Ukraine war: Spies aren’t known for sharing secrets – so why are top UK officers being so chatty about Russia? | World News

 Ukraine war: Spies aren’t known for sharing secrets – so why are top UK officers being so chatty about Russia?  |  World News


Britain’s spy agencies are not typically known for being chatty and open, but that has changed since Russia started preparing for and then launching its invasion of Ukraine.

They know that information – as well as disinformation – is as much of a weapon in war as tanks and troops.

Words and images are also often not restricted by geographical boundaries, meaning that Western allies, in support of Ukraine, can directly engage in the use of information to undermine and attack Russia – and vice versa.

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Russian tank burns in town of Sloboda in Ukraine
Image:
A Russian tank burns in town of Sloboda in Ukraine

Suddenly, British and other Western governments are allowing their spies to share secrets in a way that has not happened in recent times.

They know that having a piece of intelligence in itself is not enough.

It is what you do with the information that matters.

In one of the highest-profile UK interventions, Sir Jeremy Fleming, head of intelligence and cyber agency GCHQ, made an extraordinary series of damning claims about what he called President Vladimir Putin’s “personal war” in Ukraine.

This included an allegation that Russian troops, short of weapons and morale, were accidentally shooting down their own aircraft and refusing to obey orders, as well as how advisers to the Russian leader are “too afraid” to tell him how badly things are going.

Bold criticisms, guaranteed to grab headlines, even though – because of the nature of intelligence, which the allegations were based upon – they were not backed up publicly by sources or corroboratory evidence.

In other developments:

• Zelenskyy says Russian invasion at a ‘turning point’
• Putin threatens to cut off gas contracts if payment is not made in rubles
• UK announces new sanctions against Russian propagandists and state media
• Kremlin advisers afraid to tell Putin the truth about Ukraine, spy chief says

Fire burns in a building after shelling in Irpin, near the capital Kyiv
Image:
Fire burns in a building after shelling in Irpin, near the capital Kyiv

Instead, the British government seemed to be relying on the credibility of the messenger – one of the country’s top intelligence officers – to ensure it was treated as fact not fiction.

Another normally less visible British officer from the intelligence world who has chosen to release the occasional public statement since the invasion began is Lieutenant General Jim Hockenhull, the chief of defense intelligence.

His agency has also gained prominence, releasing “intelligence updates” over social media daily about the war, often flagging Russian failings, but also successes on the ground.

Russian government officials will always try to dismiss or reject any negative allegations about the “special military operation” – they do not call it a war – in Ukraine.

It means the lack of supporting evidence for such claims will weaken their impact inside countries that are more suspicious of the UK.

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Anti-Russia allegations may also be treated with skepticism by those in Britain and other liberal democracies, who are not inclined to believe everything government officials tell them.

But in an information war, winning over everyone is not the goal.

It is about having the greatest ability to shape the narrative – in the case of Ukraine, that means the general understanding about what is happening when it comes to the physical fighting war and surrounding diplomacy.

Military vehicles are left abandoned in the Ukrainian town of Trostyanets, in the Sumy region
Image:
Military vehicles are left abandoned in the Ukrainian town of Trostyanets, in the Sumy region

The UK and its allies also insist they deploy information, rather than fake news, when it comes to Ukraine and Russia.

But the reality is that the goal of shaping narratives is something that can also be achieved with false or distorted data, as demonstrated by Mr Putin.

A master of disinformation, he has a stranglehold on all media outlets in his country and tightly controls all messaging from his ministries.

This means the ability to saturate pro-Putin newspapers, TV stations, websites, and social media channels with false news to manipulate opinion is incredibly strong.

But the ability of words, pictures or videos alone to have an impact is not the only factor in an information operation. Another key element is the credibility of the source.

An increasingly wide awareness, at least within the Western world, about how Mr Putin distorts reality means his ability to influence has its limitations.

It underlines the importance of credibility and trust for British and other Western intelligence agencies.

It also underscores the need to avoid any temptation to copy from the Kremlin and lie, disguise or distort the truth when seeking to rely on sharing information to attack an opponent.



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