By Finian Cunningham
The “newspaper of record” New York Times arguably holds the record for peddling anti-Russia scare stories. This week the NY Times delivered yet another classic spook tale dressed as serious news.
Among its splash articles, under the headline ‘Top Secret Russian Unit Seeks to Destabilize Europe, Security Officials Say’, readers were told of an elite Russian spy team which has, allegedly, only recently been discovered.
It’s called “Unit 29155” and purportedly directed by the Kremlin to “destabilize Europe” with “subversion, sabotage and assassination.”
According to the NY Times, this crack squad of Russia’s most ruthless military intelligence agents were involved in an attempted assassination of an arms dealer in Bulgaria in 2015; the destabilization of Moldova; a failed coup against the Montenegrin government; and the alleged poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal in England last year.
The article states: “Western security officials have now concluded that these operations, and potentially many others, are part of a coordinated and ongoing campaign to destabilize Europe, executed by an elite unit inside the Russian intelligence system skilled in subversion, sabotage and assassination.”
The NY Times adds: “The purpose of Unit 29155, which has not been previously reported, underscores the degree to which the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, is actively fighting the West with his brand of so-called hybrid warfare — a blend of propaganda, hacking attacks and disinformation — as well as open military confrontation.”
This is all because, the readers are told, “The Kremlin sees Russia as being at war with a Western liberal order that it views as an existential threat.”
In response, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed it as more of the “pulp fiction category” which Western news media have manufactured with seeming increasing intensity over recent years. Peskov pointed out that Moscow has repeatedly stated its desire to normalize relations with Western states and the European Union in particular, contradicting the theme of the NY Times’ piece.
Indeed, the Russian Embassy in Britain recently published a compilation of false articles peddled by Western media over the past four years. The NY Times features prominently as one of the main purveyors of scare stories about alleged malign Russian activities, from hacking into presidential elections, to targeting American power grids, to covert collusion with President Donald Trump.
For students of Propaganda 101, this week’s tale makes a case study of how disinformation is disseminated in the guise of “news reporting.”
First of all, the NY Times reporter, Michael Schwirtz, gives a meandering account of lurid dirty deeds performed in various international locations allegedly carried out by the supposed “elite” Kremlin hybrid warriors. But tellingly, there are no details evidencing Russian involvement. It’s all lurid speculation spiced with fear-mongering, which reads like a pallid John le Carré spy novel.
Then, the usual giveaway that the NY Times is engaging in disinformation, it quotes anonymous security officials for apparent verification of its claims about “Unit 29155”. This is tacit admission of who the real authors are: Western spooks.
Next, a neat effort to give the lame story some legs is to quote named public figures. But these sources don’t confirm the existence of the alleged Kremlin unit; they are merely invited to speculate on its existence and presumed malign purpose. One of those named sources is MI6 chief Alex Younger. Yes, that’s right, the paper of record is quoting British military intelligence as a reliable source for public information. Another named source is Peter Zwack, who is described as a former US military intelligence officer who worked at the American Embassy in Moscow. Zwack is quoted as describing Russians as “organically ruthless” (whatever that means), while the paper actually admits that “he was not aware of the unit’s existence.”
The purpose of throwing a few names into the reporting mix is to lend a veneer of credibility to the nebulous, unverifiable, scary stuff that the anonymous spooks feed the reporter.
A special mention must be given to a third named source quoted by the NY Times. He is Eerik-Niiles Kross, an Estonian lawmaker and former military intelligence chief in Tallinn. He styles himself as “Estonia’s James Bond,” and is known for his salacious Russophobic warnings of “imminent invasion of the Baltic states” – over the past three decades. Kross is quoted to speculate on the existence of the alleged Kremlin hybrid warfare unit. Of course, he dutifully serves up his notorious anti-Russian fear-mongering. But he is not confirming. His speculation is pseudo-validation of information that is essentially fictional.
All in all, the latest installment of anti-Russia propaganda from the NY Times this week is a damp squib among many previous baseless reports of alleged Kremlin malign activity. If it serves any purpose, it is perhaps a choice illustration of how disinformation is sneakily, insidiously presented as ‘news’. The fact that this should appear in a Pulitzer Prize-winning, supposedly premier, American newspaper is the disturbing part.
But it is no surprise to those who have long studied how the US corporate media has been under the control of state intelligence agencies for many decades, especially after the Second World War and during the subsequent Cold War against the Soviet Union.
In a seminal essay in 1977 for Rolling Stone magazine, award-winning journalist Carl Bernstein documented how the CIA systematically cultivated hundreds of reporters, columnists, editors, publishing executives and broadcast networks to function as conduits for disinformation – much of it directed at demonizing the Soviet Union.
“From the outset, the use of journalists was among the CIA’s most sensitive undertakings,” writes Bernstein.
He added: “By far the most valuable of these associations, according to CIA officials, have been with the New York Times, CBS and Time Inc.”
How the CIA goes about planting false stories in the American and European media is outlined in this candid interview by John Stockwell, who was former National Security Council coordinator for the agency during the 1970s. Stockwell also added: “Enemies are necessary for the wheels of the US military machine to turn.”
You may wonder, if the Cold War ended nearly 30 years ago when the Soviet Union dissolved, why then do the NY Times and other Western media outlets continue to pump out anti-Russian propaganda? But that assumes the Cold War was primarily about the US opposing the ideology of communism. It wasn’t. It was, and still is, all about imposing control over the masses so they don’t ever challenge the power structure that deprives them of full democratic rights and decent livelihoods.
In a recent interview, philosopher André Vitchek makes the point that Western politicians and media like the NY Times keep harping on Cold War scare stories about evil foreigners in order “to distract their citizens from thinking about their increasingly limited freedoms and diminishing standards of living.”
The Cold War continues, and anti-Russia hysteria is but a distraction, as was the anti-Soviet hysteria. The aim is to distract the public from the real Cold War which is a war by the elites against democracy ever being actually realized among the masses.