Russia’s disinformation campaign deceives Americans
As the DOJ’s ongoing criminal probe of Giuliani continues, U.S. intelligence has growing concerns about how Russian disinformation is influencing other influential Americans and U.S. institutions. They are being manipulated by the Kremlin to promote its own interests.
It is a sad state of affairs when the FBI must warn Rudy Giuliani, members of Congress, conservative media outlets (One America News), and top U.S. government officials that they are being manipulated by a well-organized Russian disinformation campaign (As if they didn’t know, tongue in cheek).
This deception campaign has been going on for a long while. Two years ago, I collected mounds of instances of its use while conducting research for my spy thriller series. See the 2/9/19 issue of “Spy Agency Happenings!”, which is all about Russian disinformation, how it affects America’s democratic institutions, and how the government is combatting it. But before reading the issue, please read the rest of this article and watch the video at the end- you’ll get a better understanding of the political and social influence that Russian disinformation wields over the American citizenry.
For example, the infamous Russian troll farm in St Petersburg has ramped up its disinformation campaign against America. This pro-Putin, oligarch-funded operation spent nearly as much in the first six months of 2018 as it did the entire year before. Between Jan. 2016 and June 2018, the Internet Research Agency’s total budget was over $35 million (more than 2 billion rubles).
The 2/09/19 “Spy Agency Happening!” issue also warns about a new hi-tech graphic that will make the spreading of disinformation and distrust online much worse than ever before. Rapid advances in deep-learning algorithms to synthesize video and audio content have made possible the production of “deep fakes” — highly realistic and difficult-to-detect depictions of real people doing or saying things they never said or did. Expect to receive this realistic trash not only from Russia, but from an ever-larger array of governments, nonstate actors, and individuals. We all will be affected as this capacity to advance lies using hyper-realistic fake evidence takes a huge leap forward.
Little wonder why the U.S. Cyber Command is targeting individual Russian operatives to try to deter them from spreading disinformation to interfere in future elections, telling them that American operatives have identified them and are tracking their work. The Justice Department uncovered a campaign of “information warfare” by the Russians aimed at influencing our past, and future, midterm elections.
The newsletter also introduces a website you’d be interested in, called Polygraph.info, which is not run by the White House, State Department or CIA. It published recordings by Russian trolls from one of its reporters who got them from a source close to the Kremlin. Polygraph is a relatively new fact-checking arm of an obscure, diminutive media effort by the U.S. to highlight Russian misdeeds and counter Russian propaganda.
And don’t forget to view the VIDEOS section of the 2/09/19 “Spy Agency Happenings!” issue. It is devoted to Russian disinformation-spreading. The videos show how Russian trolls collect your personal information, how they weaponize your social media feed, the inside of Russia’s internet ‘troll factory’, and how to spot a Russian troll online. One video shows how Tucker Carlson of Fox News pushes ‘Russian propaganda’.
You’ll enjoy my MISSION OF VENGEANCE spy thriller novel where a former Russian KGB agent, who defects to the U.S., reveals a Russian troll farm that spreads disinformation to undermine America’s influence in the Caribbean. Here’s a snippet from the novel:
Bocharov took out his smartphone and slid it across the table to Corey. “I spent all last night talking into the speech-to-text app. There’s sixty pages of transcripts of all I can recall that was on the flash drive. Putin and Markov have a plan of disaster for the Caribbean. Spetsnaz assassination teams are in place. The flash drive had their locations on it. Putin has rejuvenated the KGB and reinstated the Cold War ‘Active Measures’ strategy against the U.S. throughout the Caribbean, which Putin views as America’s vulnerable back door.
Morrison asked, “Active measures? That’s going back to the sixties. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia promised the CIA that it would abandon ‘Active Measures’.”
“It never did. Just like in the sixties, Putin today is spreading disinformation to discredit the U.S. This time, in the Caribbean. As you recall, the KGB convinced Americans that the U.S. government assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr. In the eighties they spread gossip that your CIA created the AIDS virus at Fort Detrick, Maryland.
Now, we have social media. Putin sent Boris Markov to the Dominican Republic to take over my business. My DVD bootlegging business has become a front operation for a Russian troll factory. Markov sent dozens of hackers from the St. Petersburg Internet Research Agency to my estate, along with the same bloggers and journalists who hijacked your 2016 elections. They write fake news articles about how the U.S. attempts to exploit the Caribbean nations, then post them in social media and newspapers throughout the Caribbean.”
“How far is their reach?” Corey asked.
“Roughly 146 million Americans and Caribbean citizens see a constant flow of disinformation in several hundred Caribbean newspapers and on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, Reddit, Tumblr and Google+… all originating from my estate in the Dominican Republic. Hundreds of Bots and trolls spread the disinformation…black state conspiracy theories, constant reports of the U.S. screwing over Caribbean nations. I listed each hacker’s name on my smartphone app.” End of snippet.
As the MISSION OF VENGEANCE snippet reveals, since the 2010s when social media gained prominence, Russia began to use platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to spread disinformation. Russian web brigades and bots, typically operated by Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA), were commonly used to disseminate disinformation throughout these social media channels. As of late 2017, Facebook believed that as many as 126 million of its users had seen content from Russian disinformation campaigns on its platform. Twitter stated that it had found 36,000 Russian bots spreading tweets related to the 2016 U.S. elections.
Lastly, you’ll like this video What’s Happening with Russian Disinformation, for it explains how Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections was merely part of a much broader campaign to undermine confidence in democracy. Now, the Russian government is targeting the U.S. justice system. CSIS’s Suzanne Spaulding explains what’s happening with Russian disinformation.
Robert Morton is a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO), enjoys writing about the U.S. Intelligence Community, and relishes traveling to the Florida Keys and Key West, the Bahamas and Caribbean. He combines both passions in his Corey Pearson- CIA Spymaster series. Check out his latest spy thriller: MISSION OF VENGEANCE.