Environmental NGOs Profiting From Their Enemy: Oil & Gas Cos.

Environmental groups for years have fought oil and gas companies tooth and nail as polluters who put profits ahead of the health of the planet. But it looks more than a few NGOs are happy to fund and profit from the very same companies they criticize relentlessly.

One of the most recent “Panama Papers” investigations found that the World Wildlife Fund invested in a private equity fund with substantial oil and gas holdings.

“When I heard it, I was appalled and shocked,” said Gracie Brett, a rising senior at American University. She’s fighting to get her school to pull its investments out of fossil fuels and has volunteered with a number of environmental groups.

“I would be livid if I was giving my money and then found out it was going to something like that,” she told the I-Team.

In promotional videos on its website, World Wildlife Fund touts its public mission to combat climate change and its opposition to the fossil fuel industry.

“Oil companies want to drill for oil and gas deep beneath the sea bed. It’s a dreadful idea,” says a narrator in one video.

But the leaked documents show the DC-based WWF privately invested more than $2 million with Denham Capital, an international private equity firm that’s specialized in oil and gas, mining and energy investments.

“You’re literally handing money to polluters. That makes zero sense,” Brett said.

Given that there are serious questions about whether Russian government money is funding environmental NGOs, ordinary citizens need full transparency about where NGOs are getting their money and now — what they’re doing with it.

Any group that relies on public trust in its mission must be above reproach ethically, and that means no shortcuts. It’s telling that the World Wildlife Fund refused to go on camera with NBC News:

World Wildlife Fund declined our request to speak on camera. By phone, WWF told the News4 I-Team it started unloading its oil and gas investments five years ago, but found some, like the Denham fund, posed a greater challenge.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen environmental groups play fast and loose with finances. The Sierra Club took $25 million from the natural gas industry before it got called out for the hypocrisy.

As far was we’re concerned, taking extreme liberties with your donors’ money is as much of a vice as taking it from foreign governments interested in undermining Americans’ energy security.

No wonder WWF wants to stay out of the camera’s glare.

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Russian Troll Farm Used Home-Grown U.S. Content to Spew Disinformation

What’s a Russian troll to do when he or she needs new content to divide and confuse Americans?
Use genuine American propaganda.
That’s exactly what the Russian troll farm, the Internet Research Agency, did in 2017. It turbo-charged tweets to popularize content from TruthFeed, a pro-Trump website that Bloomberg said “specializes in hyper-partisan, factually incorrect stories.”
Even though it had its own art department to create memes and websites like those it used to meddle with U.S. energy markets, it apparently found a more efficient way to create high-velocity disinformation, according to an expert quoted by Bloomberg.
“They were putting a lot of effort into something they didn’t have to, because Americans were already doing it ourselves,” Linvill says. “We have plenty of divisive content and plenty of content that is dubious in its basis in fact. We have a lot of sites out there doing this, especially Truthfeed.”

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Russian interference in Oil & Gas Industry: News9 Investigates

We were pleased to see Oklahoma’s News 9 dig into the story of Russian interference in the oil & gas industry this week.

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As investigative reporter Alex Cameron noted:

While it hasn’t received the same attention [as election interference], a House Science Committee report released in March documents similar efforts by Russia to use social media to influence US domestic energy policy.

“It is a form of economic sabotage they’ve been trying to perpetrate against our oil and gas industries,” said Representative Frank Lucas.

The story goes on to quote Oklahoma Oil and Gas association industry spokesman Chad Warmington.

“When you have foreign governments coming in and trying to suppress an industry, and frankly, suppress a nation, who’s providing economic and energy security to other nations, and the stabilizing force that is, that’s a huge problem that all Americans and Oklahomans ought to be concerned about.”

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Only Investigation Can Save Environmental Groups from Russian Taint: The Hill

There are things most people don’t question or give a second thought to, and environmental groups are often one of them.

But multiple allegations of Russian collusion with them is threatening to damage the trust those groups have built with the American public, according to a column in The Hill by a member of the EPA’s Science Advisory Board.

Russia has already insinuated itself into environmental movements, something the Miami Herald exposed in a front-page story. One easy way to do it was to co-opt environmental activists to do their bidding in fighting fracking. Co-opting the so-called “useful idiots” is a tactic Russia has employed with other activist groups on the left and the right.

And there is plenty of evidence from Congress that Russia “used social media platforms to oppose the use of natural gas, limit research and development of fossil fuels and generally influence U.S. energy policy,” according to The Hill.

Despite these credible, bipartisan concerns about Russian meddling in U.S. and world energy policy, there has been very little digging into this story. That’s concerning. Millions of Americans who support the works of well-known environmental groups deserve to know if the organizations have been compromised. The danger is clear.  Given the sparse reporting, the public is left to speculate as to which environmental groups have been tainted by Russian funding. This uncertainty could have a devastating effect on the ability of legitimate groups to continue to advocate for a cleaner environment.

