Russia: Anti-Vaxx and Pro-“Energy Choice”

There’s no denying the pattern — Russia is attacking the credibility of U.S. institutions to create chaos and stir up distrust of our leaders, engineers, and scientists. This video looks at Russian efforts to spread anti-vaccination propaganda and to push for “energy choice,” a sneaky effort to break up the utilities that actually secure our energy grid (from their cyberattacks).

U.S. Boosts Defenses Against EMP Threat

The dangers of an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, are the stuff of nightmares — think widespread blackouts, halting of air travel, crippling of the U.S. economy and potential total social breakdown.

Officials have been warning for years that Russia, China, Iran or North Korea could unleash an EMP attack on the U.S. electric grid; or just as scary, one could be caused by a solar flare.

Recognizing the potential devastating effects an EMP would bring, the White House took action this week via an Executive Order from President Trump to protect the nation’s critical infrastructure from EMPs, boost detection capabilities and plan for recovery should one occur.

While unleashing an EMP attack would be an indisputable act of war, and bring a swift response from the U.S., it could be a highly effective first strike. Military leaders in adversarial countries know this, and EMP weapons have become part of their planning doctrines, according to a government report.

“It is the policy of the United States to prepare for the effects of EMPs through targeted approaches that coordinate whole-of-government activities and encourage private-sector engagement,” the executive order said.

Read more…

U.S. military disrupted Russia’s IRA on Election Day

In an encouraging development that the U.S. is toughening its response to Russian provocation, the U.S. Cyber Command blocked the operations of Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency during the 2018 midterm elections.

“They basically took the IRA offline,” one official told the Washington Post.

The Internet blockage extended took place on Election Day 2018 and for a day or so afterward, to guard against any disinformation campaign that would call into question the integrity of the results.

Russia’s recent interference and sabotage operations have targeted not just elections but a host of U.S. commercial interests — from agriculture to cargo shipping — and taking particular aim at the fast-growing U.S. energy sector which directly threatens the backbone of Russia’s economy.

U.S. response to Russia’s provocations has been relatively tame, with private social media firms being slow to suspend accounts or step up disinformation detection efforts, and President Trump downplaying the Kremlin’s role in any election meddling. Last fall, one sign of a more aggressive posture emerged when the New York Times revealed that Cyber Command had been “direct messaging” IRA trolls and hackers to send a warning that they were known and being watched. Other not-yet-public responses by U.S. intelligence and military agencies may be underway.

Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a businessman and restaurateur known as “Putin’s chef” and the alleged financier behind IRA, was indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller last year along with other IRA-connected individuals and entities.

Amid the wider Mueller probe, however, public attention on the scope and severity of Russia’s interference in the U.S. has been intermittent at best. It’s time Congress and the Trump Administration step up actions to punish Russia for its past disinformation operations and deter future ones.

The Untold Story of How Russia is Attacking the U.S. Economy

With the avalanche of Russia-related news this week—the Flynn sentencing hearing, the release of two Senate-commissioned reports on Russian social media meddling, the President’s surprise pull-out of U.S. troops from Syria, the undoing of sanctions on oligarch Oleg Deripaska’s companies, and more—it’s easy to get caught up in the latest developments and lose sight of what the Kremlin and its allies are achieving here. 

Like the best Le Carré or Charles McCarry novels, recent news has been so full of interwoven characters and events that it’s nearly impossible to keep it all straight on first read. But revisit it we should, because far from some invented hardboiled espionage thriller, these plot twists are real and we are living in the story.

Russia is engaged in an extensive, multi-faceted, prolonged attack on U.S. institutions and civil society, including our electoral system, our energy infrastructure, our public discourse, and other facets of our economy.

Not only are Vladimir Putin and his government working to undermine American interests, they are going after our allies too: from the U.K. and France to Ukraine, the rest of Eastern Europe, the Baltic states and beyond.  

