RT and Sputnik are thrifty but effective propaganda tools, says CIA head

CIA Director Mike Pompeo has accused RT and Sputnik of being valuable money-saving tools for the Kremlin, fighting information wars instead of shooting ones.

During a lengthy interview at the Aspen Security Forum on Thursday, Pompeo said the two news outlets were operating as part of the so-called “Gerasimov Doctrine,” which the CIA boss states was developed by Valery Gerasimov, now Russia's chief of the general staff, in the early 1970s.

“His idea was that you can win wars without firing a single shot, with firing a very few shots in ways that are decidedly not militaristic. And that’s what happened,” Pompeo said.

“What changes is the cost to effectuate change through cyber and through RT and Sputnik, the news outlets and through other soft means has just really been lowered. It used to be expensive to run an ad on a television station. Now you simply go online and propagate your message, so they have found an effective tool, an easy way to go reach into our systems and into our culture to achieve the outcome they are looking for."

This, according to Pompeo, makes Russian propaganda efforts in the United States much more effective than they were in the Cold War.

“As technology moves and the cost barrier decreases to make an impact, you absolutely have a threat that is different in kind.

“If you were sitting in Kazakhstan 40 years ago, your ability to reach into the United States and have an impact was near-zero. Today it’s possible.”

Pompeo added that “of course” Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential elections, as well as "the one before that and the one before that."

Responding to Pompeo’s remarks, RT Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan tweeted: “The head of the CIA just praised us for saving the Russian government money. Seriously.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also responded to Pompeo’s assertion of past election meddling.

"If [Pompeo's] statements mean that we interfered in the elections in 2008 and 2012 that means that President Obama owes us his victories. I'll refrain from comment. In my opinion, this crosses the lines of what is reasonable,” he said at a conference.

It is not the first time the CIA has publicly taken aim at RT. In an email to RT in May, referring to allegations of Russian meddling in the US 2016 elections, spokeswoman Heather Fritz Horniak said that “the responsibility of the Russian intelligence services for the election-related hacking is an established fact” and that “it is not surprising that an identified propaganda outlet like RT would attempt to muddle those facts.”

“No reputable news organization doubts Russian culpability,” she added.

In response, Simonyan countered that the CIA had not presented any concrete evidence for the claims, and that the Western mainstream media’s embrace of its narrative is leading to its decline.

“The CIA & Co haven't bothered to present a shred of evidence besides their own claims, and are now actually boasting about how happy the ever-loyal press is to unquestioningly go along with the story,” Simonyan said. “This is exactly why people have stopped trusting the mainstream media and are seeking out alternative sources of news and analysis.”