This is one of the Case Studies from the report "Hybrid Threats. A Strategic Communications Perspective".

You can access the full report here.

Executive Summary

In June 2015, a Swedish government proposition for a new National Defence Policy 2016-2020 triggered a nation-wide debate about rebuilding Sweden’s “total defence” capacity and the remilitarisation of the strategically important island of Gotland. During this domestic debate, a report by a US think tank also stimulated pro-NATO narratives, alleging that Sweden was not able to defend itself against a qualified opponent without NATO support.

Joining the debate, Sputnik published an English-language news article which directly accused Sweden of preparing to fire missiles from Gotland Island. The article used statements from the Governor of Gotland and a well-known military commentator, but removed context, and mistranslated and distorted their remarks. Sputnik did not quote the original source, but instead referred to third-party sources in different languages. This Sputnik article provides a typical example of the systematic means by which Swedish domestic media debates are used as part of wider influence strategies by pro-Russian actors.

Key Points

  • The laundering of information describes the technique of taking genuine sources and “laundering” them through intermediaries to obscure their origins. Typical techniques include the deliberate mistranslation of key statements and the removal of context.
  • Through framing and agenda setting, single incidents of disinformation can be used to influence a country’s public debate about national security and should be understood within the longer-term development of strategic narratives.
  • In this case, officials repeated a number of lines that – in the context of systematic disinformation activities and active measures – were open to abuse by hostile actors. Minor changes to original quotes are enough to crucially alter their meaning. This underlines the need for training to improve understanding of media and information-based threats.
  • Misquoting is commonplace in news media. In this particular case, however, it is highly likely that the distortion of the original source was not a product of editorial process, but a deliberate attempt to deceive and part of a systematic effort to further polarise Swedish debates on national security.