The report goes into detail about how Russia was suspected of forcibly using and telling stories to wreak havoc in the West during the Cold War through its handling of influence with military forces. And this strategy did not stop with the fall of the Berlin Wall. In fact, the ardor of anonymity on social media and online has made it easier and potentially more effective for governments and bad actors to engage in a similar playbook of filthy tricks – fake or hacked From creating fake journalists to online documents to promote them.
It is the modern-day digital discharging playbook that American intelligence agencies will surely be watching before the November presidential election – especially after Russia’s intervention efforts in the 2016 election shut down the country. But to fully understand Russia’s use of tactics like false news and leaked content, it is useful to examine the laborious impact operations of the country’s history dating back to an analog era.
Former KGB detective Jack Barsky, who lived undercover in the US in the 1980s, recounted how his day was recounted in an interview with CNN Business last year.
The KGB takes great care to present a convincing forgery of a US government document, often with the goal of implicating the US into something and designed to appear to confirm current conspiracy theory. This forgery will sometimes be given to a sympathetic, unintentional reporter from an obscure outlet in a far-flung corner of the world. It would be featured as news, and if the Soviets were lucky, it could eventually be picked up by more established outlets.
Oleg Kalugin, another KGB agent who lived in the US undercover, described in his book “Spymaster” how the KGB paid Americans to paint swastikas at gatherings in New York and Washington. This strategy had the potential to spark tensions in the US and give a negative story to the Soviet-controlled press that told the Russians at home about their capitalist enemy.
In the decades since, our lives have largely gone online – and so have Russia’s attempts to disintegrate and mediate American affairs.
In the ground work of Atlantic Council and online investigative company Grafika, researchers showed how a suspected Russian group has been distributing forged documents online over the years. These efforts included a fake letter from a US senator and another letter designed to see that it came from the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
The same Russian group is believed to have claimed behind a fake tweet by Sen. Marco Rubio that an alleged British spy agency had planned to derail the campaigns of Republican candidates in the 2018 midterm election. The fake tweet was picked up and given genuinely false information by Russian state-controlled news outlet RT. There is no evidence of coordination between RT and the Russian group that promoted fake tweets but RT did not issue corrections.
The Internet has not only made it easier for Russia to make forgery, it has also helped their ability to distribute documents, counterfeit or theft.
This month, the British government said it was “almost certain” the Russians sought to interfere in their 2019 election by leaking documents related to the UK-US trade deal on Reddit. The documents were placed as the basis for allegations that Britain’s opposition Labor Party – unaware of their origins – wanted Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson to sell parts of the British National Health Service to US health providers.
Russia’s hand in the hack and leaks of emails related to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign was well-founded by investigations and assessments from the US intelligence community of Special Counselor Robert Muller. In 2016, US news organizations including CNN detailed many of the hacked emails. Critics argued that by doing so, news outlets were helping hackers achieve their objective; The news outlet argued that the content was in the public interest.
The Russian government denied involvement in the hack.
If real journalists do not take the bait, the Internet allows the creation of fake journalists. In 2016, the GRU – Russian military intelligence – used a fake person named “Alice Donovan”, an investigation by Special Counsel Robert Muelle found. It is believed that the articles were posted on a popular independent American website.
And while Kalugin’s KGB comrades had to recruit Americans to make swastikas at the synagogue, the Internet allows for a more sustained and widespread form of pot-stirring. In 2016, the Russians recruited reluctant Americans to act as de facto American activists online, even in American elections to help protest and stunt divisive issues such as presidential elections and races. In one known example, Russian groups helped organize two protests at the same time in Texas. The resulting images from such events were used to advance secret online Russian campaigns.
Brush, floss, rinse, repeat. This playbook is not one that is particularly difficult to emulate – and other groups are trying.
Indeed, CNN’s 1983 report contained audio of an alleged call between the then President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, according to the US government, according to the work of the Soviet Union. The report showed how Reagan’s audio was cut from elsewhere and the forged tape was grown to solidify the sound.
But the following year, the British newspaper The Observer reported Crass, a British punk rock band, claimed responsibility for the tape.
In the world of deception, misinformation about dissolution is not uncommon.
At the peak of this summer’s nationwide protests over racial inequality in the US, a Twitter account claiming to be anti-Afifa led activists from far and wide to call for violence on the streets of the US. The claim was made by Donald Trump Jr., the son of President Donald Trump, to claim that Antifa is dangerous.
It later surfaced that the account was not run by Antifa, but instead white supremacists explicitly sought to prevent anarchy, as the Russians have long done.
According to Thomas Ridd, Professor of Strategic Studies at Johns Hopkins University, these efforts inevitably follow a long history of disintegration to a much farther date than many.
Rid, who elaborated the history of disinfection in his book “Active Majors”, told CNN that the entities have been engaging in disruptive campaigns for centuries and many misleading tactics used by KGB and now used online from the Soviet Union Were the first.
He warned that currently there is a culture of mistrust among major institutions – the prime conditions for spreading disunity. He said that making and disseminating fake documents and fake news coupled with technological development is easy, it is almost a perfect storm.