Fancy that – the Wall Street Journal has a whole article about our trademarked brand name:
Connoisseurs of delicious irony must have been pleased when the latest edition of the CIA’s “Style Manual & Writers Guide for Intelligence Publications” circulated online last week.
The 185-page style guide, made public thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request by a group of attorneys known as the National Security Counselors, stresses that “good intelligence depends in large measure on clear, concise writing.”
But within its pages is a reminder that intelligence officers are not always so forthright in their communication. In a section on “possibly troublesome words,” the meanings of “misinformation” and “disinformation” are carefully distinguished. ” ‘Disinformation’ refers to the deliberate planting of false reports,” the style guide advises. ” ‘Misinformation’ equates in meaning but does not carry the same devious connotation.
The “devious connotation” of “disinformation” originated in the Cold War wrangling of intelligence agencies on both sides of the Iron Curtain. The word first hit English-language newspapers in the summer of 1954, in reports on an Australian Royal Commission hearing about bombshell allegations of Soviet spying. Vladimir Petrov, an officer at the Soviet embassy in Canberra, had agreed to provide evidence of espionage in exchange for political asylum. Petrov pulled back the veil on the global machinations of the KGB, including the existence of an entire department responsible for “the dissemination of misleading information,” known as the Disinformation Section.
Petrov’s word was a direct translation of Russian “dezinformatsiya,” possibly modeled on French “désinformation.” The Economist marveled at the Orwellian ring of it, writing that “one can only be grateful to the Soviet authorities for providing such a badly needed term.”
The word had, in fact, already seen some modest circulation in English. The Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories notes that as early as 1939, “disinformation” appeared in a report on intelligence activities leading up to World War II. The German “Disinformation Service” was described as engaging in “manufacturing fake military plans for the express purpose of having them stolen by foreign governments.”
But the revelation of the KGB’s Disinformation Section brought the word into wider use, including among members of the U.S. intelligence community, who have at times engaged in their own campaigns of intentional deception…
[continues at the Wall Street Journal]
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