Russia’s refined disinfo ops keep it ahead of the West


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Russia’s continued refinement of its information operations may keep it ahead of the United States, according to a new analysis, Russia’s Improved Information Operations: From Georgia to Crimea.

“One scholar of Russian propaganda refers to it as less of an information war as much as a war on information. Given the value Russia places on manipulating information, perceptions of the information space as potentially dangerous and a successful agent for ousting governments and influencing public opinion and behavior are understandable,” writes analyst Emilio J. Iasiello:

A former KGB general stated the overall goal of Soviet Union propaganda was not far from the “subversion” pursued by Russia’s modern Internet disinformation campaign: “active measures to weaken the West, to drive wedges in the Western community alliances of all sorts, particularly NATO, to sow discord among allies, to weaken the United States in the eyes of the people in Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and thus to prepare ground in case the war really occurs.”

“While the media has focused on offensive cyberattacks and disruptive efforts to cripple critical infrastructures and to impede public access to financial institutions and emergency services, Russia understands the potential power associated with influencing via cyberspace,” Iasiello observes. “As such, Russia continues to refine its online information operations against regional and international targets, outpacing the United States in nonoffensive cybercapabilities and demonstrating not all threats in cyberspace are written in binary.” RTWT

Countering disinformation

BuzzFeed News is beefing up its Russia coverage by partnering with the Latvia-based online outlet Meduza, which has grown rapidly since its launch less than three years ago, NiemanLab’s Shan Wang reports:

The partnership is editorial, and resources will be concentrated on joint investigations. BuzzFeed is paying for the investigations it commissions with Meduza, according to Kolpakov, though the sites will trade stories and Meduza translate occasional stories of its choosing from BuzzFeed, free of charge. Other exchanges: A Meduza reporter will sit in the BuzzFeed newsroom for a week to take in the BuzzFeed workflows; a BuzzFeed reporter will head to an annual conference Meduza puts on. Elder cited Meduza’s investigations on Russian cyber capabilities as one investigative topic of interest to both outlets.

The Kremlin’s hybrid warfare also entails deploying pseudo-NGOs like the Alexander Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund, notes Sean Townsend in his investigation of how Russian “soft power” worked against Ukraine:

Gazprom allocated two million dollars for the subversive activities of this so-called “autonomous non-profit organization”. ….InformNapalm has already reported how Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev financed destabilizing activities in Poland, Hungary and the CzechRepublic. The Institute of CIS Countries acted in the same way and is famous for its support of Russian collaborators in several regions of Ukraine. But let us focus on its subversive activities against other countries of Central Europe.

“Can policy combat misinformation?” is the question raised by the National Endowment for Democracy ’s Center for International Media Assistance in the following: Germany’s Fight Against Fake News: Can it Work?

The European Union’s approach to the foreign policy and defense aspects of cyber policy is a mix of good intentions and guidelines, notes Annegret Bendiek, a senior associate at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP):

Currently, four policy documents guide the EU approach: the 2013 Cybersecurity Strategy, which sets out the EU’s cyber diplomacy; the 2015 Digital Single Market Strategy, which aims to bring down digital market barriers within the EU; the 2016 Network and Information Security Directive, which sets baseline cybersecurity measures and institutions every EU member state should have; and the “cyber diplomacy toolbox,” which provides foreign policy responses to cyberattacks against the EU.

“Russia is getting more aggressive in its active measures campaigns, and rudimentary but effective cyber operations, such as WannaCry, can temporarily knock out critical infrastructure,” she writes for the Council on Foreign Relations. “It is likely that the EU will face a cyber-related crisis and its current organizational structure is ill-equipped to respond to the challenge. Reforms are needed now to ensure that Europe can properly defend itself.”

A “passionate Brexit supporter” with more than 100,000 Twitter followers could be in the pay of the Russian government as part of an international disinformation campaign, The Independent reports:

“David Jones” has been tweeting from the handle @DavidJo52951945 for more than four years, amassing an extensive following and interactions high-profile figures including Tommy Robinson and Ukip spokesman John Bickley. …Ben Nimmo, a fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, said all signs pointed to the person or people behind “Jones’s” account being employed by the Russian government.

“You cannot give 100 per cent certainty, but you can look at all the different behavioural signs and put it together,” he told The Independent. “Why would somebody living somewhere in the Solent getting up before 5am in the morning and spending 12 hours tweeting far-right and Kremlin talking points seven days a week. What kind of human being does that?”

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