Tim Boucher

Questionable content, possibly linked

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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.”

 

Twitter Automation Rules (Bots)

Twitter Automation Rules, regarding bots, botnets – updated Nov. 3, 2017.

Trending topics: You may not automatically post about trending topics on Twitter, or use automation to attempt to influence or manipulate trending topics.”

Multiple posts/accounts: You may not post duplicative or substantially similar Tweets on one account or over multiple accounts you operate.

… “Abusive behavior: You may not engage in any automated activity that encourages, promotes, or incites abuse, violence, hateful conduct, or harassment, on or off Twitter.”

Facebook’s famous missing 470 banned Russian accounts or pages

September 2017, Alex Stamos, official Facebook post:

“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.”

CNBC October 2017, tries to link 200 Twitter accounts to those 470 FB:

“Some of those same suspicious accounts on Facebook, however, also have ties to another 200 accounts on Twitter, a realization it shared with congressional investigators last week.”

Recode September 2017:

“Beyond publishing its findings, Facebook shared more granular details with its peers — standard practice for many tech giants, which generally band together to address online threats, such as hackers. With the aid of that information, Twitter discovered about 200 Kremlin-aligned accounts directly tied to some of the profiles Facebook previously identified. None of those suspicious Twitter accounts had purchased sponsored tweets, the company told lawmakers.”

So what are the full 470 items on FB’s suspended list? Twitter released their 2,700~ list already.

Many outlets are reporting today, including this Bloomberg November 2017 post, that Facebook will allow some users to see if they directly followed malicious accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency:

“The tool will appear by the end of the year in Facebook’s online support center, the company said in a blog post Wednesday. It will answer the user question, “How can I see if I’ve liked or followed a Facebook page or Instagram account created by the Internet Research Agency?” That’s the Russian firm that created thousands of incendiary posts from fake accounts posing as U.S. citizens. People will see a list of the accounts they followed, if any, from January 2015 through August 2017.”

Sounds like that list is maybe not yet available publicly at this time. I wrote to Library of Congress to see if it’s already been entered into the public record. Maybe they can help…

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.

 

Shepherds & Sheepdogs (Botnets)

Good Rolling Stone November 2016 article on Medium with this description of how botnets may operate:

“To explain how they work, Ben Nimmo, a fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, uses a shepherding analogy. “A message that someone or some organization wants to ‘trend’ is typically sent out by ‘shepherd’ accounts,” he says, which often have large followings and are controlled by humans. The shepherds’ messages are amplified by ‘sheepdog’ accounts, which are also run by humans but can be default-set “to boost the signal and harass critics.” At times, the shepherds personally steer conversations, but they also deploy automation, using a kind of Twitter cruise control to retweet particular keywords and hashtags. Together, Nimmo says, the shepherds and sheepdogs guide a herd of bots, which “mindlessly repost content in the digital equivalent of sheep rushing in the same direction and bleating loudly.””

Overall description bears similarity to the description of LOIC/Low Orbit Ion Cannon, as described in this February 2011 Wired article about the guy who brought the HB Gary leaks down on himself:

“The report that came back focused on the Low Orbit Ion Cannon, a tool originally coded by a private security firm in order to test website defenses. The code was open-sourced and then abandoned, but someone later dusted it off and added “hivemind mode” that let LOIC users “opt in” to centralized control of the tool. With hundreds or thousands of machines running the stress-test tool at once, even major sites could be dropped quickly.”

Volodin’s Prism

Continuing a branch from Internet Research Agency source reference sheet.

Chen, 2015, NYT article:

“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.””

Difficult to find other sources on the subject of Volodin’s Prism. NYT is plenty canonical for present purposes, but seems like Forbes source should be easier to trace.

I don’t trust 4chan as a source, but on /pol/ May 2014 there is what may be an auto-translated paragraph, which reads:

“At present, the Russian special services have no control over these sites , however, conduct external monitoring events, and look for the ” holes” in the protection of resources to deal with the political opposition , they can already .Note , some media reported earlier to establish a system to monitor social media developed by “Medialogia” . Program “Prism” supposedly allows you to track detached blog sites and social networks by scanning 60 million sources and tracking key statements users. Under the “eye” of the program were blogs users «LiveJournal», «Twitter», «YouTube», other portals . One of the alleged instances of the program installed in the office of the first deputy head of the department of internal policy of the presidential administration Vyacheslav Volodin , RBC reports “

RBC has the recent famous IRA article, so perhaps I can find whatever the source might be here (if real).

Medialogia is a new entity here.

Searching more turns up this January 2014 piece from globalvoices.org (not sure who/what that is).

“The Russian Federal Protective Service (FSO) is asking software developers to design a system that automatically monitors the country’s news and social media, producing reports that study netizens’ political attitudes. The state is prepared to pay nearly one million dollars over two years to the company that wins the state tender, applications for which were due January 9, 2014.”

