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Category: Research (Page 1 of 4)

Mikhail Kurkin – IRA Founder?

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.”

Masterandmargarita.eu:

“In June 2014, the private news service BuzzFeed from New York could intercept some documents of the Internet Research Agency, a company founded on July 26, 2013 in Saint Petersburg by Mikhail Kurkin, and headed by director Nikolay Churmakov.”

I’m unable to find any other outside sources confirm Kurkin’s involvement with IRA. Seems odd they mention Buzzfeed 2014 article, but I can’t find any such Buzzfeed article that includes that name.

I’m seeing elsewhere sometimes Mikhail Bystrov is named as IRA founder. Is there some confusion between these two people? I’m not even finding much independent of IRA searches on any Mikhail Kurkin.

This may or may not be the same Mikhail Kurkin, BBC September 2001:

“Mikhail Kurkin of the Interior Ministry says attacks by skinheads are serious but not widespread.

Yet the victims of violence say police records are a poor indicator as many of those attacked do not report the crime.

Beatings ‘commonplace’

Victims complain that the police officers themselves are racist and random document checks, detainment and even beatings are commonplace.

Mikhail Kurkin is adamant the police are doing their best to protect Moscow’s diverse population and that there is no such thing as institutional racism in his force

Mr Kurkin said recent increase in terrorist attacks in Moscow has led to police implementing a series of measures, including document checks.”

Possibly tenuous/wrong connection warning ^.

Vyacheslav Volodin – Chairman of State Duma

I put together a post looking at sources for a software application used by the Chairman of the State Duma of Russian Vyacheslav Volodin.

Vedomosti, May 2014 – auto-translated from Russian:

“Coming at the peak of the meeting rallies, the new team of Vyacheslav Volodin radically revised the attitude towards working with the network audience, placing a stake on systemic manipulation of public opinion through the tools of new media.

This work was recognized so effective that it was decided to send these weapons outside – to the American and European audiences.

According to sources close to the presidential administration, preliminary work began in the fall of 2013. The strategy was agreed upon by Volodin, after which they selected the performers and began to create the infrastructure.

Curators of the external direction are called those who were previously engaged in the domestic market. Work on the West is only just unfolding, but already now it is becoming noticeable.”

So their premise is that the technology infrastructure developed after internet crackdowns in Russia in 2011 was so successful they exported it. And this written in 2014, which seems all the more prescient.

But as we know, Americans were developing similar technologies at a government level in 2010/2011 time period as well. (Also HB Gary leak.)

Here’s that mention of India and Thailand again:

“At the same time, the hired Russian structures themselves use subcontractors around the world. While it was possible to reliably establish their working contacts with groups in Germany, India and Thailand. Most likely we are talking about natives of Russia.

Now the system that is being built in America and Europe exists in a test mode. Mostly they are engaged in classical information-analytical work.

The so-called “Anonymous International” group has laid out some of the documentation, possibly related to the activity of one of the main “American” teams (download the folder at http://www.sendspace.com/file/q3jft3).

This is the new, external department of the “nest of trolls,” which was exposed in September 2013 in an investigation (“http://www.novayagazeta.ru/politics/59889.html) of Novaya Gazeta.””

(Note: The sendspace link above to Anonymous International/Shaltay Boltay leaks is not functional.)

Cripo.com.ua May 2014 article, auto-translation:

“At the end of May, a group of hackers from the “Anonymous International” began publishing a series of documents received from the hacked electronic mailboxes of Olga Dzalba, a financier of the Internet Research Agency (AIE), a structure based in the suburbs of St. Petersburg – Olgino – in the summer of 2013, the order of the head of the company “Concord” Eugene Prigozhin. In addition, in the open access were reports on the work done, addressed to a man by the name of Volodin.

Vedomosti , by the way, links the Kremlin’s adopted strategy for manipulating public consciousness through new media with the name of Vyacheslav Volodin, the first deputy head of the presidential administration.

As it follows from the documents analyzed by Fontanka.ru , under a single management a scheme was built out of Internet agencies with hundreds of paid bloggers and commentators, as well as several media outlets in Russia and Ukraine. Their maintenance is estimated at 33.5 million rubles a month, of which more than 17 million – in cash. Financial documents are full of notes “not of.” – Apparently, “not officially.””

BBC February 2012:

“Mr Volodin is widely considered one of the country’s most influential and ambitious hardliners.

He is a deputy prime minister and the government’s chief of staff, and as such is the brains behind Vladimir Putin’s presidential election campaign.”

