For well over 40 years I’ve read the print edition of the New York Times almost every morning, trying to keep myself informed on important world matters. Until recently, I read it very carefully, but in the last few years I’ve noticed such a tremendous decline in its quality that these days I usually just glance at most of the articles, saving myself close to an hour a day. Other knowledgeable people seem to have reached similar conclusions, even including former Times editors.
With our leading mainstream outlets having become so unreliable, many of us now draw our information from alternative sources, but unfortunately these are often just as bad if not worse. As a result wildly exaggerated or incorrect stories can easily propagate across the Internet, including outright hoaxes.
Our own very lightly moderated website attracts many agitated commenters, and a few weeks ago some of them began claiming that a hypersonic Russian missile strike on an underground military bunker in Ukraine had killed dozens of NATO officers including American generals, a hugely important story that was being suppressed all across the Western media. This report struck me as typical Internet-nonsense and I paid absolutely no attention to it.
However, a couple of weeks later I was discussing foreign policy issues with a highly-regarded mainstream academic whom I know, someone who would certainly be considered a member of the American elite establishment. He shares my opinion of the total dishonesty of our mainstream media so he closely follows Ukraine war developments on various Telegram channels and he happened to mention the missile strike, being sure that it had actually happened even after I expressed my own strong skepticism. Therefore, I decided to investigate what might be a remarkable story.
With a bit of Googling, I quickly located the blogsite of Dr. Gilbert Doctorow. On April 15th, he had provided a detailed account of the supposed missile attack.
With respect to a still different news story of great importance, Western media are still deaf and dumb more than a month after its occurrence. I have in mind the alleged Russian strike on an underground bunker near the Western Ukrainian city of Lvov on 9 March. According to a report in an alternative news agency in Greece that was then amplified by Russian news wire agencies shortly after the 9th, we were told that 200-300 NATO generals and high officers together with their Ukrainian counterparts were killed by the strike of a Russian hypersonic missile Kinzhal in what was called a “revenge attack” for the murderous incursion of Ukrainian saboteurs in the RF’s Bryansk province a week earlier. Nearly all Western media imposed a blackout on this news. The few pro-Washington internet news portals that mentioned it did so only to blacken the sources of the report.
Now the Russians have once again put on their news tickers reports on the attack while giving some more details. See the Russian language article entitled “Catastrophe for NATO forces in Ukraine: in one blow of its Kinzhal against a secret bunker Russia postponed the Ukrainian Armed Forces counter-attack.” The subtitle goes on to say “Russian Kinzhal hypersonic rockets destroyed a secret bunker with 200 NATO and UAF officers.” The article appeared in the online version of the fairly respectable Komsomolskaya Pravda: https://www.kp.ru/daily/27490.5/4748875
We are told now that two, not one Kinzhal were employed to do the job of blowing up a bunker located more than 100 meters underground and protected by a reinforced concrete shield built in Soviet times and intended to resist a direct hit by a nuclear bomb. Each of the rockets carried 500 kg of high explosives.
The Polish, British and American officers felt so confident of their invulnerability in this shelter where they conferred daily with their Ukrainian counterparts on the conduct of the war that they carelessly parked dozens of their cars near the entrance to the bunker, a fact which did not escape the notice of Russia’s air and satellite reconnaissance.
The Kinzhals were fired by a MiG-31 fighter jet as far as 2,000 km away from the target, meaning well out of reach of Ukrainian anti-aircraft installations. Its accuracy was proven to be within one meter of the target.
The author of this article, Viktor Baranets, goes on to say that recent news releases in Ukrainian media confirm the basic story about the missile attack. He alludes to the dressing down which the American embassy gave to the Ukrainian command after the disaster and about the recovery of 40 bodies from the wreckage to date while excavation work continues to find more human remains deep underground. He believes that the loss of this vital coordination center is one major factor in the ongoing repeated delays of the onset of the vaunted Ukrainian counter-offensive. And he provides a couple of explanations of why Western media have not covered the disaster. First, that the destruction of this seemingly impregnable bunker could happen at all is proof of the unique effectiveness of the Kinzhal in doing what it was designed to do: destroy military command centers and thereby decapitate the enemy. The air defense systems of NATO are useless against an object flying at 10 – 15 mach and its impact is greater than a nuclear bomb. Second, if they were to reveal the numbers and tasks performed by the NATO contingent that was killed in the bunker, including U.S. generals, they would be exposing NATO to charges of direct involvement in the conduct of the war, meaning cobelligerent status, something which the Biden administration has sought to avoid at all costs.
