence operations, data harvesting: at present, it seems barely a moment passes without another intelligence scandal breaking on our news feeds. Following Russia's "sweeping and systematic" attack on the 2016 U.S. presidential election—which was intended to support Moscow's favored candidate, Donald J. Trump, and undermine his opponent, Hillary Clinton—the media frequently labeled the operation "unprecedented." The social-media technologies that Russia deployed in its cyber-attack on the United States in 2016 were certainly new, but Russia's strategy was far from unusual. In fact, the Kremlin has a long history of meddling in U.S. and other Western democratic elections and manufacturing disinformation to discredit and divide the West. Russia's leader, Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer, has reconstituted and updated the KGB's old Cold War playbook for the new digital age. This paper, an exercise of applied history, has two aims: first, to understand the history of Soviet disinformation, and second, to make sense of Western efforts to counter it during the Cold War. Doing so provides policy-relevant conclusions from history about countering disinformation produced by Russia and other authoritarian regimes today.

For more information on this publication: Please contact Applied History Project
For Academic Citation:

Walton, Calder. "Spies, Election Meddling, and Disinformation: Past and Present." Brown Journal of World Affairs, vol. XXVI. no. I. (Fall/Winter 2019): 107–124.