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Category: Clues

North-Western Service Agency Links

From Wikipedia Internet Research Agency article, current to Nov. 2017:

“According to journalists’ investigations, the office in Olgino was named as Internet Research Agency Ltd. (Russian: ООО «Агентство интернет-исследований»).[3][8] The company was founded in the summer of 2013.[6]

Journalists also point out that Alexey Soskovets, who had participated in Russian youth political community, was directly connected to the office in Olgino. His company, North-Western Service Agency, won 17 or 18 (according to different sources) contracts for organizing celebrations, forums and sport competitions for authorities of Saint Petersburg. The agency was the only participant in half of those bids. In the summer of 2013 the agency won a tender for providing freight services for participants of Seliger camp.[3][9]”

… “Novaya Gazeta newspaper reported that, according to Alexey Soskovets, head of the office in Olgino, North-Western Service Agency was hiring employees for similar projects in Moscow and other cities in 2013.[3]”

Novaya Gazeta September 2013 article link. (Auto-translated Google Chrome extension)

“We meet with a friend Alexei Soskovets – a native of the youth polittusovki. In “friends” VKontakte he has a lot of activists of the movement “Nashi”, “Young Guard of United Russia” and employees of the Committee for Youth Policy of St. Petersburg, including the former head of the committee Nikita Alexandrov.

In 2013, Soskovets’s “North-West Service Agency” won 18 contests for the organization of holidays, forums and sports events for St. Petersburg authorities. In half of the competitions the agency participated alone. In the summer of 2013, the contest for transport services for participants of the camp “Seliger” won.”

Wish I had a human-translation of this, because the article seems quite relevant and interesting:

“While filling in the questionnaires, Alexey described our functionality. According to him, now they are engaged in increasing the index of certain articles. “There are different articles – social, business, political and so on. We act on the principle of “Yandex-market”, – he began. – “Yandex-Market” is a huge online store that says where it is better to buy. Under each product there is a comment of people who say that this is an excellent phone, this is a bad phone. Alas, the realities of life are such that not always people want to write the first comments. We need to increase the attendance of the site. This can be done by robots, but robots do their work mechanically, and sometimes a system like “Yandex” bans them. Therefore, it was decided to do it by people. Write a comment from yourself with the vector indicated by us. For example, about the G-20, you can write that it is very honorable for Russia,”

Here we go, as far as other offices goes:

“”Now we are recruiting people, in several cities we are acting – Moscow, Peter”, Alexey specifies. He says that they do not have anything to do with Nashi, but it does not exclude that something like that will turn out.”

So Alexey may have an explicit Nashi connection which could make an explicit personnel bridge between Nashi and IRA.

Outside of the above, I’m not finding much reliable source information on Alexei / Alexey Soskovets and North-West / North-Western Service Agency. Or in conjunction with mentions of Moscow. Maybe a Russian-language business search would turn something up, but I’m not quite there yet.

In fact, the frequency with which the Wikipedia IRA source text is quoted verbatim on third party forums is dubious in and of itself.

Internet Research Agency Overview

This June 2015 Adrian Chen NY Times piece is kinda the ‘canonical’ source with regards to the alleged Russian-government-linked Internet Research Agency.

  • Address: 55 Savushkina Street, St. Petersburg

“The Columbian Chemicals hoax was not some simple prank by a bored sadist. It was a highly coordinated disinformation campaign, involving dozens of fake accounts that posted hundreds of tweets for hours, targeting a list of figures precisely chosen to generate maximum attention. The perpetrators didn’t just doctor screenshots from CNN; they also created fully functional clones of the websites of Louisiana TV stations and newspapers. The YouTube video of the man watching TV had been tailor-made for the project. A Wikipedia page was even created for the Columbian Chemicals disaster, which cited the fake YouTube video. As the virtual assault unfolded, it was complemented by text messages to actual residents in St. Mary Parish. It must have taken a team of programmers and content producers to pull off.”

  • Informant, supposed former employee: Ludmila Savchuk

“The first thing employees did upon arriving at their desks was to switch on an Internet proxy service, which hid their I.P. addresses from the places they posted; those digital addresses can sometimes be used to reveal the real identity of the poster. Savchuk would be given a list of the opinions she was responsible for promulgating that day. Workers received a constant stream of “technical tasks” — point-by-point exegeses of the themes they were to address, all pegged to the latest news.”

“The point was to weave propaganda seamlessly into what appeared to be the nonpolitical musings of an everyday person.”