His Wikipedia page, current to November 2017:

“In October 21, 2010 he was appointed Deputy Prime Minister under Dmitry Medvedev. as well as—after the dismissal of Sergey Sobyanin in connection with his approval to the Mayor of Moscow—Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office.”

Medvedev and Sobyanin connection.

Interesting, via same Wikipedia source:

“In April 28, 2014, following the Crimean status referendum, the U.S. Treasury put Volodin on the Specially Designated Nationals List (SDN), a list of individuals sanctioned as “members of the Russian leadership’s inner circle.”[4][5][6][7][8] The sanctions freeze any assets he holds in the US[7] and ban him from entering the United States.[9]

On 12 May 2014, Volodin was added to the European Union sanctions list due to his role in the 2014 Crimean crisis.[10] He is barred from entering the EU countries, and his assets in the EU have to be frozen.”

The Moscow Times, September 2016:

“Vyacheslav Volodin was brought in to mastermind Putin’s victory in the 2012 presidential election after the Bolotnaya protests in December 2011.”

More links and quotes I compiled regarding 2011 Russian election protests.

Reuters February 2012:

“He has mostly kept in the shadows, especially since he became first deputy chief of staff in the presidential administration in a reshuffle following the start of mass protests over alleged fraud in a December 4 parliamentary election.

Volodin’s challenge is to ensure Putin wins 50 percent of the votes on March 4 to avoid a second-round runoff, which could undermine his authority.”

United Russia links.

Associated Press, September 2016.

“While Volodin has largely stayed in the shadows, he is considered one of Russia’s most influential officials, a puppet master who has directed the parliament’s work and engineered elections. He was also widely seen as a driving force behind a string of draconian laws in response to massive anti-Putin protests in 2011-2012.”

Regarding Putin election situation of 2012, BBC September 2011:

“Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says he has accepted a proposal to stand for president in March 2012.

Addressing the ruling United Russia party’s annual congress, Mr Putin and current President Dmitry Medvedev backed one another to switch roles.”

… “He had already served two terms as president before Mr Medvedev took over in 2008. Mr Putin was barred by the constitution from running for a third consecutive term.”

… “Under recent constitutional amendments, the new president will have a six-year mandate rather than four years as before. He or she will be able to serve no more than two consecutive terms, meaning Mr Putin could be in office until 2024.”

… “However, along with genuine messages of support, a #putin2012 hashtag appeared which raised suspicions of manipulation among bloggers.

It was being promoted, in part, by tweeters who had registered on Twitter on the same date, 27 June 2011, some within seconds of each other, with account locations that spanned Russia.”

 

2011 Russian anti-election fraud protests

From Wikipedia, current as of November 2017:

“On the first days following the election, Putin and United Russia were supported by rallies of the youth organisations Nashi and Young Guard.”

2011 election, same source:

“According to RIA Novosti, there were more than 1,100 official reports of election irregularities across the country, including allegations of vote fraud, obstruction of observers and illegal campaigning.[16]”

… “On 4 February 2012 the Investigation Committee of the Office of the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation announced that the majority of videos allegedly showing falsifications at polling stations were in fact falsified and originally distributed from a single server in California, and the investigation on that started.[30]”

And of course its ironic that Putin at this time (and since) actively claims the US is doing to Russia what the US says Russia is doing to them (and perhaps both are right).

According to Putin the legitimate grievances of this young and active element of Russian society are being exploited by opportunistic elements which seek to destabilize Russia.[34]

… “Alexey Navalny, a top blogger and anti-corruption activist who branded Putin’s United Russia party as the “party of crooks and thieves”, is credited with initial mobilization of mass protests through postings on his LiveJournal blog and Twitter account. Navalny’s agitation was denounced by United Russia as “typical dirty self-promotion” and a profane tweet describing Navalny as a sheep engaged in oral sex originated from Medvedev’s Twitter account.[40][41]”

Medvedev’s famous Twitter account, which was later hacked.

Nashi:

‘Many pro-government supporters, including the pro-Putin youth group Nashi, were mobilized on 6 December at the site of the planned demonstration where they made noise in support of the government and United Russia.[42] There was a 15,000-strong rally of Nashi on Manezhnaya Square[43] and an 8,000-strong rally of the Young Guard on Revolution Square.[44] ‘

… “Twitter users in Russia have reported being overwhelmed by pro-government tweets timed to Bolotnaya Square protest-related tweets.[180] Many tweets seem to have been sent by hijacked computers, though the perpetrator(s) are not yet known.[180]”

BBC March 2012:

“”These bots succeeded in blocking the actual message feed with that hashtag,” he wrote.

