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).

Bipartisan bill targets Russian election interference

A bill introduced by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) would require that the Director of National Intelligence inform Congress within 60 days of every federal election whether there was any foreign meddling — and if so, impose sanctions on the offenders.

The Rubio-Van Hollen bill resembles an executive order issued by President Trump last year requiring the administration to determine if foreign election interference occurred and, if so, to impose sanctions. The senators supported the president’s executive order, but nevertheless want to see their legislation get passed.

Read more at The Hill

For Russian trolls, a new playbook for 2020

The Russian Internet accounts that interfered with the 2016 elections — and a range of ongoing U.S. commercial interests — appear to be shifting tactics as they look ahead to 2020.

The trolls are focusing less on creating original content, and more on amplifying already existing content and using hacked devices to create new legitimate-looking accounts. This is according to experts at several cybersecurity and research firms who spoke with Bloomberg News.

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.

Is Russia behind the youth climate protests in Europe?

As we regularly document here, Russia is not shy about interfering in political and policy debates to sow confusion and wage “hybrid warfare” to weaken its adversaries from within. In fact, this is the Kremlin’s longstanding modus operandi.

Since its well-documented activities in the 2016 U.S. elections, Russia has continued to agitate on behalf of political protests and separatist movements, such as in Catalonia (and yes, even California) and the Yellow Vests in France.

So the seemingly spontaneous explosion of youth-led climate marches in Europe recently, some drawing as many as 35,000 participants, raised eyebrows among knowing Kremlin-watchers—chief among them, the Ukrainians, who witness Russian provocations on a daily basis.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin told a group of journalists in Belgium last week that Russia is actively supporting the recent protests across the European Union calling for more urgency in combating climate change.

“It’s a point of exchange with all our partners. Russia has been supporting stirring up trouble around Europe because Russia’s goal is to weaken up the democratic institutions and to weaken the EU as such. Climate change protests: definitely yes.

—Pavlo Klimkin

He was not alone. Similar accusations have recently been issued by both German chancellor Angela Merkel and a Belgian climate minister, Joke Schauvliege, a longtime fixture on the EU and U.N. climate circuit.

Merkel and Schauvliege both walked back their comments to varying degrees in the days after. But that they were made at all created a curious convergence of allegations, most plausible given the history of Russian intelligence operations and current motives.

Details of how Russia specifically was fomenting or leading or supporting the youth protests were hard to come by, but are essential to our understanding and ability to counter Russia’s unwelcome outside influence.

Klimkin had this to say:

“It’s about fake NGOs, it’s about trying to buy journalists, it’s about trying to buy media, it’s about meddling in the political class. Not the same scope as in Ukraine, but it’s so visible”

The full story here needs to be uncovered and told.

Read more.

Reiderstvo: The dirty truth of foreign economic interference

Cyber and information attacks against commercial enterprises in the U.S. and allied countries are an enticing means of waging economic warfare by countries like Russia, China, North Korea and Iran, a new report from the Chertoff Group and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies details.

Russia expert and former Army War College professor Stephen Blank cited the new report in an op-ed for The Hill that discusses how information warfare threatens Western corporations.

According to Blank, “Cyber and informational attacks can take the form of disinformation campaigns orchestrated…to besmirch the good name of a corporation, undermine its reputation and thus make it difficult if not impossible for it to secure contracts or funding. If the attack is sufficiently successful, the company either loses its market share or has to go out of business. In that case, the field is open for a pro-Moscow or actual Russian entity to replace it.”

For smaller firms, especially, the effects can be devastating.

“Economically such attacks on large or smaller corporations aim to cripple them unless they accede to the wishes of states like Russia or North Korea as in Pyongyang’s hacking of Sony in 2014.

This is a commonplace enough practice by Russia that there’s a word for it: Reiderstvo. Think of it as disinformation-meets-corporate raiding. “It is a hallmark of the Putin system,” writes Blank.

At CAFI we’ve provided many examples of how electric companies, energy producers, telecom firms, even agriculture producers have been subject to disinformation and sabotage to harm commercial prospects. Add to this list international cargo companies.

Blank cites an example of how some Western-owned cargo shippers have come into the crosshairs of Kremlin disinformation slingers, who seek to paint the companies as weapons traffickers and undermine their ability to carry out humanitarian operations for the U.N. and other clients.

Read the full piece at The Hill.

Facebook IDs Russia-Linked Misinformation Campaign

The New York Times reported today that Facebook identified two disinformation campaigns originating from Russia — including one tied to an agency controlled by the Kremlin — that were targeted at users in Europe and Central Asia. Facebook said it had deleted nearly 500 pages and accounts that had posted the misleading messages.

The activity revealed by Facebook, which has been under pressure to more aggressively counter the spread of misinformation and manipulation, shows how Kremlin-linked groups continue to use the social network to spread misleading materials around the world.

Notable in this instance was the involvement of Sputnik, the Russian national news network aka propaganda organ. Along with RT (formerly Russia Today), Sputnik has played a big role in pushing the official Kremlin position to mass audiences across the world. Sputnik stories sometimes appear prominently in Google search results on topics where Russia is actively seeking to push disinformation, including their conflict with Ukraine, fracking, and election interference.

Read the full story at the New York Times.

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.

New report details Russian disinformation

A new report on Russian disinformation, prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee, provides the most sweeping analysis yet of Russia’s disinformation campaign around the 2016 election—and says the operation used every major social media platform to help elect President Trump and to support him while in office.

The report also identifies warning signs social networks missed in 2016, including purchases made in rubles and from Internet addresses in St. Petersburg.

The research—by Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project and Graphika, a network analysis firm—offers new details on how Russians working at the Internet Research Agency, which U.S. officials have charged with criminal offenses for meddling in the 2016 campaign, sliced Americans into key interest groups for the purpose of targeting messages.

The authors, while reliant on data provided by technology companies, highlighted their “belated and uncoordinated response” to the disinformation campaign and, once it was discovered, for not sharing more with investigators.

With so much as stake for our national security, our economy, and the future of democracy, do you agree that the federal government, its largest institutions and our tech companies need to be doing a lot more to counter Russian disinformation? Sign the PETITION to call for a full investigation

Read the full story at The Washington Post