Link to the site where the tender is listed. Name, auto-translated from Russian:

“Providing services for providing the results of automatic selection of media information, studying the information field, monitoring blogs and social media”

Organization:
Special communication of the FSO of Russia

Mailing address
Russian Federation, 107031, Moscow, Bolshoy Kiselny lane, house 4,

[…]

The contact person
Karygin Mikhail Yakovlevich”

Globalvoices also links out to iz.ru January 2014 article (auto-translated).

“Professionals, using specialized systems, will have to provide FSO with a personal compilation of messages from bloggers, which will allow daily monitoring of significant events on specific topics and regions. In addition, monitor negative or positive color of events. Information materials will be preliminarily processed, they will be grouped on specific topics: the president, the administration of the president’s administration, the prime minister, opposition protests, governors, negative events in the country, incidents, criticism of the authorities.”

Advox / Globalvoices (supported by Ford Foundation), which I’m starting to agree with, also says, in regards to the above iz.ru article:

“Izvestia’s coverage of the story bears all the hallmarks of Kremlin-friendly reportage, sandwiching comments by one critic of the FSO between two supporters of monitoring the Internet.”

Globalvoices links to this as the Medialogia website.

This text from their corporate site seems to match pretty well the Prism NYT description at top:

Blog monitoring and analysis reports

Medialogia offers regular blogosphere monitoring and analysis for companies. Monitoring sources: more than 40,000 social media, including LiveJournal, Twitter, VKontakte, [email protected], Ya.ru, industry blogs and forums.”

Is this a real company and product? Hard to really tell.

Tacking this on here, though not strictly related – it came up in similar searches and seems worth saving: Russia Beyond, December 2016 on new Russian cyber-security doctrine.

In his words, Russia’s government has paid special attention to countering new “Twitter revolutions,” those similar to the ones that occurred in the Middle East in the beginning of the decade.

“The Arab Spring demonstrated that Facebook, Twitter and other instant messaging services allow a lot of content that threatens social and political stability. The main thing is that we don’t have an effective model for blocking such processes,” said Demidov.

 

 

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.

 

Malicious actors infiltrating social movements in US

Buzzfeed, October 2017, Native Americans, Instagram, Standing Rock, #noDAPL:

“But for Russian trolls, the protests were another opportunity to sow discord in America — one of a series of social movements, from Black Lives Matter activism to pro-Trump populism, on which trolls appear to have seized.”

CNN, September 2017, suspension of Blacktivist accounts.

“A social media campaign calling itself “Blacktivist” and linked to the Russian government used both Facebook and Twitter in an apparent attempt to amplify racial tensions during the U.S. presidential election, two sources with knowledge of the matter told CNN.”

Gizmodo, October 2017, Black Matters & Black Fist:

“The RBC investigation uncovered that the two sites, BlackMatters US and Black Fist, were linked to the Internet Research Agency, a Russian state-affiliated troll farm at the center of the disinformation campaign that pushed fake news sites and troll posts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and even Google News and Gmail. Both sites are still online, though their Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts have been suspended.”

… “At least three activists were paid for activities that ended up on the BlackMatter US and Black Fist sites. Conrad James, a rally organizer, was contacted via a Facebook message from BlackMatters US last September and paid to organize two rallies in North Carolina.”

NPR, October 2017.

“In New York and elsewhere, agents paid personal trainers to lead self-defense classes aimed at black activists with the message that they might need to “protect your rights,” as part of the Black Lives Matter movement. In Florida, they used Facebook and fraudulent websites to organize black rights protest rallies.

In Texas, scamsters organized at least one armed, anti-Muslim protest in Houston. And in Idaho, they helped organize anti-immigrant rallies.”

NY Times, September 2017 article about Twin Falls, Idaho Fawnbrook incident.

The Twin Falls story aligned perfectly with the ideology that Stephen Bannon, then the head of Breitbart News, had been developing for years, about the havoc brought on by unchecked immigration and Islamism, all of it backed by big-business interests and establishment politicians. Bannon latched onto the Fawnbrook case and used his influence to expand its reach.”

… “For months, the reporters covered protests around town, which were widely hyped on social media but, for the most part, sparsely attended. At least once the Police Department deployed plainclothes officers into the crowds, with instructions to look after the journalists. Later, it turned out that fake Facebook accounts linked to the Russian government helped to spread stories about Twin Falls and even organized one of the rallies there. The event was also poorly attended but is the first known Russian attempt to spark a demonstration on American soil.”

… “Stranahan now works out of a trendy shared workspace in Washington, across the street from the White House. He quit his job at Breitbart, which he said was being mismanaged in Bannon’s absence, to host a drive-time FM radio show with Sputnik, a state-run Russian news outlet. He told me that he jumped at the chance to transition to a Kremlin-funded outfit and, knowing that it would be controversial, spoke to every media outlet that inquired about it, in order to draw even more people to his work.”

October 2017, CNN article about Heart of Texas false Russian-run secessionist group.

“Generating anti-Muslim sentiment in the US was one of the goals of the Russian campaign. CNN reported Tuesday that some ads bought on Facebook were aimed at reaching voters who might be susceptible to anti-Muslim messages, even suggesting that Muslims were a threat to the American way of life.