From a 30,000 foot view—which can be deadly over Russian air space—the current Russian campaign is part of their zero-sum view of the world that has existed since at least the start of the Cold War. The West must be diminished so that Russia can rise again. By attacking the pillars of the West, steadily, secretly when possible, Russia can sow chaos and geopolitical turmoil, and use that instability to widen its sphere of influence.

Democracy, personal liberty, a free press, and the rule of law are all anathema to Putin and his oligarch cronies. Those niceties get in the way of the kleptocracy that Putin has taken great care to create and protect over the past two decades. But to feed their corrupt machine, they need economic wins. And per their zero-sum mentality, this means delivering economic losses to their adversaries.  

So while 2016 election “meddling” remains a centerpiece of cable news, the Mueller investigation and several Congressional inquiries, we encourage everyone to follow the money and dig deeper into Russia’s ongoing interference in the U.S. economy. 

Every day, vital American industries from telecom to energy to agriculture face threats and direct sabotage from Russia and other foreign adversaries—costing American businesses potentially billions of dollars, and robbing American workers of their jobs and financial security.

Alongside its election interference in the U.S. this decade, Russia has:

  • Sought to slow construction of energy pipelines
  • Cast doubt on the efficacy of vaccines
  • Questioned the safety of U.S. agricultural products
  • Sabotaged the Net Neutrality debate
  • Hacked email accounts and computer networks—including critical electricity and telecommunications infrastructure
  • Stoked dissent and division among our government leaders and the general public.

These attacks on our economic security are similar in nature to ones Russia has carried out against Ukraine and other allies. The playbook is effective and it’s being repeated here, threatening not just our exercise of commerce but our national security as well.

Congress and the Administration must address not just electoral meddling, as it has been, but the totality of Russian interference and the damage it is causing to the U.S. economy.  

Today, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a report that addressed the lost economic benefits and job opportunities from recent anti-energy efforts in the U.S., such as New York State’s ban on hydraulic fracturing. The study found over $90 Billion in lost economic activity, 730,000 job opportunities missed, and another $20 Billion in unrealized tax revenue due to delays or cancellations of energy pipelines, power plants and terminals. 

NOW CONSIDER THIS: A portion of this sizable economic damage can be attributed to Russian active measures. It’s not just homespun activism, litigation and legislative battles blocking these domestic projects. There is foreign interference too.

Russia has a clear motive to stifle U.S. domestic energy development wherever and however it can; its own economy is overwhelmingly dependent on exporting oil and gas. Russia also has a track record of  butting into other countries’ matters around things such as fracking. And it has the wherewithal to finance and carry out influence operations abroad, as we saw most recently in the Mueller indictments of the IRA.

We don’t know yet how much to blame directly or indirectly on the Kremlin —more research is needed, along with more cooperation from social media companies to share evidence of Russian activities—but it could ultimately add up to a substantial percentage of the figures cited by the Chamber.  

What’s more: this new study only looked at 15 specific projects and the New York fracking ban. There are numerous other major projects, including the Dakota Access Pipeline and Sabal Trail Pipeline to name just two, that weren’t even included in the Chamber study but saw undeniable Russian interference per a 2018 Congressional report (pdf). So the dollar figure could be higher still. 

Do not naively dismiss Russia’s social media meddling as minimal in impact. For starters, as the pair of recent Senate Intelligence Committee reports demonstrated, we are still learning the full extent of the Kremlin’s online operations in 2016. They were “much more comprehensive, calculating and widespread than previously revealed.” And likely there are still more stones unturned.

Not only that, after-the-fact analyses of public debates can underestimate the effect that a well-placed, well-timed message can have on people “in the moment.” We must at least consider that the onslaught of troll and bot messages could have helped sway or cement someone’s opinion on a pipeline project or fracking referendum or, for that matter, other contentious issues like the safety of vaccines.    

And, the scale of the Russian social posts, while once pooh-poohed in some corners, has indeed been shown to be large: IRA posts on Facebook and Instagram were shared by 30+ million people, according to the new reports by New Knowledge and the Oxford University Computational Propaganda Research Project

Lost jobs, lost business income, lost tax revenue… these are real economic consequences that have lasting impact. To say nothing of the family and societal turmoil that comes from economic insecurity. 