“Management was obsessed with statistics — page views, number of posts, a blog’s place on LiveJournal’s traffic charts — and team leaders compelled hard work through a system of bonuses and fines. “It was a very strong corporate feeling,” Savchuk says. Her schedule gave her two 12-hour days in a row, followed by two days off. Over those two shifts she had to meet a quota of five political posts, 10 nonpolitical posts and 150 to 200 comments on other workers’ posts. “

Savchuk:

“While employed there, she copied dozens of documents to her personal email account and also plied her co-workers for information. She made a clandestine video of the office. In February, she leaked it all to a reporter for Moi Raion, a local newspaper known for its independent reporting. The documents, together with her story, offered the most detailed look yet into the daily life of a pro-Kremlin troll. “

  • Russian media claims IRA is funded by restaurater Evgeny Prigozhin
  • Prigozhin –> Concord (holding company)
  • An employee of Concord was spotted as IRA team leader
  • Concord approves payments to IRA (leaked emails)

“The boom in pro-Kremlin trolling can be traced to the antigovernment protests of 2011, when tens of thousands of people took to the streets after evidence of fraud in the recent Parliamentary election emerged. The protests were organized largely over Facebook and Twitter and spearheaded by leaders, like the anticorruption crusader Alexei Navalny, who used LiveJournal blogs to mobilize support. The following year, when Vyascheslav Volodin, the new deputy head of Putin’s administration and architect of his domestic policy, came into office, one of his main tasks was to rein in the Internet. Volodin, a lawyer who studied engineering in college, approached the problem as if it were a design flaw in a heating system. Forbes Russia reported that Volodin installed in his office a custom-designed computer terminal loaded with a system called Prism, which monitored public sentiment online using 60 million sources. According to the website of its manufacturer, Prism “actively tracks the social media activities that result in increased social tension, disorderly conduct, protest sentiments and extremism.” Or, as Forbes put it, “Prism sees social media as a battlefield.””

[Note: unable to find original source on Forbes mention. Also, is there some link to PRISM (surveillance program)?]

Russian crackdowns on internet (same NYT source):

“Laws were passed requiring bloggers to register with the state. A blacklist allowed the government to censor websites without a court order. Internet platforms like Yandex were subjected to political pressure, while others, like VKontakte, were brought under the control of Kremlin allies. Putin gave ideological cover to the crackdown by calling the entire Internet a “C.I.A. project,” one that Russia needed to be protected from.”

Columbian Chemicals hoax:

“The chain that links the Columbian Chemicals hoax to the Internet Research Agency begins with an act of digital subterfuge perpetrated by its online enemies. Last summer, a group called Anonymous International — believed to be unaffiliated with the well-known hacktivist group Anonymous — published a cache of hundreds of emails said to have been stolen from employees at the agency.”

… “The emails indicated that the Internet Research Agency had begun to troll in English. One document outlined a project called “World Translation”; the problem, it explained, was that the foreign Internet was biased four to one against Russia, and the project aimed to change the ratio. Another email contained a spreadsheet that listed some of the troll accounts the agency was using on the English-language web. After BuzzFeed reported on the leak, I used the spreadsheet to start mapping the network of accounts on Facebook and Twitter, trying to draw connections.”

[Note: I believe this is the Buzzfeed reporting from June 2014.

Trying to locate a copy of the actual leaks (presumably in Russian?), and the described spreadsheet.

Independent Russian newspaper account of infiltrating the agency.]

“Soshnikov showed me how he used a service called Yomapic, which maps the locations of social-media users, to determine that photos posted to Infosurfing’s Instagram account came from 55 Savushkina. He had been monitoring all of the content posted from 55 Savushkina for weeks and had assembled a huge database of troll content.”

  • FAN – Federal News Agency shares same address / building.
  • People’s News, same address

I can see now why that 2015 Chen NYT article is the canonical source for all this stuff.

Jumping to Buzzfeed’s 2014 reporting on the Internet Research Agency leaked emails from Anonymous International:

“The documents show instructions provided to the commenters that detail the workload expected of them. On an average working day, the Russians are to post on news articles 50 times. Each blogger is to maintain six Facebook accounts publishing at least three posts a day and discussing the news in groups at least twice a day. By the end of the first month, they are expected to have won 500 subscribers and get at least five posts on each item a day. On Twitter, the bloggers are expected to manage 10 accounts with up to 2,000 followers and tweet 50 times a day.”

