‘From Russia With Poison’ – the making of a disinformation campaign


Nearly a year after Election Day, Facebook’s role in our modern political infrastructure is finally coming into focus. But there is much more to know, The New York Times reports:

Facebook has addressed some election-related questions, and may share more next month when its executives testify in front of the House and Senate intelligence committees. These investigations may focus solely on Russian interference, but they could also produce valuable information about how Facebook operates as a company, how it views its role on the political stage, and how it plans to safeguard its platform from malicious activity in the future.

A YouTube channel that had been implicated in Russia disinformation operations to target the U.S. 2016 election has been taken down by Google, TechCrunch reports.

Russia influence operations, modeled after Soviet false flag operations, require a willing audience in Western electorates, says CNN analyst Michael Weiss:

For good reason did Andrey Krutskikh, a senior advisor to the Kremlin, liken Russia’s latter-day information warfare capability to the testing of the Soviet atom bomb. If nothing else, he and his cohort have given the lie to the utopian conceit that the Internet would necessarily be a force for greater democratization and the broadening of political horizons.

In fact, “connectivity” has only further ghettoized politics, and served as a useful playground for vicious authoritarians as often as it has a vital medium for revolutionaries. Here, too, the heirs of the KGB have only exploited human nature. What Alexander Herzen, the great 19th-century Russian liberal, said he feared most for the future was “Genghis Khan with the telegraph.”

According to new research from Jonathan Albright, research director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, Russian trolls may have reached far more than 10 million Americans in the run-up to the election, Slate adds:

The Facebook numbers only included the number of people who saw paid ads. But Russian-backed pages also published free posts and then paid for them to be boosted, which isn’t technically considered an ad by the Federal Election Commission’s standards. Albright found that just six of the Russian-backed accounts alone had been shared about 340 million times.

Russian hackers may use anti-virus software sold by Kaspersky Lab to search the contents of any computer using it, The New York Times reports. The software, installed on more than 400 million personal computers and used by roughly two dozen U.S. government agencies, can be turned into “a sort of Google search for sensitive information,” it adds:

Israeli intelligence officers looked on in real time as Russian government hackers searched computers around the world for the code names of American intelligence programs [and] informed the N.S.A. that in the course of their Kaspersky hack, they uncovered evidence that Russian government hackers were using Kaspersky’s access to aggressively scan for American government classified programs, and pulling any findings back to Russian intelligence systems.

The Kremlin has even begun to weaponize prime-time TV, notes CodaStory, in a piece produced with support from MeydanTV.

Democracy is built on two principles: truth and trust, writes NYT columnist Thomas Friedman. “We trust that our elections are fair and that enables our peaceful rotations of power. And we trust that the news we get from our mainstream outlets is true and that it is corrected if it is not.”

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