From Kremlin-linked social media posts and television coverage that stirred up negative public sentiment to influence campaigns geared at policymakers to secret funneling of money to protest groups, Russia has been pursuing its own anti-Western agenda with aplomb.

It’s time that Congress and the Administration get serious about exposing the full scale of Russian interference… and stopping it.  

Sign the Petition: Demand Congress investigate foreign interference in our economy!

The Citizens Against Foreign Interference have taken our fight to to demand action from Congress on the issues we’ve been posting about for months here and on Facebook. Read on below for what we’re asking…

Click here to sign the petition now.

Every day, vital American industries from telecom to energy to agriculture face threats and direct sabotage from Russia and other foreign adversaries—costing American businesses potentially BILLIONS of dollars, and robbing American workers of their jobs and financial security.

While Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections and the Mueller investigation tend to dominate the news, there’s MUCH more to the story. So, as Congress and the special counsel carry out their probes of Russian influence on the Trump campaign and presidency, we ask that they go further.

Beyond election interference, Russia and China have: 

  • Spread malicious propaganda across social media
  • Fomented protests
  • Funneled secret money into the country
  • Cast doubt on the efficacy of vaccines
  • Questioned the safety of U.S. agricultural products
  • Blocked construction of energy pipelines 
  • Sabotaged the Net Neutrality debate 
  • Hacked email accounts and computer networks—including critical electricity and telecommunications infrastructure
  • Developed backdoors in commonly-used communications devices
  • Stoked dissent and division among our government leaders and the general public.

As you can see, it is a lengthy and serious set of topics that jeopardizes not only our economic security but also our national security.

These things are all happening beneath our eyes right now, often simultaneously, but neither Congress nor the Administration has investigated the totality of this interference and how it is damaging the U.S. economy.

For the sake of our economy and national security, we call on the relevant committee leadership in the new Congress to fully investigate and expose any such foreign influence operations or threats—to root out the sponsors, the perpetrators, and the funding networks that funnel money for these operations. 

Click here to sign the petition now.  And please, spread the word.

Russian Midterm Election Hacking: U.S. Takes the Gloves Off

The U.S. government is finally bringing its full force to bear against Russia’s heretofore largely unchecked campaign to meddle in the 2018 midterm elections.

In the past week, the government has fired off three public broadsides at the Russian government, most notably with the Justice Department’s indictment against Russian woman working for a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Prosecutors allege Elena Khusyaynova managed a $35 million budget to fund social media trolling operations as part of a years-long campaign to sow discord among Americans. Same as the 13 trolls charged by the Robert Mueller investigation, the operations Khusyaynova oversaw as chief accountant worked both sides of the political aisle as they tried to ramp up distrust of the political system.

The trolls picked hot-button issues like race relations, guns, immigration, women and tried to whip up passions on either side. It’s the same M.O. they use to create resistance against pipeline projects from North Dakota to Florida.

The charge against her, appropriately, is conspiracy to defraud the United States.

Then, the U.S. Cyber Command let it be known that it is identifying and tracking individual Russian trolls with an overseas cyber-operation billed as the first of its kind. What’s interesting is that the government made what should be a covert operation overt. There’s a reason – they want the public and the Russians to know.

The underlying reasons are different, though. For the American public, it’s a way to demonstrate that the government is acting and not sitting back. For the Russians, it’s an attempt at deterrence – warning that there are real-world risks for their online actions against the U.S. And it’s a good start.

Finally, U.S. national security adviser John Bolton fired a shot across the Kremlin’s bow from inside Moscow. During a trip to meet with Russian counterparts, he told a Moscow radio station that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election had backfired by creating distrust of Russia.

Bolton essentially called it a classic case of blowback – when covert operations go bad, they cause the opposite of the intended effect and “blow back” on the perpetrator. In his typically blunt manner, he said: “Don’t mess with U.S. elections.