The rate at which pro-government messages were posted, about 10 per second, suggests they were being done automatically rather than by individuals, said Mr Goncharov.”

What I’m calling “stream dominance” – signal jamming and replacement during high-sensitivity events.

That article links out to a December 2011 krebsonsecurity.com article:

“A review of the 2,000 Twitter accounts linked above indicates that most of them were created at the beginning of July 2011, and have very few tweets other than those meant to counter the protesters, or to simply fill the hashtag feeds with meaningless garbage. Some of the bot messages include completely unrelated hashtags or keywords, seemingly to pollute the news stream for the protester hashtags.”

TrendMicro article about the botnet, from December 2011:

“On December 6 2011, a number of pro-Kremlin activists launched an attack on Twitter using bots which posted messages with a hashtag #триумфальная (Triumfalnaya). These bots posted a range of national slogans and crude language. With a rate of up to 10 messages per second, these bots succeeded in blocking the actual message feed with that hashtag.”

Includes a short list of possible bot accounts involved.

NY Times, December 2011 article about counter-protests:

“But attendance at the party’s demonstration was sparse, not enough to fill part of the modest square designated for the event, and not even close to the 25,000 people the authorities later said attended. Moreover, many of the attendees seemed to have been taken there against their will.”

VKontakte (VK), Wikipedia:

“Founder Pavel Durov was dismissed as CEO in April 2014 after he had failed to retract a (according to himself) prank April fools letter of resignation.[20] Durov then claimed the company had been effectively taken over by Vladimir Putin’s allies[20][25][68] and suggested his ousting was the result of his refusal to hand over personal details of users to the Russian Federal Security Service and his refusal to shut down a VK group dedicated to anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny.[20][25]”

Supported by BBC March 2012 reporting:

“The Russian government has also taken steps to tackle the protests by asking the VKontakte social network to block chatter among activists.

VKontakte was contacted by Russia’s Federal Security Service and was asked to shut down groups in which some wanted to turn the protests violent.

The site said it would be unfair to block entire groups but said it would cut off individual members who incited violence.

Pavel Durov, founder of VKontakte, said the site was “100% apolitical” and did not support those in power or the opposition.”

Archived WSJ article on the FSB request.

 

Russian internet crackdown after 2011 protests

My current operating theory goes something like this, vis-a-vis Russia.

  1. Internet crackdowns followed popular anti-corruption protests
  2. Youth movements were organized/re-directed to support pro-statist agenda.
  3. Those movements perfected techniques to astro-turf and manipulate media locally, and exported their techniques to Europe and United States.
  4. Internet Research Agency, and friends, are examples of organizational models to perpetuate those techniques and missions abroad.
  5. IRA infitrated social movements and social media in US using same combination of tools.
  6. Somehow “coincidentally” these IRA et al efforts dovetailed perfectly with a certain presidential campaign environment.

Further notes:

2011.

Quoting from a Slate December 2016 article:

“But 2011 began with the Arab Spring chasing out the rulers of Tunisia and Egypt, and ended with Moscow’s middle classes taking to the streets in Facebook-organized protests against electoral corruption. Facebook did more than just make it easier to organize; in a year of popular revolution, it let some Russians feel they were part of something bigger, that they had a chance. It was a profound shock to Putin’s government.”

… “Opposition websites were hit with powerful and coordinated distributed denial of service attacks, trolling, and disinformation. Deluged with pro-government propaganda, local news platforms basically gave up trying to separate fact from political fiction. The sheer volume of fake news, plus its sophistication, meant algorithms could no longer tell the difference.”

January 2011 Telegraph article about the state of the Russian internet.

Wikipedia Internet in Russia article:

“In September 2011 Russia overtook Germany on the European market with the highest number of unique visitors online.[2] In March 2013 a survey found that Russian had become the second most commonly used language on the web.[3] “

2012:

Same Slate source as above:

… “In 2012, new censorship measures were brought in, using technologies that indiscriminately block addresses and inspect each packet of data.”

