‘disinformation’

The problem with the story, to begin with, is that it assumes both sources had access to the deepest secrets of the United States and were prepared to provide EurActiv with this secret. The location of U.S. nuclear weapons is extremely classified for a simple reason. If any enemies knew the location of the nuclear weapons, they could destroy them with conventional weapons. If the U.S. is moving these weapons, secrecy is necessary to protect against terrorists stealing them. The United States therefore holds location and movement information very tightly. Sometimes, I would suspect, they give false information on location so that any accurate leak would be mixed in with false ones. I don’t know this, but that’s what I would do if I were the U.S. government.

There is a great deal to be found on the internet about locations. And then there is pure guesswork, starting with the obvious (there are nuclear weapons stored at U.S. nuclear submarine bases) and ranging to what might be called “cafeteria gossip.” U.S. bases have cafeterias where people will meet and gossip, overwhelmingly over things they know little about, or about their pay or upcoming leave or something of this nature. That cafeteria gossip makes its way to Washington, to reporters and think tanks, and is reported. Since I have no way of knowing what’s true, I can’t judge what is false, but as a citizen I would be appalled by the implied security breach if what I heard from cafeteria gossip in Washington were accurate.

Russia practices disinformation, as does the United States and most countries. It is the common currency of humanity. At its most effective it is invisible. At other times it can only be sensed. But it is always there. In this case, neither of the two sources had to be working for the Russians. There are probably many degrees of separation between Russia and the sources. It would be impossible to trace the information back.

This is not a big story. But I write about it to remind people of journalism’s vulnerability to disinformation. At least some of what you read about a company’s new product is planted there by the public relations department, and disinformation is just the PR of the nation-state. Sometimes, as in the fall of the Soviet Union, there was no source who knew the story. Sometimes 10 sources are all wrong or lying. In the case of this story, it runs into the problem of compounded unlikelihood. For it to be true, then a lot of common sense has to be false. Can happen. Doesn’t often.

-George Friedman ‘Dismantling a Story on US Nukes‘ Reality Check

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