Monday, 14 August 2017

Truth In The News?

How can we believe anything that we hear in the news? In the fictional scenario of A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows, Poul Anderson shows us how everything could be faked.

Why do Terran and Dennizan Intelligence reports about Merseian movements differ?
Are any Merseian movements a mere show for Dennitzan scouts?
Kossara's enslavement on Terra was not reported there but this inflammatory news did get quickly back to Dennitza. (She is the Gospodar's niece.)
Could barbarians in Sector Spica have been encouraged to attack in order to draw Imperial attention there? (Emperor Hans is less accesible while he leads a fleet against them.)
Are Merseian undercover men high in the Gospodar's councils keeping important information away from him?
Instead of directly approaching the Gospodar, should Flandry and Kossara covertly visit her parents and send a domestic servant with a secret message for the Gospodar while Chives proceeds openly to Zorkagrad with false papers forged by Flandry?

The mind boggles.

17 comments:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

While I don't believe in looking for plots under every bed, I do think some plots are real. So, I did not find the scenario seen in A KNIGHT OF GHOSTS AND SHADOWS that implausible. The use of propaganda, disinformation, brainwashing, double AND triple agents, has been amply used in real history.

So, I can imagine Merseian agents egging on barbarians to harass Sector Spica to draw away Emperor Hans' attention from other frontiers, such as the Taurian sector. And traitors in the right positions can keep important pieces of information from reaching the Gospodar, etc. And I think it made sense for Kossara's father to send a trusted servant to the Gospodar first, instead of openly trying to contact him.

Sean

S.M. Stirling said...

Paranoia is an occupational hazard of intelligence agents and conspirators and revolutionaries. The problem is that it often ends with you trusting the one person you shouldn't.

It was said of Stalin, an old underground Bolshevik type, that he only trusted one human being in his entire adult life... but that one was Adolf Hitler.

S.M. Stirling said...

There's an old Russian joke: when three men sit down at a table to talk revolution, two are fools. The third is a spy for the secret police.

S.M. Stirling said...

An unconnected note on something Poul got right: in his historical fiction, he depicted the Alans and other Sarmatian peoples as looking like North Europeans. Recent DNA studies indicate that this was the case.

Paul Shackley said...

A joke equally applicable under Tsarism and Stalinism.

David Birr said...

A cartoon appearing in a magazine a few decades ago had Latin-American rebels invading the dictator's office. And the dictator snarls at the rebel leader: "You fool! I'm CIA, too!"

On the subject of not trusting the news, a webcomic illustrator ten years ago tacked the following comment on to one of his pages:
"I do want to clarify what I wrote in this space last time. Some readers might have gotten the impression that I was heaping abuse on writers who use the whole Enormous Government Conspiracy shtick, accusing them of being unimaginative dullards who deludedly believe they’re being subversive and clever when they’re really just repeating clich├ęs that were already tired ten years ago.
"I want to emphasize that THAT WAS INDEED EXACTLY WHAT I WAS DOING. 
"Seriously, anybody who’s been paying the slightest bit of attention at any time in the past fifty years should have realized by now that the United States Government couldn’t cover up a cupcake with vanilla frosting."
— Mark Sachs, artist of *A Miracle of Science*, 2007

Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Stirling,

And I have read that sometimes Tsarist Okhrana agents became genuine revolutionary conspirators themselves! Or that revolutionaries became Tsarists agents. There were persistent rumors that Stalin himself was a double agent working for the Tsarist regime. No wonder everyone became so paranoid!

And I recall reading in Solzhenitsyn's GULAG ARCHIPELAGO that the only man Stalin trusted was Hitler! Which led him to ignoring reports from his own spies of German preparations for Operation Barbarossa.

Sean

Paul Shackley said...

In Britain recently, undercover policemen inflitrated protest groups for years, in some cases having sexual relationships and children with protestors.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I think some "protest" groups need to be investigated. But you touched on another problem, undercover agents can become TOO deeply involved with the groups they are trying to investigate or infiltrate.

Sean

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, DAVID!

Since the US gov't is so notoriously leaky, it's a wonder that ANY useful intelligence/counter intelligence work gets done!

Sean

S.M. Stirling said...

The Okhrana, the Czarist secret police, had highly placed agents in most of the underground organizations before 1917.

In fact, they actually -ran- the Fighting Organization of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, using it as an ant-trap to identify dangerous revolutionaries and arrest/kill them, while carefully leaving the venal, stupid or corrupt ones in place.

(This meant that Czarist agents had to order actual assassinations and so forth to keep the organization credible -- they calculated that this was a lower cost than destroying since then a new one, one that they didn't control, would spontaneously spring up. And they used the opportunity to kill or discredit government officials opposed to the Okhrana in the bureaucratic maneuverings.)

The Bolsheviks weren't as totally compromised, but the Okhrana did have an agent who was head of the Party newspaper, and another who was for a while chief of their Moscow organization. Stalin was often rumored to have been on the Okhrana payroll.

Of course, the situation was rife with double, triple and quadruple agents, including ones who didn't know who they were really working for.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Stirling,

Very interesting comments by you! It fits in what I read in Solzhenitsyn's heavily researched novel, NOVEMBER 1916 and histories like Crankshaw's THE SHADOW OF THE WINTER PALACE. It sounds hopelessly complicated and tangled up, the way the Okhrana and the revolutionaries were so busy intriguing and scheming against both each other AND rivals on their own sides. And I'm pretty sure Stalin was an Okhrana double agent and probably knew of other Bolshevik "heroes" who also secretly worked for them.

Sean

Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Stirling,

A comment on what you wrote in the parenthetical paragraph. I do understand the Okhrana's agents in the Fighting Organization of the Socialist Revolutionaries themselves had to order assassinations of Tsarist officials, to maintain credibility. But it was obviously a violation of the laws against murder and so forth, so it still strikes me as these Tsarist agents coming close to being no better than the SRs, to say the least. How far can or should undercover agents go is the question.

Another thought I had, perhaps discussed in the Crankshaw book I mentioned, was that both the Okhrana and the revolutionaries seemed to have taken PLEASURE in who could be cleverer and more wily in out witting each other. I think some on both sides became addicted to the THRILL of the "great game," to use a phrase from Kipling's KIM.

Sean

S.M. Stirling said...

In Russia, law was traditionally more of a set of administrative regulations; they didn't apply to the people who made them, who could change or suspend them as they pleased. They still think that way.

S.M. Stirling said...

A Russian-speaking English traveler on the trans-Siberian railway just before 1914 got off to stretch his legs when the train stopped at a little Siberian station. He saw the locomotive driver walking around tightening some bolts on the engine. His fireman, who was giggling-drunk, came behind him loosening them again.

When the engineer saw that, he knocked the man down and began beating on him. One of the inevitable soldiers on the platform came over and started beating him too. After a while he stopped and said:

"By the way, brother, why are we beating this son of a bitch?"

Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Stirling,

And that is a very disturbing attitude! I believe law should apply to rulers and ruled both. And if Russians still think that way, then they STILL have not gotten the hang of what a government of law MEANS.

Perhaps it's time I reread Fyodor Dostoevsky's CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, to get an idea of what the common attitude was to questions of crime and punishment.

I even wrote an article discussing how Poul Anderson's Terran Empire handled crime. If you've read it do you have any comments about it, pro or con?

Sean

Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Stirling,

I admit this is all too grimly RUSSIAN an incident! My reaction would have been to stop the beating and find out what CAUSED it. And the engineer had amply GOOD reason to be angry at the fireman!

Sean