​Hancock, Larry (2018) Creating Chaos: Covert Political Warfare from Truman to Putin. New York: OR Books. i+393 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-68219-151-4 (print) / 978-1-68219-152-1 (online)

Pavel K Baev

Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)

The intensity of application of various clandestine and unsavory means – from propaganda to corruption to cyber-attacks – in the escalating confrontation between Russia and the West has reached such alarming levels that demand for systematic analysis of this phenomenon stimulates policy research. This compact volume offers an unusual perspective juxtaposing present-day Russian activities with the US operations in the Cold War era. The assumption that Soviet operations in that period were more limited (p. 5, and p. 325) is doubtful, but the proposition that the attempts to keep the ‘dark side’ of political struggle covered and deniable invariably fail (p. 324) is well established. From the US-orchestrated coup against the Mohammad Mosaddegh government in Iran in 1953 to the Russian interference in the US presidential elections in 2016, even those operations that are deemed successful, tend to generate severe long-term consequences for the master-minding state. The author’s attempt to distinguish different types of operations is not convincing (defining the CIA operations in Guatemala in 1954 and in Indonesia in 1958 as ‘hybrid warfare’ is rather misleading), and including Russian nuclear modernization (pp. 298–300) in the analysis of methods of ‘fragmentation’ – as means of diverting US resources – is rather confusing (and calling the Kursk an ICBM submarine is plain wrong, p. 331). The meandering narrative is thin on conclusions, but the idea that, during the Cold War, the USA acted as the champion of stability, and now Russia claims the same role of status-quo defender (p. 322) is dubious. There are not only new dimensions, but also new complexity and intensity in political warfare, and the author comes close to capturing this qualitative change, but also persists in denying it.