Disinformation and the Threat Posed by Conspiracy Theories

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The Cipher Brief is running a special series on disinformation – in all of its forms – ahead of the 2020 U.S. Election.  This week, The Cipher Brief spoke with former CIA analyst and Intelligence Briefer Cindy Otis, about how foreign intelligence services use conspiracy theories to sow distrust and division.  Otis is the author of a book coming out next Spring titled, True or False: A CIA Analyst’s Guide to Identifying and Fighting Fake News

Foreign intelligence services have long created and promoted conspiracy theories as a critical tool in their information operations arsenals deployed against their adversaries. In one of the most well-known cases from the 1980s, the Soviet Union spread the theory that the U.S. military had created HIV-AIDS at Fort Detrick, Maryland, for use as a biological weapon.  Of course, it wasn’t true, but these types of information operations can effectively, discredit and weaken opponents, damage their credibility, and inflame broader social and political tensions.

The Cipher Brief has become the most popular outlet for former intelligence officers; no media outlet is even a close second to The Cipher Brief in terms of the number of articles published by formers.” —Sept. 2018, Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 62

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