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Publisher's Summary

This revelatory and dramatic history of disinformation traces the rise of secret organized deception operations from the interwar period to contemporary internet troll farms

We live in the age of disinformation - of organized deception. Spy agencies pour vast resources into hacking, leaking, and forging data, often with the goal of weakening the very foundation of liberal democracy: trust in facts. Thomas Rid, a renowned expert on technology and national security, was one of the first to sound the alarm. Even before the 2016 election, he warned that Russian military intelligence was "carefully planning and timing a high-stakes political campaign" to disrupt the democratic process. But as crafty as such so-called active measures have become, they are not new. 

The story of modern disinformation begins with the clash between communism and capitalism after the Russian Revolution, which would come to define the Cold War. In Active Measures, Rid reveals startling intelligence and security secrets from materials written in more than 10 languages across several nations, and from interviews with current and former operatives. He exposes the disturbing yet colorful history of professional, organized lying, revealing for the first time some of the century's most significant operations - many of them nearly beyond belief. A White Russian ploy backfires and brings down a New York police commissioner; a KGB-engineered, anti-Semitic hate campaign creeps back across the Berlin Wall; the CIA backs a fake publishing empire, run by a former Wehrmacht U-boat commander that produces Germany’s best jazz magazine. Rid tracks the rise of leaking, and shows how spies began to exploit emerging internet culture many years before WikiLeaks. Finally, he sheds new light on the 2016 election, especially the role of the infamous "troll farm" in St. Petersburg as well as a much more harmful attack that unfolded in the shadows.

Active Measures takes the listener on a guided tour deep into a vast hall of mirrors old and new, pointing to a future of engineered polarization, more active and less measured - but also offering the tools to cut through the game of deception.

A Macmillan Audio production from Farrar, Straus and Giroux

©2020 Thomas Rid (P)2020 Macmillan Audio

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Excellent and engaging book, but one-sided

In this ambitious and interesting account, Thomas Rid retraces the history of how systematic disinformation has been used by intelligence services for political gain, from the onset of 20th century to the alleged hacking of the 2016 American elections by "Russian hackers". Of course, the 20th century did not invent disinformation, deception and mass manipulation, but it propelled them to levels of efficiency never imagined before, thanks to an array of new communication technologies and people (radio, magazines, newspaper, journalists). High-level covert disinformation tactics carried out by intelligence services are referred to as "active measures". The absolutely staggering levels of disinformation we're witnessing today have had their foundations laid down more than a century ago.

I found this book this book both instructive and important, mostly because it focused on "real fake events", rather than propaganda theory of something of the kind. It will bring you up-to-date on the levels of sophistication we have achieved in our ability to lie to and to manipulate one another through disinformation.

My only criticism is that the author's lens is almost exclusively focused on the former Soviet Union and East German Republic, and current-day Russia. I'm fairly confident that the U.S and other Western countries were no innocent bystanders in the race for weapons of mass disinformation. I understand that the book is already 14 hours long, but it would have gained in credibility with a more balanced account. If you describe a boxing match, please let me know what both boxers are doing, not just one. Else, well, the book is at risk of choking on its own food (being considered as an "active measure")?

Despite its "focus", I strongly recommend it. It's a detailed and powerful overview of the history of "active measures". It may change the way you look at information and news. It has certainly made me more cautious, and looking for divergent points of view to get "the big picture". If however you feel depressed about the current state of the political discourse in the West, and by the orgy of disinformation that can be found on the net, then this book won't help. Take the blue pill and forget about it.

As the color of the book's cover page shows, it's a red pill: take it and see how deep our current rabbit hole goes.

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  • fjness
  • 2020-05-12

Grounding book for COVID 19 Media

Ride's work should dampen the concerns of "the new and never seen." He shows humans have been exploiting information for longer than the 21st century. COVID, like AIDS, is proving valuable for attacking cohesion. I enjoyed his connection of active measures to Foucot and post modernism. Spy thriller intensity combined with a philosophical treatise nuance--a fun informative read.

14 people found this helpful

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  • Wil D
  • 2020-08-27

A Clear View of Disinformation

Active Measures takes a deep dive into how disinformation is being used to interfere with the way we see truth. While, as Thomas Rid points out, this is nothing new, it has become a very potent tool with the rise of the internet and social media platforms. Technology is now being used to bolster rifts in democratic countries around the world. These rifts are now paving the way for a complete breakdown in trust for our institutions. The only way for us to counter the effects of disinformation is to understand the game and how it is being played on us. You need to listen to this book.

8 people found this helpful

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  • John E. Byington
  • 2020-06-23

Good Catch Up on History and Recent Events

This fills is some of the "rest of the story," But if one doesn't have some above average background knowledge of the history going on, I think this work could lose many readers. Disinformation is a really challenging topic. No doubt some of this will need to be revised in some future date as archives open to permit researchers greater understanding of events, but I thought this a good introduction regarding what has been done in the past as an indicator of what could be done in the future. Anyone that cherishes concepts under-girding a liberal democracy should understand how those ideas are and will continue to be attacked by enemies, both foreign and domestic. For that reason, I recommend this book.

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  • Dave
  • 2020-12-29

Excellent and entertaining history of AM

Excellently written and narrated. This book will make you want to continue researching the topic and pour over other sources referenced.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Thomas R. Egan
  • 2020-12-24

A grim tale of the world of disinformation.

A timely story about the history of disinformation, leading up to today's highly effective and destructive social media versions.

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  • Nathan
  • 2020-12-22

Enjoyable but only after it grows on you.

Very detailed account of disinformation. Almost too much detail at times, but that seems to be the norms for such material. Overall great information and substance.

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  • dick
  • 2020-11-11

Very informative histury of disinformation

Disinformation aka Active Measures, has been widely used by US, USSR and Russia for many decades to promote their world view short of outright war. It is complex, subtle, presistent and adaptive to perceived needs. The book goes through dozens of examples showing the complecity and creativity of the intrigue. Absolutely fascinating. Interesting how the Soviets supported the peace movement (no new nukes) in Europe keep the US from introducing our own intermediate range missles (NATO) when the Soviets already had their own SS20 missles in place. Active measures work best when it piggybacks on existing sentiments making it hard to assess the effect. Only the last few chapters covers current events - perhaps disappointing both sides of political debate. It's a book worth reading.

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  • Nathan Phillips
  • 2020-10-19

timely

Are Asmerican politics confusing these days? Read this before you take in the rest of the noise.

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  • K
  • 2021-05-17

century of disinformation

one of the best books on the subject to date. documenting examples of disinformation, faking leaked documents, and manipulation, to newer cyber techniques.

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  • Boo
  • 2021-02-14

Great insight into what’s behind the memes

Highly recommend this book!
We’re being led around by the nose. Monitoring of Merkel was an active measure. So much of what’s in the news is all out false, or massaged into appearing worse.