Doctorow seemed convinced that the story was true and his name was slightly familiar to me as someone knowledgeable about the Ukraine war. When I checked, his background was solid and credible, with various outlets describing him as a long-time Russia watcher with a 1975 Ph.D. in history from Columbia University. The late Prof. Stephen Cohen had been an eminent Russia scholar at that same institution, and in 2015 Doctorow had worked with him to reestablish The American Committee for East-West Accord, which boasted numerous distinguished figures on its board, including Bill Bradley, Chuck Hagel, William vanden Heuvel, Donald McHenry, and Jack F. Matlock, Jr.
Given Doctorow’s strong endorsement, I began to wonder whether the story might actually be true. The huge Russian missile strike in the early hours of March 9th had been heavily covered in the American media, reaching the front page of the New York Times.
- Russia Blasts Ukrainian Cities, Including Biggest Use of Advanced Missiles
Of 81 missiles fired, six were hypersonic weapons, among Russia’s newest and most advanced, which are all but impossible to shoot down
Andrew E. Kramer • The New York Times • March 9, 2023 • 1,600 Words
If numerous NATO officers including several American generals had been killed in the attack and our dishonest media was “still deaf and dumb” more than a month later, this seemed an outrageous journalistic lapse, as serious as almost anything I’d ever encountered. Perhaps we might be on the verge of World War III with the Russians, and our media was stubbornly hiding that reality. At the very least, the incident would constitute an important addition to my long American Pravda series, which documents the blunders and omissions of our media.
But once I spent a little time digging into the story, I quickly became convinced that Doctorow and the others had fallen for an obvious hoax. I explained the reasoning to my academic interlocutor, who seemed only half convinced, and I soon forgot about the matter.
However, I’ve now discovered that belief in the apparent hoax seems to have become quite widespread within alternative circles. A few days ago, several commenters described it on my website, and when I objected, they pointed to numerous alt-media articles reporting the deaths of those NATO officers. Even more surprisingly, Col. Douglas Macgregor was asked in a recent interview about the NATO officers killed in a Russian missile strike, and although he appeared somewhat skeptical and deflected the question, his host seemed sure that it had actually happened.
Given that widespread misinformation about such a potentially important event, I’ll explain why it was probably false, especially because this illustrates the properly cautious approach one should take with such matters.
Doctorow’s April 15th account had cited an article in Komsomolskaya Pravda, which he characterized as a “fairly respectable” Russian outlet, so I took a look at that source, reading it in automatic English translation.
One thing I noticed is that although the publication was Russian, the account provided by Victor Baranets heavily relied upon foreign sources, with the writer explaining that “Information is increasingly leaking into the western and Ukrainian press, as well as in social networks from various sources.” According to Baranets, Russia’s Ministry of Defense had officially reported a major missile strike on March 9th—the same basic facts covered by the Times—but the story of the deaths of the NATO officers came from a Greek website called Pronews. And Doctorow had similarly said that the information came from “an alternative Greek news agency in Greece that was then amplified by Russian news wire agencies.”
So the Pronews website was my next stop, and once again I read the March 12th story in automatic English translation. Although the headlines described the destruction of a command bunker with “dozens” of dead NATO officers, the details in the article itself seemed extremely sketchy, raising my suspicions. So I decided to see what else I could find.
In recent years, a number of fact-checking and debunking websites have appeared, with Snopes being the most venerable, and I was hardly surprised to find that it provided a thorough refutation of the alleged attack.
- Did Russian Forces Strike a ‘NATO Command Center’ in Lviv, Ukraine?