Wikipedia Internet Censorship in Russia article:

“Since 2012, Russia maintains a centralized internet blacklist (known as the “single register”) maintained by the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor). The list is used for the censorship of individual URLs, domain names, and IP addresses. It was originally introduced to block sites that contain materials advocating drug abuse and drug production, descriptions of suicide methods, and containing child pornography. It was subsequently amended to allow the blocking of materials that are classified as extremist, call for illegal meetings, or contain other content deemed illegal.[1]”

… “Internet service providers (ISPs) are held legally responsible for any illegal content that is accessible to their users (intermediary liability).[8]”

… “A ban on all software and websites related to circumventing internet filtering in Russia, including VPN software, anonymizers, and instructions on how to circumvent government website blocking, was passed in 2017.[21]”

… “Russia’s System of Operational-Investigatory Measures (SORM) requires telecommunications operators to install hardware provided by the Federal Security Service (FSB). It allow the agency to unilaterally monitor users’ communications metadata and content, including phone calls, email traffic and web browsing activity.[8] Metadata can be obtained without a warrant.[8] In 2014, the system was expanded to include social media platforms, and the Ministry of Communications ordered companies to install new equipment with Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) capability.[24]”

… “As of January 2018, companies registered in Russia as “organizers of information dissemination”, such as online messaging applications, will not be permitted to allow unidentified users.[29]”

Navalny, 2014, same Wikipedia source:

“In March 2014, in the midst of the Crimean crisis, the LiveJournal blog of Alexei Navalny, Kasparov.ru and Grani.ru were blocked by the government. These sites, which opposed the Russian government, were blocked for “making calls for unlawful activity and participation in mass events held with breaches of public order.”[68]”

SORM Wikipedia page:

“In August 2014, SORM-2 usage was extended to monitoring of social networks, chats and forums, requiring their operators to install SORM probes in their networks.[5][6]”

… “The SORM device recommended by the FSB is named Omega.[10] Equipment by Cellebrite appears to be in use.[11] SORM also enables the use of mobile control points, a laptop that can be plugged directly into communication hubs and immediately intercept and record the operator’s traffic.[3]”

… “Since 2010, intelligence officers can wiretap someone’s phones or monitor their Internet activity based on received reports that an individual is preparing to commit a crime. They do not have to back up those allegations with formal criminal charges against the suspect.[15] According to a 2011 ruling, intelligence officers have the right to conduct surveillance of anyone who they claim is preparing to call for “extremist activity.”[15]”

 

Camp Seliger / Seliger Forum

Wth is Camp Seliger, and how does it fit into this Internet Research Agency mess?

Novaya Gazeta, September 2013 (auto-translated):

“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.”

Very unsure about reliability of masterandmargarita.eu as a source of information, but they too talk about Camp Seliger:

“Companies like Internet Research Agency often recruit their – mostly young – employees at the so-called Seliger Camp. That’s an annual gathering of young people at Lake Seliger, about 350 km from Moscow, with a strong brainwashing character.”

LA Times, August 2011:

“In this sprawling Kremlin-sponsored youth camp 220 miles northwest of Moscow — 99 acres of white sand, tall pines and Lake Seliger, a jewel of Russian nature — thousands of young men and women are learning how to be supporters of the ruling United Russia party, future politicians and senior government officials.

The state spends more than $7 million to accommodate about 20,000 18- to 25-year-olds at the camp, known as Seliger Forum-2011. They come in groups of 7,000 for nine days in July, most of them from Kremlin-nurtured youth organizations such as Nashi (Ours), Mestnyie (Locals) and Stal (Steel).

… “”These young people are taught to open up accounts in all social networks, make as many friends as possible and thus spread information with maximum efficiency,” explained Vasily Yakemenko, founder of the Nashi youth group and head of the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs that runs the camp.”

Also unsure about reliability of opendemocracy.net domain as information source, but they talk about Seliger here (May 2014). Interesting as a first-hand account anyway.

Another opendemocracy.net article from May 2014 says similar things to what we’ve heard already (may be re-print?):

“But the Internet Research Agency has other links as well as Concord Catering. Kirill Skladovich, financial director of the Agency, is a former leader of the youth parliament of St Petersburg; one of the Agency directors, Aleksei Soskovets, keeps in close touch with Vladimir Putin, the St Petersburg City Administration and the Committee for Youth Policy. His company North-Western Services Agency won 17 tenders for providing services for the St Petersburg authorities. One of these was for the transportation of participants to the youth camp Seliger, which has always been considered a platform for the pro-Kremlin movement Nashi.

In discussion with a correspondent, Soskovets confirmed that employees working on the internet use the methods of Nashi.”

More on Soskovets’ North-West Service Agency.

 

Livejournal & the Russian government

Very interesting podcast about Livejournal community blogging platform’s descent into basically a Russian-state-run organization. June 2017.

