|dc.description.abstract||Allegations of Russian meddling after the 2016 U.S. presidential elections popularized the terms “disinformation” and “foreign influence” in popular culture. However, the terms are not new; in fact, they correspond to the last decade of the Cold War, a period known for successful U.S. government responses to disinformation. This thesis aims to study the role of the Interagency Active Measures Working Group (“AMWG”), which countered Soviet disinformation during the Reagan Administration.
The AMWG is highly regarded among government circles for its effectiveness as a national-level interagency group and its outsized role in combating the most prominent Soviet campaigns. In this context, this thesis aims to understand how the group earned its reputation. Specifically, this study seeks to answer the following questions: (1) What made for an effective or ineffective U.S. government response to Soviet active measures? (2) What was it that AMWG did or did not accomplish? (3) Lastly, what can the U.S. learn today from that experience? This study draws on the content analysis of historical documents to evaluate the actions of the group. Furthermore, it employs process tracing techniques to compare the methodology of the AMWG’s against Soviet disinformation techniques.
The results suggest a new concept that centers on the disparity between Soviet actions and U.S. responses. While the AMWG was successful in many aspects, its techniques and procedures appeared to be largely suited for academic or political audiencess. In contrast, Soviet disinformation practices were directed at mass public audiences and used techniques that targeted the heuristic processing model of decision making and bypassed critical thinking. The inconsistencies in the methods show that while the AMWG successfully garnered attention from Soviet elites, it struggled to reverse the damage caused by Soviet disinformation among the mass public. For this reason, modern efforts to combat disinformation should rely on techniques that use systemic and heuristic processing methods to deliver accurate messages to different audience sets.||