A lazy piece of obvious propaganda has become incorporated into several false claims about the war in Ukraine
Alex Kasprak • Snopes • April 3, 2023 • 900 Words
A somewhat longer article in Newsweek had similarly debunked the supposed attack a few days earlier
- Did Russian Kinzhal Missile Take Out ‘NATO Command Center’ in Ukraine?
Yevgeny Kuklychev • Newsweek • March 31, 2023 • 1,400 Words
Mainstream publications and fact-checking websites are notorious for denouncing and debunking all anti-establishment narratives, whether these are true or false, so their conclusions should not be taken very seriously. But they do often provide a useful compilation of the source links and other “raw intelligence,” which one can then independently analyze. This proved the case regarding the missile attack.
The Greek website had run the story on March 12th, provoking heavy coverage on Telegram and other Russian social media just as Doctorow had suggested. But a somewhat similar story had already run on March 9th on The Intel Drop, a different conspiratorial website, which had also sparked a wave of viral Tweets. So apparently that website had been been the primary original source of the missile strike story.
UNCONFIRMED – A report by “TheIntelDrop” says that a #Russian Kinzhal #missile with a deep penetration warhead struck a #NATO bunker extending 80 metres deep ,this bunker near Lviv was a NATO strategic command point used to control anti-aircraft systems. #RF assumes there were up…
— Ninjamonkey 🇮🇳 (@Aryan_warlord) March 12, 2023
Some time ago I’d already heard that The Intel Drop had been established by Gordon Duff, who’d previously spent many years running Veterans Today, a different conspiracy-website. Duff has always struck me as a very doubtful character, with his wildly-conspiratorial claims often having little credibility. According to a lengthy 2017 article in Politico, Duff had once even boasted of his dishonesty in a 2012 interview:
About 30% of what’s written on Veterans Today, is patently false. About 40% of what I write, is at least purposely, partially false, because if I didn’t write false information I wouldn’t be alive.
Obviously, the Politico piece was a blatant hit-job against Duff and his publications, but having listened to two or three of Duff’s long interviews over the years, the statements regarding his routine promotion of falsehoods rang very true.
NATO was founded three generations ago and across all of its long history, virtually none of its officers had ever died in combat. If dozens or even hundreds of NATO officers, including some American generals, had now suddenly been killed in a Russian missile attack, this would be an absolutely unprecedented development, an event of major historic significance. But we are forced to believe that the publication that broke that blockbuster story was a small conspiratorial website run by a notorious hoaxer.
Indeed, the circumstances become even more suspicious upon further investigation. Snopes noted that a previous story reporting dozens of NATO officers killed in a Russian missile strike on a bunker had actually run more than a week earlier on March 1st, released on an ultra-fringe Australian conspiracy-website that declared:
In western Ukraine a Russian Forces Kinzhal struck a bunker extending to 80 metres deep. The RF believes this bunker near Lvov [Lviv] was a NATO strategic command point used to control anti-aircraft systems. It’s still early days but the RF assumes there were up to 300 personnel in the bunker, 40 of which were high ranking foreign specialists, hence we can expect 40 body bags heading west in due course.
That tiny Australian website seems to heavily traffic in Sandy Hook conspiracy theories and its account of the NATO bunker attack had gotten little traction. But apparently after the Russians had launched a huge wave of missile attacks the following week, agitated social media accounts conflated the two stories—the NATO bunker destroyed on March 1st and the Russian missile attacks on March 9th—and the Gordon Duff website began promoting the combined report under the headline “Disaster: Russian Hypersonic Missiles Wipe Out US/NATO Secret Command in Kiev, Dozens of Top US Officers Vaporized” though it claimed that the bunker had been in Kiev rather than Lvov.
The Greek website soon picked up the same story: “Scary blow 130 meters underground from Russian super-abuse Kinzhal missile at NATO command center in Ukraine!” They reported that there were dozens of dead NATO and Ukrainian officers, but the author was apparently uncertain whether the bunker had been in Kiev or Lvov, cities nearly 300 miles apart.
Waves of viral Tweets began promoting the stories on those two websites, with the location of the attack and other details frequently changing.