No matter where Americans stand on climate change and how to protect the environment, we can agree that the debate is important. Every important debate deserves the free expression that’s the hallmark of our democracy. So it behooves us to know which environmental groups have a foreign hand behind them.

If we don’t know who’s really doing the talking, then there’s no way to have an informed debate.

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Fox News asks: “Is the left getting played by Russia?”

Facebook announced last week that it shut down 32 pages on its platforms that were “involved with coordinated inauthentic behavior.” Some left-of-center groups whose events were linked to the illicit pages are upset that their reputations are being sullied.

The possible co-opting of authentic activism by foreign government opportunists is an interesting twist in an already complicated story. While Russia’s “meddling” in the 2016 election has been perceived as chiefly benefitting the victorious Donald Trump, investigators have established that the Kremlin exploited both conservative and liberal causes. The goal: not so much favoritism as general provocation and disruption.

These 32 newly discovered Facebook pages, which include names such as ‘Aztlan Warriors,’ ‘Black Elevation,’ ‘Mindful Being,’ and ‘Resisters,’ show that someone—Russia, most likely—is keen to sow even more confusion going into the 2018 elections.

Regarding the 32 total pages in question, Facebook did not directly link them to Russia, but lawmakers on Capitol Hill did. A spokesman for Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley said Facebook had informed his office “that a limited group of Russian actors has attempted to spread disinformation using its platform and that the affected groups are affiliated with the political left.”

It’s not the first time that activists on the political left have been caught up in suspected Russian provocation. Earlier this year, the Miami Herald ran a front-page story describing how organizers of protests against the Sabal Trail Pipeline in Florida were being aided and abetted—presumably unwittingly—by Russian propagandists. Florida Congressional candidate Tim Canova, a protest leader, strongly defended the integrity of the movement; however, the article suggested Canova was being played by the Kremlin and had become a “useful idiot.” (Canova saw nothing extraordinary about having appeared on RT, the Kremlin-backed TV network, over 20 times.)

Anyone—right, left or centrist—can become an unwitting agent of a sophisticated intelligence operation, especially if they’re not paying attention. So we should all be careful about casting the first stone. But, at the same time, we must not shy away from calling out cases where well-meaning folks may actually be doing the bidding of a foreign adversary.

The underlying political viewpoints shouldn’t matter. What matters is that free expression, a core American value, is being manipulated by hostile foreign governments.

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How do hackers crack their way into critical infrastructure?

Russian hackers have been probing—and gaining access to—critical U.S. infrastructure organizations like electric utilities. But how?

Aren’t these supposed to be among the most protected assets in the entire country? Certainly the dangers of any compromise of the electric grid are scary to contemplate. So it’s worth understanding the ways in which hackers exploit both technical vulnerabilities and human behavior to gain illicit access.

A new report by cybersecurity firm Cybereason reveals some of the methods that hackers have been using to break into these holy grails of our national industrial infrastructure.

The firm established a “honeypot” site—a fake website made to resemble a large electricity provider—and then sat back and watched what happened.

They didn’t sit around for long.

“Just two days after the honeypot went live, attackers had discovered it, prepared the asset for sale on the dark Web and sold it to another criminal entity who was also interested in [industrial control system] environments,” according to the report.

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U.S. Experts: Greatest threat is massive cyberattack

Former CIA Directors Gen. David Petraeus and Leon Panetta both warn that the U.S. faces a huge threat from a major cyberattack, one that could knock out the electric grid and cripple financial networks.

An Axios report this weekend quotes Petraeus saying, “What worries me most is a cyber equivalent of a weapon of mass destruction falling into the hands of extremists who would, needless to say, be very difficult to deter, given their willingness to blow themselves up on the battlefield to take us with them.”

Other current and former intelligence and homeland security officials concur, including DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Michael Chertoff, Lisa Monaco and Frances Townsend.

Russia is not the only foreign power to have demonstrated the capability and interest in waging a cyberattack on the U.S.—China, North Korea and potentially even non-state actors can wreak havoc too. But Russia all eyes are on Russia due to recent provocations aimed at energy companies and news reports that they’ve successfully penetrated critical U.S. electricity infrastructure.

A well-executed cyberattack could knock out the electrical grid and shut off power to a huge swath of the country, or compromise vital government or financial data and leave us unsure what is real. The sheer number of internet-connected devices, from cars to pacemakers, means the risks are growing by the day.

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Experts tell Congress disinformation campaigns are growing more sophisticated

CBS News reports on today’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing about foreign interference (with emphasis added):

One day after Facebook made global headlines with an announcement it had detected a new, coordinated, politically divisive foreign influence campaign of suspected Russian origin on its platform, a panel of experts told the Senate Intelligence Committee that influence campaigns stretch far beyond Facebook, target much more than elections, and increasingly originate from actors other than Russia.

“Over the past decade, disinformation, misinformation, and social media hoaxes have evolved from a nuisance into high-stakes information war,” said Renee DiResta, Director of Research at New Knowledge, which specializes in identifying disinformation on social media.  “This will be one of the defining threats of our generation,” she warned.

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