Observations of an ex pat: Lies, damned lies and the Russian Government

What a hoot. I mean, I nearly landed in hospital with laughter split sides. Did Russia actually believe that US and British intelligence would launch a major cyber-attack on the American government in order to cast blame on Moscow?

To be fair to Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), he didn’t actually categorically blame the CIA, National Security Agency, MI6 and GCHQ for the December Solar Winds hack into US government departments and about 100 private companies. Naryshkin simply denied Russian culpability and claimed that the tactics were similar to those used by American and British intelligence. The careful intelligence-speak gives him wriggle room to deny the denial should that ever become necessary.

What we are talking about is what the intelligence world calls a “false flag” operation. The term dates back to at least the early days of European empire when marauding pirates would hoist the flag of a friendly nation in order to close quarters with their prey before raising the skull and bones and opening a broadside. The same tactic was used by the British and French navies with great effect during the Napoleonic Wars.

In more modern times, Hitler—in order to aid his consolidation of Nazi power– falsely claimed that the 1933 Reichstag fire was a communist plot. The West does not have clean hands. In 1953 the CIA organised attacks on Iranian mosques and claimed they were communist-inspired as part of its attempt to overthrow Iranian leader Mohammed Mossadeq. Then there was Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential elections (denied, denied). And, of course, Donald Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

Russia is notorious for false flag operations. Or to use another term, lying. In the old Soviet days Pravda (Russian for truth) would regularly publish false stories about inflated production figures pushing the socialist heaven on earth towards a workers’ paradise. It is not surprising Vladimir Putin uses the tactics he learned as a KGB agent in defense of communism.

While Putin was a mere prime minister, a series of bomb attacks levelled several Moscow apartment blocks, resulting in the deaths of 293 people. Putin blamed rebel Chechens, used the blasts to increase attacks in Chechnya and then used his success in Chechnya to secure the presidency. A subsequent inquiry blamed Russia’s FSB (successor to the KGB) for the bombings.

Then there is the shooting down over Ukraine of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 which resulted in the deaths of all 298 people aboard. An independent inquiry determined that the plane was shot down by a Russian ground to air missile based in Russian-occupied Eastern Ukraine. Putin continues to deny this. He also denies that Russian troops invaded Eastern Ukraine in 2014.

The list of denied murders, bombings, invasions, attempted murders, hacks, and cyber-attacks goes on and on and…. A book could easily be written on the subject. Perhaps it has been. The point is, Vladimir Putin has form. He is like the boy who cried wolf and nobody believed when he finally told the truth.

But then Putin is not interested in truth, or even being believed. His goal is to undermine confidence in Western political institutions by sowing seeds of doubt and confusion. And there are plenty in the West who are willing to be his accomplices in their own pursuit of political and economic gain. Conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones, has amassed a $10 million fortune by pedalling conspiracy-based lies such as the Democratic Party plotting a white genocide, pizzagate and the claims that the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and Stoneman Douglas High School were false flag operations organised by the anti-gun lobby.

All of the above are obvious lies. But they do their job. As Mark Twain (or was it Churchill, Stalin or Jonathan Swift?) said: “A lie travels halfway around the world before truth gets its boots on.” In the era of 24/7 news and social media overload lies now travel around the world several times while truth slumbers on. Which is why Putin is in danger of being rushed to hospital with laughter-induced split sides.

* American expat journalist Tom Arms is LDV's foreign affairs editor, author of the forthcoming book “America: Made in Britain” and Campaigns Chair for Wandsworth Lib Dems

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7 Comments

  • Brad Barrows 22nd May '21 - 9:29am

    False flag operations – would that include the USA falsely claiming an attack against them on 4th August 1964 (the second Tonkin incident) to justify a huge escalation in involvement in the Vietnam War?

  • @ Brad re Gulf of Tonkin. Absolutely right. As I said, “the West does not have clean hands.” I do believe, however, that the Russians– especially under Putin– are filthy. However, America and its allies are guilty of false operations often enough to be vulnerable to a charge of hypocrisy.

  • Tom Arms…….What a hoot. I mean, I nearly landed in hospital with laughter split sides………..

    The ‘silly season’ must have come early this year..

    Daily Telegraph headline…”We’ll stand up to China as the sheriff of the seas, says Boris Johnson.”

  • Good article, though I do question the misplaced suggestion that Putin is a source of mirth.

    Putin enjoys causing fear and confusion in the West, but his policy has an additional purpose. By claiming that Russia is squeaky clean and all the destabilising skullduggery is the work of the evil West, he convinces the Russian people that that they are under relenless attack and how fortunate they are that they have the strong man, Putin, to defend them. It seems to work.

  • The mirth metaphor was my attempt at irony.

  • Andrew McCaig 22nd May '21 - 4:22pm

    Putin is undoubtedly a ruthless leader, but he is also a genuinely popular one inside his own country, far more popular than any western leader.
    Part of that is feeding a narrative that the world is against Russia, and false flag operations may also have helped him in the case of the Chechen war. But mostly he has brought (by clever use of an oil and gas bonanza) internal stability, economic growth, infrastructure investment and attention to social programmes to Russia after the chaos and poverty that characterised the post Soviet Yeltsyn era, and that is his real secret.

  • The hijacking of the Ryannair airliner while flying over Belarus yesterday is an act of International piracy. The kidnapping of a journalist and his girlfriend from an EU flight between two EU countries is a criminal act as was the shooting down over Ukraine of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 which resulted in the deaths of all 298 people aboard.
    The institutions and international agreements that secured peace in the post-war period are being severely tested and clearly not respected by a number of countries around the world including two of the security council permanent members – Russia and China.
    North Korea has undertaken a blatant assassination in Malaysia and Saudi Arabia has murdered and dismembered a Washington post journalist in its embassy in Istanbul.
    Tom Arms piece describes the Orwellian state we have arrived at. Our thoughts are with the Belarusian journalist now held in the Ministry of Love that identifies, monitors, arrests and converts real and imagined dissidents. The place where the thought Police beat and torture dissidents, after which they are sent to Room 101 to face “the worst thing in the world”—until love for Big Brother and the Party replaces dissension.

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