“A terrifying strike of the Russian supersonic missile “Dagger” at a depth of 130 meters on the NATO command center in Ukraine!”: Greek Pronews writes about the huge losses among NATO officers as a result of the missile attack.
“The Russian hypersonic https://t.co/3YIUfTWH29… pic.twitter.com/FJUHp0tudk
— Victor vicktop55 (@vicktop55) March 30, 2023
Pro-Russian social media accounts would sometimes add photos illustrating the supposed strike site in order to enhance the verisimilitude of their claims:
So the near-universal narrative accepted across the alternative media is that a large number of NATO officers were killed in a Russian missile strike on March 9th. But that same event had originally been reported in a tiny Australian conspiracy-website on March 1st. This strongly suggests that either conspiracy-activists have gained access to a time machine or the story is a hoax.
Although it’s unfortunate that so many normally sensible people completely fell for the NATO bunker hoax, it’s hardly surprising. Social media serves as dry tinder and “exciting” stories can quickly catch fire across the Internet with few questioning their veracity. According to Newsweek, the posts on Twitter and Telegram had already accumulated hundreds of thousands of views by the end of March. Individuals who encounter the same story from numerous different sources are likely to assume it’s correct without considering that these might all be ultimately traced back to the inventions of a single fabulist. The dishonesty of the anti-Russia mainstream media regarding the conflict naturally leads many critics to ignore the extreme dishonesty on the other side. I suspect that many tens or even hundreds of thousands of people around the world are now convinced that a Ukrainian bunker filled with NATO officers was incinerated by a Russian missile strike.
Moreover, one astute commenter pointed out that people are especially likely to accept claims they deeply want to believe, and a severe NATO military setback together with a major black-eye for the hated mainstream media probably falls into this category.
there is also human nature, and for all its foibles, all too often, (many or most of) we humans are susceptible to it.
The point being, that with a story like that, I think a significant swath of humanity, (Americans and Europeans in particular), would be understandably wishing that such a story were true. So much so, that their very hope that it was, could possibly color their gullibility, by the very strong and understandable desire that it were true.
Like hearing that they’ve found a cure for cancer, a lot of people are quicker to believe a story, if they want, (understandably) the story to be true.
The writers and websites that promoted this hoax have certainly damaged their future credibility, but our own publication is hardly immune from such similar criticism.
Although we certainly don’t knowingly publish false material, we are an alternative media website with the mission statement of providing “Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media.” Given that role it is inevitable that a substantial fraction of our content may be factually incorrect as I’ve even emphasized in a website Q&A:
Q: Does The Unz Review stand behind all the controversial claims made in the articles it publishes?
A: Absolutely not! In any event, that would be a logical impossibility, since so many of the writers and their arguments directly contradict one another. Each reader must carefully weigh the logic and evidence backing the viewpoint of each author and decide for himself how much—or how little—of the material to accept. Thinking for yourself is difficult but necessary.
I myself have strongly disagreed with most of the many Covid and anti-vaxxing articles we published. We’ve also presented quite a few articles by Larry Romanoff, some of them very popular, but I found his material less than wholly reliable as I emphasized in this comment of mine from last year.
Glancing over the contents of this article, I’d say that roughly one-third of the information seems correct, roughly one-third seems incorrect, and roughly one-third is difficult for me to decide one way or the other.
On several occasions, I’ve unsuccessfully suggested to Larry that his articles would be much stronger if he excluded the incorrect elements…
However, I do take the time and effort to be extremely careful in my own writings, and the total body of my work now runs well over a million words on this website, most of it covering a range of topics as ultra-controversial as anything found anywhere on the Internet. I’d stand by virtually everything I’ve written, still believing that 99% of it has been accurate, at least to the claimed tolerances I’d originally expressed.
- The American Pravda Series
Ron Unz • The Unz Review • 500,000 Words
- Russia/China Articles
Ron Unz • The Unz Review • 140,000 Words
- Conspiracy Theory Articles
Ron Unz • The Unz Review • 160,000 Words
Reprinted with permission from The Unz Review.