Monday, February 23, 2009

Re: Propaganda Blogs

After I published this post about this blog, wondering whether it was chekhist disinformation, I got a message from an Australian named Artyom who is eager for me to denounce his blog too.

It's kind of a bizarre message:
If u think Vara's blog is FSB funded, you will love ours. It will be the mother of all what we call "loyalist" blogs. We aren't funded by the MP or FSB but believe me if we could get dollars from them - we would.
Not exactly the tone one would expect from a coreligionist-- "if we could get dollars from them we would." Not, "How dare you slander our sister in the faith like that?" Or, "Brother, let me set you straight, for you have strayed from the path."

I like the term "loyalist." It's a surprisingly cynical, open, non-euphemistic term that accurately describes the relationship between ROCOR and MP, as I understand it (not very well). Who does? What is there to know? Who wants to know?
Anyway - if you feel like commenting there, please do. Looking forward to some interesting debates.

Sydney Australia
Not, "In Christ," or "God Bless," mind you. "Regards." Very professional, at any rate.

I have no intention of posting at Artyom's blog, ROCOR Unity, except sarcastically, to amuse myself. Unfortunately I am just as cynical and detached as my Australian friend, who takes the tone of clever adversary ("the title of your blog suggests that if nothing else, u do have an excllent inight into your condition") and cynical professional, not faithful Christian and dutiful servant of God.

His earlier creation, "Rocor Loyalism Central" demonstrates this even better.

So is Artyom a propagandist for the Moscow Patriarchate's Department of External Church Relations, or for the KGB or FSB's Service A or whatever they're calling their disinformation department these days? I don't know, and I don't particularly care. However, I do find pretty amusing the image of jaded, atheistic KGB men reading up on theology and church history in order to make their grist more believable.

I can't imagine a faithful Orthodox Christian, who is sincerely committed to the unity of the Orthodox Church, making pictures like this one of the left, or an arrow pointing to a clergyman with big red letters reading, "Traitor."

I can't imagine such a person making bizarre connections like this one between a non-loyal bishop and "monarchists." A priest in Canada marries a couple and the groom has distant connections to a former Russian tsar, and this Australian sees fit to point out the "monarchist" connections. It's pretty laughable. Yes, I'm sure "Prince" Alex Galitzine and Bishop Andronik Kotliaroff are instrumental parts of a monarchist plot to bring back the czar to Russia, overthrowing the "democracy." Maybe they are Trotskyites, too?

So I sent Artyom a brief, polite response. He waited a week, and then impatient, wrote me:
Could u add a mention/link of my blog in ur "propoganda blogs" post please? I feel a bit left out with poor old vara getting all the attention - i feel mine is far more propogandistic than hers... ;)
Yes, "all the attention." What a media firestorm my blog post set off! Tens of people saw it! And the only person who cares is Artyom of Sydney. Why the undue interest?

Of course, Artyom can explain the tone of his e-mails by saying that I am a crazy kook, and he is just having fun with me (of course, this is not the tone one should take with one who is in error about such weighty matters, especially a fellow Orthodox Christian). Still, his tone is kind of unbelievable, and if he is actively writing disinformation, a little unprofessional.

But perhaps I just don't understand. It seems the best course for the hypothetical Artyom-as-propagandist is to ignore me. Sure, a blogger identifying a fellow propagandist as such is something to take note of, even if that blog is kooky, weird, and unread. But why contact that blogger? To compromise him? But his kookiness is already a testament to his lack of trustworthiness. Aren't you imparting more seriousness to his claims than is due? Or are you just bored, amusing yourself?

Secondly, why would you, hypothetical Artyom-as-propagandist, want the weird, kooky blogger to identify you as such? Well, obviously, it is because he's a weird, kooky blogger and so him identifying you as a propagandist only serves to discredit the opinion that you are a propagandist-- look, this crazy blogger says this, and he also says Crazy Thing B and Crazy Thing C, so if you say that I am a propagandist then you are on the level of this kook who says Crazy Things B and C-- and it also serves to discredit the movement of the non-loyal Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, which is more important.

Then he can point to Useless Dissident as an example, saying, "This is representative of the schismatics. They are more concerned with opposing Russia than with church unity. Their loyalty is more to a political movement of anti-Communism than to the Church. And what's more, they are hopeless conspiracy theorists, who can't accept that the Russia of today is not the Soviet Union of the past." And who can argue with this? I can't even argue with that. Because, first of all, this blog isn't about "ROCOR Unity" or disunity or even religion at all. It's about politics. Even if it weren't in some degree a kooky conspiracy site, Artyom could say, "Look, the schismatics only care about politics. This guy opposes the union of MP and ROCOR because he's a right-winger." And on a certain level, he would be correct.

On the other hand, what is the point of a "ROCOR Unity" propaganda blog? Doesn't it only serve to undermine the valuable work that honest, sincere, and genuine blogs and commentaries in support of union do for your cause? Union is over and done with; certainly not many people are talking about it anymore in our churches. Why call attention to the ongoing process of assimilation of ROCOR into the MP hierarchy and bureaucracy? Why make anyone wonder about a possible function of ROCOR as Russian foreign intelligence channel? Why not leave it to sincere and faithful Orthodox Christians who honestly and cheerfully celebrate the union of ROCOR and MP as the healing of a painful wound and a new opportunity for evangelism and outreach? Why do you need a blog that makes "loyalism" look bad, by publishing obviously one-sided accounts and shamelessly slandering schismatic bishops?

I know Westerners are extremely naive and trusting, and for the most part cannot recognize disinformation. Russians look at everything with cynicism; but Westerners gaze with rose-colored glasses. Russians assume it is propaganda; Westerners don't even consider that it might be. For that reason, there is little danger in blogs like Voices from Russia or ROCOR Unity, if in fact they are propaganda (that is, created by paid employees of the Moscow Patriarchate or some Russian government or military agency).

Are they? I really don't know. It doesn't matter, either. Nor is it so black-and-white, like either they are active disinformation measures or not. Artyom wrote, "We aren't funded by the MP or FSB but believe me if we could get dollars from them - we would." So what's the difference? If you would accept money from them, it means you think you are doing them a service that should be paid for with money. Of course, money is only part of the equation. The acronym MICE outlines the reasons for cooperation: Money, Ideology, Compromise, Ego.

Artyom, for instance, could perform this service out of Anti-Americanism, thinking that by promoting the union between ROCOR and MP and discrediting the opponents of union, he is increasing Russian hegemony and pulling one over on America. This is just one possibility. Or he just thinks he's a Russian patriot. Or, he could be totally innocent, just a particularly naive and simple person.

Intelligence is about making educated guesses. It's not about certainty. Nor is it about particular cases, but about a greater movement of influence. Thus I know that certainly there are propaganda blogs, but which are and which aren't... in the absence of information, in a world full of all sorts of different people with all sorts of different motives and beliefs, it's foolish to announce that this is, but that other is not.

What I do know:

1) Disinformation is used by government intelligence agencies.
2) The KGB in particular is very good at it.
3) There is little indication that the KGB today (FSB/SVR) is any less zealous than the KGB of the past.
4) The Russian government was very excited about the possibility of union between MP and ROCOR and worked hard to achieve that goal.

Thus, I can safely assume that the MP/ROCOR union is an intelligence and foreign policy goal of the Russian Federation and that the intelligence apparatus, including its disinformation functions, would be employed toward achieving that goal. Of course, just because a government is "excited" about some prospect doesn't mean it will use any and all underhanded tactics at its disposal to achieve that goal. It's just my knowledge and suspicion about Russia in particular that lends credence to that possibility.