2019 Digital Video Storytelling finalist

Operation InfeKtion: Russian Disinformation from Cold War to Kanye

About the Project

Operation InfeKtion is an ambitious documentary that uncovers the origins, techniques and targets of deliberately faked news, and explains its relevance today. It combines archival video, original reporting, and animation in an engaging and accessible narrative.

The story pulls back the curtain on Moscow’s disinformation campaign, revealing a highly organized, well-funded effort by Russian military intelligence operating since the 1950s. Its purpose, then and now, has been to destabilize the West with the ultimate goal of dismantling international alliances.

Operation InfeKtion presents one of our generation’s most alarming but largely misunderstood threats as a compelling story for a wide audience. Disinformation aims to confuse and exhaust. We wanted to combat this by helping audiences see beyond the noise of the news cycle. The series sharpens the audience’s disinformation-detection radar by explaining the past, and shows how and why lies are promulgated on a mass scale.

In 2016, a source handed us a 1987 U.S. government report detailing anti-American Soviet disinformation operations. It read like a movie script, detailing a cat and mouse game between two superpowers warring over truth. It offered an eerie and urgent lesson on a rapidly developing story.

We spent months tracking down frontline disinformation soldiers on both sides of the Cold War. Dozens had died. Some had dementia. One of the last living experts, Ladislav Bittman, appears in the film, but died shortly after we interviewed him. Neither Bittman nor Kathleen Bailey had been interviewed since the Cold War.

As a workaround to the lack of living agents, we conducted extensive archival research in Moscow, Germany and the U.S. to surface 235 photos, radio reports, newspaper clippings and videos from the Cold War: From the Library of Congress to Soviet news clippings, to German films funded by Stasi. This hunt led to a little known clip of Dan Rather reading a fake news story on the evening news.

The disinformation story outpaced our project: it was supposed to be a single historical primer. But as we neared publication, Robert S. Mueller III brought indictments against 13 Russians for conspiring to interfere with the U.S. election. The indictments gave us goosebumps, resembling the same Cold War tactics we outlined – from spelling mistakes revealing Moscow’s handiwork, to kernels of truth directed at unsuspecting Americans. Technology has changed, but the tactics and objectives were nearly identical. We felt it a disservice to leave audiences to connect the dots, so we produced a second episode, outlining the similarities between the AIDS hoax and the Pizzagate conspiracy.

Still, the story kept evolving. Politicians became aware of the disinformation threat. Public hearings demanded complex solutions including regulation. Trump clashed with intelligence agencies about the origins of these attacks. So we produced a third episode that uncovered working defenses against disinformation warfare.

Fake news can only be fought with public awareness. We’re proud of Operation InfeKtion for exposing this threat to a global audience. We turned an intricate and evolving story into a compelling film without compromising nuance or detail.