50 Notable Books of Nonfiction, The Washington Post
Best Books of the Year, New Statesman
Best National Security Books, The Cipher Brief
"Superb . . . Rid’s achievement in this book is that he places our crazy, upside-down politics in a coherent historical context . . . Rid provides the best narrative I’ve read anywhere of how the Russian disinformation campaign in 2016 was run . . . But the deeper value of Rid’s book is that it takes us to the beginnings of modern manipulation.” The Washington Post
“Elegant . . . The natural impulse is to see Russia’s attack in 2016and the one it is surely preparing for 2020as a radically new feature of our hyperconnected world . . . Yet Rid’s book is devoted to persuading us that it is in line with decades of history. In rich detail, Rid walks us through a hundred years of political warfare, recounting the exploits powers both major and minor inflicted on one another via the disinformation units of their intelligence agencies. Some of the stories are hair-raising.” Jonathan Freedland, New York Review of Books
“Active Measures is predominantly an exercise in clarity, shining a light on covert operations and exposing the lies previously reported as truth. But it is at its most chilling when describing the disorientating complexities of unsolved operations.” Helen Warrell, Financial Times
"Mr. Rid pulls important insights out of this tangled history." The Economist
“Thomas Rid helps remind us how we reached this morass, one with antecedents reaching back to Czarist Russia and the Bolshevik revolution. To be sure, the US can use all the help it can get . . . America remains mired in a cold civil war. Active Measures is another book for such troubled times.” Lloyd Green, The Guardian
“If forewarned is forearmed, then this highly readable account of the development of disinformation and political warfare should be in every intelligence professional’s library. It is required reading for those interested in understanding how the information they consume can be manipulated, and the potential effects that can be achieved. This book earns a prestigious four out of four trench coats.” Rick Ledgett, The Cipher Brief
“A comprehensive history of disinformation . . . The best parts of the book are where Rid describes individual operations . . . The levels of detail in Active Measures’s Cold War-era case histories reflect the thoroughness of Rid’s research . . . Rid’s evaluation of internet-based operations’ effects also is spot on . . . [Active Measures] makes a convincing case that democratic societies need to take serious steps to confront and reduce the effects of disinformation and hostile influence operations.” J. E. Leonardson, Studies in Intelligence (CIA in-house journal)
"Great, truly enlightening . . . The research for the book is extraordinary and the story is well told. I learned a ton I didn't know." Jack Goldsmith, Henry L. Shattuck Professor of Law at Harvard University and author of In Hoffa's Shadow
"Excellent . . . Rid carefully shows that in their disinformation campaigns, Russian spies have made use of the media as a player in their operations. But then again, as Rid writes, so has the CIA." Ben Makuch, VICE Motherboard
"Rid concludes this fascinating and well-researched history by warning of the need to take the challenge of misinformation seriously while being careful to not exaggerate its effects." Lawrence D. Freedman, Foreign Affairs
“The prior century of Soviet and Russian influence campaigns directed against the United States and its allies . . . is laid out in crisp detail in Active Measures . . . [Rid] recounts elaborate and sometimes shocking tactics used to disinform democratic societies and inflame passions.” Joe Carlson, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
"A comprehensive and disturbing tour of the changing shape of disinformation over the last century." Christian Science Monitor
“Covering a lot of ground in this dense but thorough account, Rid further includes primary sources that brilliantly show how 'information wars' have been waged throughout history . . . A fascinating read for those who appreciate learning about history within a complex political context.” Jesse A. Lambertson, Library Journal (starred review)
"Engrossing . . . [Rid] provides an authoritative blow-by-blow of the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign and the accompanying social media disinformation effort . . . Invaluable." James Gibney, The American Scholar
"Revealing . . . There are plenty of clever, clandestine capers in Rid’s well-researched, briskly paced narrative, as well as shrewd analysis of the subtleties of making disinformation both damaging and believable, and the difficulty of knowing whether it is effective . . . Rid skillfully illuminates and demystifies this ballyhooed but much-misunderstood subject." Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Engaging . . . [A] highly relevant and useful study, especially as we approach the 2020 election.” Kirkus
"The twentieth century was an era of deception, forgery, and made-up conspiracies concocted by the world's most formidable spy agencies. In the centuries thereafter, these same tactics will be turbo-charged and scaled to reach more people. In this groundbreaking book, Thomas Rid looks deep into neglected East European State Security archives, tracks down Cold War-era active measures officers, and examines fresh digital forensics in order to tell the true history of what we now know as disinformation. Active Measures is full of great stories that give contemporary events the historical context that has, until now, been missing." Anne Applebaum, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gulag: A History