  • Names as IRA leader: Igor Osadchy
  • Possibly founded in April 2014

Buzzfeed article links to this Russian site as holding the leaked emails. I clicked the link at the site and was re-directed to a mega.nz page reading telling me the file was unavailable because the account had multiple Terms of Service violations.

[Note: immediately after that, I experienced an unusual glitch on my self-hosted WordPress site telling me my session had expired and to log back in. Suspicious!]

Still can’t find the Buzzfeed 2014 Anonymous leaked spreadsheet of account names. But in November 2017, Recode published the House Intelligence committee blocked Twitter account list. Perhaps there is some cross-over?

Meduza 2015 article about Shaltai Boltai (Humpty Dumpty), the hacker group responsible for IRA leaks.

“Shaltai also released documents about how Concord, a company owned by Kremlin-connected restaurant owner Evgeny Prigozhin, apparently coordinates an army of pro-Putin “Internet trolls” through an outfit called the Internet Research Agency.

Igor Osadchy, whom the leaked emails name as the director of Translator, a project at the Internet Research Agency tasked with placing comments in foreign news media, later sued Shaltai for personal data theft. A representative at Roskomnadzor, Russia’s federal agency for media oversight, then announced, “A court has determined that the information [published by Shaltai] must be deleted, but the website’s hosting provider has not responded to our notification. Therefore, our agency has ordered Internet Service Providers to block this blog.” On July 27, 2014, acting on orders from Roskomnadzor, Russian ISPs blocked access to the domain b0ltai.org. The group’s main Twitter account, @b0ltai, was also blocked. Today, Shaltai’s website is accessible in Russia only via VPN or a mirror site. The group also runs @b0ltai2, a duplicate Twitter account, still unblocked in Russia, that reproduces all the first account’s posts, down to its retweets.”

… “In August 2014, Anonymous International released archives from three different email accounts allegedly belonging to Dmitri Medvedev, as well as correspondence from Duma deputy and United Russia member Robert Shlegel about an organized “troll” attack on the websites of major American and British news media (including The New York Times, CNN, the BBC, USA Today, and The Huffington Post).”

The Atlantic, October 2013 article about online Russian propaganda trolls.

  • Article lists St. Petersburg address: 131 Lakhtinsky Prospekt
  • 8 hr not 12 hr days
  • Free lunch
  • Uncertain name of above outfit. IRA mentioned seemingly separately. Other Google searches for this address point to same source text.

Adrian Chen, New Yorker July 2016 article about Russian hacks.

RBC.ru Russian language article about Internet Research Agency, October 2017. [Quotes via Google Translate Chrome extension]

“[The IRA ran] at least 118 communities and accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter […] In August-September 2017, all identified communities with a combined audience of 6 million people were blocked by Facebook and Twitter.”

… “Communities associated with the “troll factory” for two years initiated about 40 offline events in the US cities, said a source close to the leadership of the organization. ”

… ”

Assistance in their conduct was provided by approximately 100 local activists who, according to the interlocutors of RBC magazine, did not know who they were dealing with: all communication was on the Internet, in English and from fake accounts.”

RBC.ru source is probably another “canonical”-ish source, which many other news articles refer to.

Guardian, April 2015 article on Russian troll factory.

“The Guardian spoke to two former employees of the troll enterprise, one of whom was in a department running fake blogs on the social network LiveJournal, and one who was part of a team that spammed municipal chat forums around Russia with pro-Kremlin posts. Both said they were employed unofficially and paid cash-in-hand. ”

… ““We had to write ‘ordinary posts’, about making cakes or music tracks we liked, but then every now and then throw in a political post about how the Kiev government is fascist, or that sort of thing,” she said.

Scrolling through one of the LiveJournal accounts she ran, the pattern is clear. There are posts about “Europe’s 20 most beautiful castles” and “signs that show you are dating the wrong girl”, interspersed with political posts about Ukraine or suggesting that the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is corrupt.”

… “Instructions for the political posts would come in “technical tasks” that the trolls received each morning, while the non-political posts had to be thought up personally.”

… “The trolls worked in teams of three. The first one would leave a complaint about some problem or other, or simply post a link, then the other two would wade in, using links to articles on Kremlin-friendly websites and “comedy” photographs lampooning western or Ukrainian leaders with abusive captions.

Marat shared six of his technical task sheets from his time in the office with the Guardian. Each of them has a news line, some information about it, and a “conclusion” that the commenters should reach.”

“Leaked documents have linked the opaque company running the troll factory to structures close to the Kremlin, but there has been no hard evidence. “

Buzzfeed June 2014 about how IRA targeted Harry Potter fans, and other topics.

