Book Review: The Deception Game, by Lawrence Martin-Bittman

I read a great book two nights ago written by a defector from the (then) Czechoslovakian intelligence service. I didn't have time enough to write about it before the sandman came calling, but mulling it over throughout the day gave me a greater perspective on its modern day applications. Specifically, how to identify disinformation and gaslighting attempts.


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The Deception Game by Lawrence Martin-Bittman is the memoir of a former Czechoslovak intelligence officer who defects from his Soviet-controlled intelligence agency in the Prague. He describes in great detail the department (Department "D" for "disinformation") that disseminated anti-American propaganda, acting as an arm of the Soviets. The scope of the disinformation campaigns he ran are varied--some included even the publication of books by the Western press--but all relied on preexisting sentiments of the masses and subtle manipulation tactics.


A Facebook recent meme posed the following false dichotomy: "I wish some of you cared as much about homeless veterans as you do illegal immigrants and refugees." We've seen a lot of these in the last year and half, and we're going to see a lot more. The implication, of course, is that there is a finite amount of "care" that someone can have and caring for homeless veterans should be of higher value to patriotic Americans than caring for immigrants and refugees.

Rulers have used this tactic for centuries: if two or more groups with claims to righteousness are pitted against one another, they'll be so busy fighting that they won't notice what else you are doing. If people care strongly about immigrants and refugees, and other people feel strongly about helping veterans, why pit them against each other? It's not as if there is a pot of money that goes to either refugees OR veterans; that's not how our budgeting process works. "We shouldn't do anything about problem x because of problem y" doesn't make sense. It's classic gaslighting.

Often, it's not even fair to say that there are two separate groups, one pulling for refugees and one pulling for veterans, in this case; they are the same people. Last week, Trump's hiring freeze negatively impacted both the VA and veterans directly, who receive hiring preference for federal jobs. This hiring freeze was protested by the same groups fighting against Trump's Muslim ban.

This is (really effective) gaslighting. It's exhausting and it does nothing to unify our country.

What's terrifying is that it is happening on both sides. I'm no Trump supporter, but the Trump supporters I know personally wouldn't hesitate to help a veteran OR a Syrian refugee child; same goes for those protesting. Most from both sides would give the shirts of their backs to help either.


I found The Deception Game to be as relevant today as it was when the Soviet Union still existed. Primarily, because the KGB remains in power in Russia. After Russian government interference in our Presidential election, the study of the Russian power structure seems more of a contemporary topic than it did perhaps a year ago. Second, because the disinformation campaigns run by the Soviets are similar to those run by pro-Trump groups today and, truly, by clever rulers in any period of history.

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