"Thomas Rid's timely Active Measures is an instant classic. He provides a comprehensive look at the political attacks we witnessed in 2016, and reminds us that deception and disinformation have deep historical roots. He also shows that the effects of active measures can be long-lasting, but can also boomerang on those who initiate them. As free societies look to defend against future deception campaigns, they will need to understand both the past and the new technologies that help to weaponize the practice in the present. Thomas Rid's excellent book is the best place to start." John Sipher, former member of the Central Intelligence Agency's Senior Intelligence Service
"Thomas Rid, a recognized expert in information security, investigates the history of disinformation, taking us back to its modern origins. He tells a series of thrilling stories of how this subtle game was played by the founder of the Soviet secret police, his successors at the KGB, their Western counterparts, and contemporary Russian intelligence operators. Rid has produced a book that is destined to become a seminal work on the topic." Andrei Soldatov, coauthor of The Red Web: The Kremlin's War on the Internet and The Compatriots: The Brutal and Chaotic History of Russia's Exiles, Émigrés, and Agents Abroad
"Active Measures provides a comprehensive look at the disinformation game, from the 1920s through the digital revolution. Thomas Rid gives the reader an insider’s view of how high-profile influence campaigns are designed and executed, thus providing historical perspective that can help us blunt the impact of disinformation. For that reason alone, Active Measures is a must-read." Nada Bakos, former analyst and targeting officer at the Central Intelligence Agency
With this latest work, Rid (strategic studies, Johns Hopkins Univ.; Rise of the Machines) offers a history of the political control of information, usually in the form of disinformation. He includes several historical examples from the "information war" between the former USSR and the United States, and then moves into more recent examples of using information as a weapon by figures such as Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. The work spans from the time period between the world wars to the present, including illuminating examples from the German effort for information control during World War II. Later, Rid asserts that the rise of the internet and information being leaked and published by groups such as Anonymous and Wikileaks shows a change in the landscape and the context of politics itself. Covering a lot of ground in this dense but thorough account, Rid further includes primary sources that brilliantly show how "information wars" have been waged throughout history. VERDICT A fascinating read for those who appreciate learning about history within a complex political context.—Jesse A. Lambertson, Univ. of Chicago Law Libs.
A Johns Hopkins professor of strategic studies delves into the murky history—and current pervasiveness—of disinformation.
Rid, whose previous book, Rise of the Machines, focused on cybernetics, opens in 2016, as the Russians were employing disinformation to influence the American presidential election, and then moves back in time to offer a well-packed history beginning in the 1920s. "This modern era of disinformation," he writes, "began in the early 1920s, and the art and science of what the CIA once called ‘political warfare' grew and changed in four big waves, each a generation apart." The first wave occurred as the widespread access to radio offered an effective new technology for enemy governments hoping to influence listeners to revolt against their own governments. The second wave occurred during the Cold War, with the CIA as the main culprit. The third wave encompassed the 1970s, with a massively funded Soviet bureaucracy as the main culprit. The fourth wave has extended into the present, with labyrinthine government spy bureaucracies losing ground to renegade computer hackers operating 24/7. While the digital era in general and the internet in particular have altered the tactics of government spy agencies, the author demonstrates in massive detail how such destabilization has flowed in multiple directions for the past century. The U.S. government, mostly through the CIA, has mounted countless campaigns to harm so-called communist nations, especially during the post-World War II era. On the communist side, Rid emphasizes the relentless disinformation campaigns emanating from the Soviet Union/Russia as well as from East Germany before its reunification with West Germany. The chronological narrative will demand significant effort from lay readers—not due to lack of clarity by the author, whose style is engaging, but because every extended case study requires separating partial truths told by the spy agency from the vast untruths that are necessarily part of the mix. For readers interested in current politics, Rid offers expert opinion that Russia is actively working to erode the foundation of U.S. democracy.
A dense but highly relevant and useful study, especially as we approach the 2020 election.