Guardian November 2016 article on government manipulation of social media.

” In 2011 the PR firm Bell Pottinger told undercover journalists that they could “create and maintain third-party blogs”, and spruce up Wikipedia profiles and Google search rankings. “

Links out to BBC March 2012 article about Bell Pottinger Wikipedia scandal.

Telegraph June 2015 article on Savchuk:

“She was put in the so-called Special Projects department using the LiveJournal blogging platform, where, she says, “people pretending to be individual bloggers– a fortune teller, a soldier, a Ukrainian man – had to, between posts about daily life or interesting facts, insert political reflections”. “

New York Times, May 2016 about Finnish activist exposing Russian trolls:

““They fill the information space with so much abuse and conspiracy talk that even sane people start to lose their minds,” she added.”

… “Pro-Russian activists insist that they are merely exercising their right to free speech, and that they do not take money or instructions from Moscow.”

Newsweek, October 2017 article on trolls, bots and fake news.

Regarding Azerbaijan:

“Social media has been a part of his presidential strategy since at least 2010, when members of the country’s main youth group, IRELI, were instructed to proliferate pro-government opinions online. As troll training-centers multiplied across the country—one source says there were 52 in different towns and cities, funded with government money…”

Article compares pro-government troll efforts around the world ^.

“It is estimated that 45% of Twitter activity in Russia is managed by such accounts.”

Estimated how, and by whom?

Independent, October 2017, accounts of IRA from a supposed former employee.

[Note, WordPress won’t accept article link: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/hillary-clinton-sex-tape-russia-body-double-troll-farm-employee-claims-a8023901.html ]

“He worked at the company from November 2014 to April 2015 and said he would impersonate “Kentucky rednecks” and African-Americans online on a regular basis.”

Daily Beast, Oct. 2017, version of same story.

“And Baskaev fingered Putin pal Yevgeny Prigozhin as his former “boss,” or “our guy who gives us money.” But the real head of the American department, he said, was the Azerbaijani-born Dzheykhun Aslanov—known simply as “Jay.””

Wired, September 2017 article discussing switch from IRA name to Glavset:

[Link problem continuing: https://www.wired.com/story/facebook-may-have-more-russian-troll-farms-to-worry-about/ ]

“The IRA, which was the subject of a 2015 New York Times Magazine investigation, may have been behind many of the bogus Facebook ads, the company says.

Of course, things aren’t as simple as that. Russian corporate records indicate Internet Research Agency has been inactive since December 2016. But that doesn’t mean that Russians no longer engage in such activity. According to Russia researchers at the liberal advocacy group Center for American Progress, there’s reason to believe the Internet Research Agency is operating under a new name: Glavset.

A Russian tax filing reveals that Glavset, which launched in February 2015, operates out of the same office building—55 Savushkin Street in St. Petersburg—that once housed the Internet Research Agency. The filing lists Mikhail Ivanovich Bystrov, former head of the Internet Research Agency, as its general director.”

… “It’s not clear whether Glavset purchased political ads on Facebook, or any other platform. A Facebook spokesman could not immediately say whether Facebook uncovered any ads placed by Glavset in the investigation it revealed Wednesday. That probe found 470 inauthentic pages and accounts affiliated with Internet Research Agency; Facebook turned that information over to special counsel Robert Mueller.”

NY Times September 2017 fake Russian accounts bought $100,000 ads on Facebook.

“Facebook officials said the fake accounts were created by a Russian company called the Internet Research Agency, which is known for using “troll” accounts to post on social media and comment on news websites.”

Is there a link to a blog post or other official testimony of them linking these accounts and ad buys to IRA?

Same source:

“Mr. Stamos wrote that while some of the ads specifically mentioned the two candidates, most focused instead on issues that were polarizing the electorate: “divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.””

Ah, here we go, looks like the NYT source for the Stamos Facebook account quotes–a September 2017 Facebook security post.

Describes multiple sets of review data:

“In reviewing the ads buys, we have found approximately $100,000 in ad spending from June of 2015 to May of 2017 — associated with roughly 3,000 ads — that was connected to about 470 inauthentic accounts and Pages in violation of our policies. Our analysis suggests these accounts and Pages were affiliated with one another and likely operated out of Russia.”