The Wikipedia page is pretty amazing for Livejournal, current to November 2017:

“On April 4, 2017, LiveJournal significantly modified its terms of use, making the service subject to Russian law. The new terms prohibit users from posting “advertising and/or political solicitation materials”, or performing any actions that are “contradictory to the laws of the Russian Federation”. The terms also state that users are subject to Article 10.2 of the Federal Act of the Russian Federation No. 149, which dictates that blogs with more than 3000 daily visitors are classified as media outlets and may not be published anonymously, are responsible for the dissemination of unverified information, and are restricted from posting pornography, obscene language, or “extremist materials”.[107][108][109] “

Google to de-rank Sputnik and RT

Guardian, November 2017.

“According to Motherboard, which first reported Schmidt’s comments, he claimed the Russian disinformation strategy was easy to combat, since it is based on “amplification around a message” of information that is “repetitive, exploitative, false, [or] likely to have been weaponised”.

“My own view is that these patterns can be detected, and that they can be taken down or deprioritised.””

Like to see how they do that. I was a little annoyed with the Senate/House hearings which seemed to sort of gloss over Google’s massive role of collating and enabling access to information…

Motherboard, November 2017 coverage:

“Both outlets are wholly owned by the Russian government. RT is the overseas television station and online outlet, while Sputnik, the online-only media network, is available in over 30 languages.”

I guess in October of this year, Google pulled RT from it’s Youtube premium option, and around the same time Twitter offboarded both as advertisers.

Dmitri Medvedev – Russian Prime Minister

Dmitri Medvedev (Wikipedia) – Russian Prime Minister

“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).”

Original source of above quote: Meduza 2015

Seems like Anonymous International is the English-language name for Shaltai Boltai (Humpty Dumpty), which is the source of the above leaks.

National Post, October 2016:

“A group known as Anonymous International or Shaltai-Boltai has revealed, time after time, e-mails and other confidential documents from the domestic policy department of President Vladimir Putin’s administration, as well as those belonging to ministers and aides to Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev and Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin.”

August 2014 Guardian reporting of Medvedev Twitter hack.

Buzzfeed June 2014:

“Dmitry Medvedev, Putin’s protégé who was president from 2008–12, made a show of embracing social media, but it never sat well with officials and Putin supporters. The gulf between Medvedev’s transparency drive and Russia’s Byzantine bureaucracy’s reluctance to change only highlighted his impotence, earning him the nickname “Microblogger” for his small stature.”

Moscow Information Technologies

Source: Meduza 2015 article:

“Later that fall, the group leaked emails between government-affiliated company Moscow Information Technologies and various Russian media outlets about the publication of planted stories, in addition to emails allegedly belonging to First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov. “

Moscow Times, May 2016:

“An outfit called Moscow Information Technologies, or MIT (set up by Sobyanin’s predecessor, former Mayor Yuri Luzhkov), is officially tasked with “providing informational support for the city’s projects.”

But a more honest explanation of MIT’s activities is that it serves as a vehicle for subversive propaganda on the city’s behalf.

A series of stolen emails released by the hacker group “Shaltai Boltai” (whose members the Federal Security Service arrested earlier this year) shows that MIT was involved in a clandestine program to conspire with the Russian media by running articles discrediting opposition candidates in local elections. This effort included fabricating evidence against opposition activists and suppressing unwanted coverage — a clear violation of Russian media laws.”

… “According to the organization’s leaked ledgers, MIT used to funnel up to a million rubles ($17,000) from the mayor’s office for a single newspaper story that either praised City Hall or smeared its opponents. Media outlets published these stories with phony bylines, disguising the fact that this content was essentially a paid advertisement.

The mayor’s office also manipulates the media for favorable coverage through other, more legally sound but still surreptitious means. On top of maintaining a legitimate media empire funded to the tune of 13 billion rubles a year ($230 million) that includes several TV channels, radio stations, and online news websites, Sobyanin’s administration heavily invests in swaying the agenda on Yandex.News, Russia’s biggest online news aggregator.”

… “MIT plays a role here, too. An investigation by the independent news outlet RBC showed that Moscow’s authorities have found a way to dominate the news agenda when it wants, drowning out unfavorable stories with its own.

MIT devised a scheme wherein Moscow’s neighborhood councils (most of them totally loyal to the mayor and to United Russia) set up dozens of similar news websites that are capable of firing off volleys of nearly identical news articles promoting the mayor’s initiatives. This onslaught fools Yandex’s algorithm into thinking that something important is happening. The news aggregator doesn’t differentiate between the sources, and thus assumes there’s a news event that deserves top billing in its ranking system, if hundreds of different outlets are reporting on a single event.”

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