Distinguishing between disinformation and misinformation is critical as an operative or civilian, as each plays a unique role in the art of deception and perception management.

In the grand theater of global operations, disinformation is the script written to deceive, while misinformation is the ad-lib that misleads without intent.

Disinformation and misinformation both involve the spread of false information, but the key difference lies in the intent behind the distribution. Disinformation refers to deliberately misleading or biased information that is spread with the intention to deceive or manipulate public opinion or obscure the truth.

This kind of tactic is often employed in the work of intelligence and statecraft, where operatives strategically use disinformation as a part of their tradecraft to influence political, social, or military outcomes. It’s a calculated move, much like a chess play in the world of global espionage.

Misinformation, on the other hand, does not involve the intention to deceive. It refers to false or inaccurate information that is spread without malicious intent. This can happen for various reasons, such as misunderstanding, errors in communication, or simply the lack of proper verification. People sharing misinformation often believe the information to be true and are not attempting to cause harm. This lack of intent to deceive is what fundamentally distinguishes misinformation from disinformation.


Disinformation and misinformation can be potent tools in psychological operations (PSYOPS), aimed at influencing perceptions and behavior of both adversaries and the general public. By deliberately crafting and disseminating disinformation, operatives engage in a form of tradecraft designed to deceive, disrupt, or demoralize the enemy, manipulating facts to serve specific strategic objectives.

On the other hand, misinformation, although not intentionally spread to deceive, can inadvertently support PSYOPS by creating confusion and uncertainty. Both tactics exploit the cognitive biases and emotions of the target audience, making them more susceptible to the intended psychological effects, which can shift public opinion, alter enemy decision-making processes, and ultimately achieve political or military goals.

In the arsenal of an operative, understanding and manipulating these information dynamics are critical to the success of broader strategic operations.

Disinformation VS Misinformation in New York City | TRDCRFT

Notable Disinformation Events

    The Gulf of Tonkin Incident: This event was pivotal in escalating U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. Initial reports claimed that North Vietnamese forces had launched unprovoked attacks on American destroyers. However, later evidence suggested that these reports were exaggerated or partly fabricated, which served to justify increased U.S. military actions in Vietnam.

    Operation INFEKTION: This was a Soviet disinformation campaign that spread the false narrative that the United States had invented HIV/AIDS as part of a biological weapons research project. This campaign was designed to sow distrust towards the U.S. government, both domestically and internationally, by exploiting the global fear surrounding the emerging AIDS epidemic.

    The Protocols of the Elders of Zion: This infamous document was a fabricated anti-Semitic text that purported to describe a Jewish plan for global domination. It was used extensively by the Tsarist Secret Police to justify persecution of Jews in Russia and later adopted by the Nazis to propagate anti-Jewish sentiments, which contributed to the Holocaust. Despite being thoroughly debunked, the document is still cited in some circles as “evidence” of a Jewish conspiracy.

Notable Disinformation Events

    Malthusian Theory of Population: Thomas Malthus proposed that population growth would outpace food production, leading to widespread famine and conflict. Although his predictions were based on the observations of his time, they proved to be largely incorrect as agricultural advancements significantly increased food production. However, the theory spread widely and influenced a range of policy decisions and public fears about overpopulation.

    The Great Moon Hoax: The “New York Sun” newspaper published a series of articles claiming the discovery of life and civilization on the Moon. The reports were meant as a satire and to boost newspaper sales, but they were taken seriously by the public and led to widespread belief in lunar inhabitants, illustrating how quickly misinformation can spread even when no harm is intended.

    Spanish-American War and the USS Maine: The explosion of the USS Maine in Havana harbor was immediately attributed to Spanish sabotage by sensationalist newspapers, particularly those run by William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, despite the lack of clear evidence. This misinformation helped to fuel public support for the Spanish-American War, under the rallying cry “Remember the Maine!” Later investigations suggested that the explosion was likely caused by an accidental internal explosion aboard the ship.

The impact of both misinformation and disinformation can be profound, influencing public opinion, shaping political discourse, and even affecting national security. Operatives must be adept at navigating these waters and discerning between the two to effectively manage their operations and counter any threats posed by disinformation campaigns.

In the intelligence community, being able to identify and counteract disinformation is crucial, as the stakes can be incredibly high – ranging from disrupting political stability to influencing elections.

From a tradecraft perspective, understanding the use and counter-use of both disinformation and misinformation is vital. Operatives are trained to create and disseminate disinformation to protect national interests or destabilize adversaries, all while detecting and mitigating the effects of misinformation within their own ranks and in the wider public domain.

This dual capability underscores the sophistication and complexity of modern intelligence operations, where information is both a tool and a weapon.

[INTEL : Counter-Disinformation Strategy Guide]

[OPTICS : New York City]