The sum of all these developments is that it’s clear Russia has not abandoned its plans to interfere with our body politic, the same as it is doing around the world.

So much for the story that there was no evidence of Russian trolling in the midterm elections. We said it back then – a thief changes nothing but tactics.

Russia & Hacking the Midterms: What’s really going on?

An article from The Daily Beast purports that there are no signs yet of Russian hacking or interference  in the 2018 U.S. midterm elections – which is good news, if it’s true.

Like all news, let’s take it with a grain of salt. The thrust of the article’s argument is that Russia did such a good job messing with 2016’s polls that it doesn’t have to lift a finger now.

That’s a comforting thought but not one suffused with true understanding of how state intelligence actors operate. Russia’s work advancing its interests is never done, same as it is with the United States or any other nation-state.

Influence operations are marathons and not sprints, and their means and methods vary widely, as this handy but incomplete list of Russian spying operations around the world can attest.

So even if Russia’s operations around the 2016 election achieved their goals, it’s not like Moscow said “OK, we’re good now.” More than likely, they’re shifting to other modes of operation that aren’t as well-known since surprise and stealth are the fundamental elements of covert action.

After all, a thief whose best hauls came from breaking in through unlocked windows doesn’t stop once the people in the neighborhood start locking them. He just breaks the glass instead.

Be listening for that sound.

Read the full story here


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.

Read the Full Story.


Nord Stream 2 map, by Samuel Bailey (CC by 3.0)

The One Thing Trump Got Right

President Trump is taking flak from all sides for his weak statements at the Helsinki summit about Russian meddling, as well as his recent comments about NATO.

But amid the memorable missteps, there’s one important thing that Trump nailed. And it shouldn’t get lost in the aftermath of the summit.

Trump publicly criticized the proposed 800-mile gas pipeline that would increase the supply of Russian gas to Europe. Called Nord Stream 2, the pipeline would bypass existing pipeline in Ukraine that generates significant revenue for our Eastern European ally and perennial Russian foe.

“Germany, as far as I’m concerned, is captive to Russia because it’s getting so much of its energy from Russia,” Trump said on camera. Russia, it should be noted, has been known to cut off access to natural gas during winter months as a bullying tactic. Whatever his reasons for fixating on the Nord Stream 2 issue, Trump is right that a new pipeline that runs directly from Russia to Germany will greatly increase Putin’s leverage over Germany and most of Europe.

Europe’s own gas resources are predicted to disappear over the next 2 decades. At the same time, the U.S. has become a global leader in energy production and is positioned to boost exports of gas to places like Western Europe—no doubt a reason for Russia’s efforts to stifle U.S. energy growth through propaganda and more.

While Trump sees Europe as a potential market for U.S. supplied energy via LNG exports, he and the West will face a daunting adversary, as Russia’s economy is hugely dependent on being able to monetize its massive gas reserves. And we all know Putin will stop at nothing to win.


Miami Herald: Russian trolls’ post-election task: Disrupt Florida and other U.S. energy pipelines

By Greg Gordon –

WASHINGTON -A television crew from Russia’s largest state-backed network swooped into downtown Miami two days before New Year’s Eve, 2016, on a curious mission.

RT, the network formerly known as Russia Today, was there to provide global news coverage of one of five unremarkable rallies across Florida that day aimed at turning the public against the nearly completed, $3 billion Sabal Trail Pipeline designed to carry natural gas to the state from Alabama.

What the demonstrators didn’t know was that so-called Russian internet trolls had been busy for two weeks encouraging people to turn out for the protests with posts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. They used phony, American-sounding identities — names such as Steven Cook and Amalie Baldwin.

Russia’s hidden hand in the Florida pipeline protests was extensive, according to sources familiar with the operations. At least eight Russian accounts, most tied to the troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency, sent at least 16 social media messages excoriating the Sabal Trail pipeline or retweeting messages from one of its most prominent opponents, a frequent guest on RT. The tweets were sent to a total of more than 40,000 followers as well as anyone else who saw them via hashtags.

Read more…