The second more broad:

“In this latest review, we also looked for ads that might have originated in Russia — even those with very weak signals of a connection and not associated with any known organized effort. This was a broad search, including, for instance, ads bought from accounts with US IP addresses but with the language set to Russian — even though they didn’t necessarily violate any policy or law. In this part of our review, we found approximately $50,000 in potentially politically related ad spending on roughly 2,200 ads.”

August 2017 announcement by Facebook they will not allow advertising by pages that repeatedly share fake news.

Jumping back for a second to NYT Sept. 2017 article linked above:

“One question underlying the investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia is whether Russia-sponsored operators would have needed any guidance from American political experts. Facebook said that some of the ads linked to Russian accounts had targeted particular geographic areas, which may raise questions about whether anyone had helped direct such targeting.”

Wikipedia Web brigades article.

Linked off the Wikipedia page: November 2017, Washington Post.

“President Trump retweeted content from a fake account affiliated with Russia, a member of a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee revealed this week.

The account in question, @10_gop, tweeted “We love you, Mr. President,” and Trump retweeted the post saying “So nice, thank you!” on Sept. 19.”

“FOLLOW THE MEMES…”

Wikipedia web brigades page continuing:

“Any blog post written by an agency employee, according to the leaked files, must contain “no fewer than 700 characters” during day shifts and “no fewer than 1,000 characters” on night shifts. Use of graphics and keywords in the post’s body and headline is also mandatory. In addition to general guidelines, bloggers are also provided with “technical tasks” – keywords and talking points on specific issues, such as Ukraine, Russia’s internal opposition and relations with the West.[21]”

… “In 2015 Lawrence Alexander disclosed a network of propaganda websites sharing the same Google Analytics identifier and domain registration details, allegedly run by Nikita Podgorny from Internet Research Agency. The websites were mostly meme repositories focused on attacking Ukraine, Euromaidan, Russian opposition and Western policies. Other websites from this cluster promoted president Putin and Russian nationalism, and spread alleged news from Syria presenting anti-Western viewpoints.[37]”

… “In August 2015 Russian researchers correlated Google search statistics of specific phrases with their geographic origin, observing increases in specific politically loaded phrases (such as “Poroshenko”, “Maidan”, “sanctions”) starting from 2013 and originating from very small, peripheral locations in Russia, such as Olgino, which also happens to be the headquarters of the Internet Research Agency company.[38]”

Wikipedia Internet Research Agency page:

Wikipedia, re: Trolls from Olgino:

“The group’s office in Olgino, a historical district of Saint Petersburg, was exposed by Novaya Gazeta newspaper in 2013.[3]”

… “According to journalists’ investigations, the office in Olgino was named as Internet Research Agency Ltd. (Russian: ООО «Агентство интернет-исследований»).[3][8] The company was founded in the summer of 2013.[6]

Below citations link out to Russian language sites (for possible use to establish time-line):

“In 2014, according to Russian media, Internet Research Ltd. (Russian: ООО «Интернет исследования»), founded in March 2014, joined the agency’s activity. Novaya Gazeta newspaper claim this company to be a successor of Internet Research Agency Ltd.[10] Internet Research Ltd. is considered to be linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the holding company Concord. The “Trolls of Olgino” from Saint Petersburg are considered to be his project. As of October 2014, the company belonged to Mikhail Bystrov, who had been the head of the police station at Moscow district of Saint Petersburg.[11]”

… “Russian media point out that according to documents, published by hackers from Anonymous International, Concord is directly involved with trolling administration through the agency. Researchers cite e-mail correspondence, in which Concord gives instructions to trolls and receives reports on accomplished work.[5] ”

… “59°59′03.5″N 30°16′19.1″E

According to Russian online newspaper DP.ru, several months before October 2014 the office moved from Olgino to a four-story building at 55 Savushkina Street.[11][12][17]”

… “Novaya Gazeta newspaper reported that, according to Alexey Soskovets, head of the office in Olgino, North-Western Service Agency was hiring employees for similar projects in Moscow and other cities in 2013.[3]

From Novaya Gazeta September 2013 article (Google Translate from Russian):

“From the data of the Unified State Register of Legal Entities, it follows that the organization was registered on July 26, 2013. The founder is Mikhail Kurkin, the general director is Nikolai Chumakov.”

… “

Whew, well I think that’s a fairly exhaustive round-up of top links and quotes relative to the subject. Will try to condense this down into a more human-readable format in coming days.

 

Entity: United Free Realms UFR

Variously, Universal Free Realms. Interchangeable.

Location: Other Offices

Entity: Other firms. Addresses. Co-located groups.

As in IRA/FAN/GLAV STPETBG.

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