A source familiar with the matter tells CNN that Heart of Texas was among the 470 accounts and pages that Facebook turned over to Congress, following its investigation into ads generated by the Internet Research Agency.”

See also: micro-targeting. (Conjecture: Cambridge Analytica? OCEAN model?)

NY Times, September 2017: “Fake Russian Facebook Accounts Bought $100,000 in Political Ads”

“Providing new evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election, Facebook disclosed on Wednesday that it had identified more than $100,000 worth of divisive ads on hot-button issues purchased by a shadowy Russian company linked to the Kremlin.

Most of the 3,000 ads did not refer to particular candidates but instead focused on divisive social issues such as race, gay rights, gun control and immigration, according to a post on Facebook by Alex Stamos, the company’s chief security officer. The ads, which ran between June 2015 and May 2017, were linked to some 470 fake accounts and pages the company said it had shut down.

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.”

BBC, November 2017, Russian links to California secessionist groups.

#calexit

“Social media accounts with ties to Russia pushed a huge Twitter trend in favour of an independent California on US election night 2016, BBC Trending has learned. The campaign was one of at least two popular online independence drives with links to the Kremlin.”

This has been mainly a US-based information thread, but here is one out of Spain for good measure, Politico, September 2017. Including to prove a pattern:

“In recent weeks, Russian state-backed news organizations and automated social network accounts, known as bots, have aggressively promoted digital misinformation and outright fake news about the politically charged vote planned for Sunday, according to an analysis of recent online activity.

The efforts — aimed at discrediting Spanish political and legal authorities that are trying to clamp down on the Catalan government’s attempt to hold the outlawed referendum — follows similar digital misinformation campaigns during Europe’s season of elections in 2017.”

 

Prohibitions against domestic propaganda in the United States

Washington Post, July 2013 article about Somali-American’s website caught in counter-intelligence operation:

“The Pentagon is legally prohibited from conducting psychological operations at home or targeting U.S. audiences with propaganda, except during “domestic emergencies.” Defense Department rules also forbid the military from using psychological operations to “target U.S. citizens at any time, in any location globally, or under any circumstances.””

… ““We don’t deal with domestic. End of issue,” Andrew Black, Navanti’s chief executive, said in an interview. “We turned it over to the cognizant authorities. That’s where we stopped. That’s really important that that is where we stopped.” The firm “followed the law,” he added.”

May 2012, Buzzfeed article about a Bill to lift the domestic propaganda ban being introduced with some more details.

July 2013 article from Foreignpolicy.com:

“For decades, a so-called anti-propaganda law prevented the U.S. government’s mammoth broadcasting arm from delivering programming to American audiences. But on July 2, that came silently to an end with the implementation of a new reform passed in January. The result: an unleashing of thousands of hours per week of government-funded radio and TV programs for domestic U.S. consumption in a reform initially criticized as a green light for U.S. domestic propaganda efforts.”

February 2012, independent history of Smith-Mudt Act and implications of amending.

Wikipedia article (current as of November 2017) about Propaganda in the United States, stating: “The Smith-Mundt Act prohibits the Voice of America from disseminating information to US citizens that was produced specifically for a foreign audience.”

Foreignpolicy.com article linked above states the provisions only apply to select branches of the State Department.

Wikipedia US propaganda article seems to confirm later:

“However, Emma L Briant points out that this is a common confusion – The Smith-Mundt Act only ever applied to the State Department, not the Department of Defense and military PSYOP, which are governed by Article 10 of the US Code.[18]”

So, seems to be at least some public confusion around this.

Wikipedia article (current Nov. 2017) about Smith-Mundt Act, states:

“Section 1462 requires “reducing Government information activities whenever corresponding private information dissemination is found to be adequate” and prohibits the State Department from having monopoly in any “medium of information” (a prescient phrase). “

Continuing from article above, regarding Voice of America:

“”This means that VOA is forbidden to broadcast within the United States.” In reality, of course, any American with a shortwave receiver or an Internet connection can listen to VOA. This is incidental, however. VOA cannot direct or intend its programs to be “for” Americans. “

Here is what appears to be text of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012. I have not read it in its entirety, but a relevant excerpt:

“Sec. 208. Clarification on domestic distribution of program material

(a)In general

No funds authorized to be appropriated to the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors shall be used to influence public opinion in the United States.” […]

(b)Rule of construction

Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors from engaging in any medium or form of communication, either directly or indirectly, because a United States domestic audience is or may be thereby exposed to program material, or based on a presumption of such exposure. Such material may be made available within the United States and disseminated, when appropriate, pursuant to sections 502 and 1005 of the United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 (22 U.S.C. 1462 and 1437), except that nothing in this section may be construed to authorize the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors to disseminate within the United States any program material prepared for dissemination abroad on or before the effective date of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012.”

I don’t know quite how to interpret that, having not read the rest, combined with my incomplete knowledge of linked items in US Code.

Wikipedia article Operation Earnest Voice (current to Nov. 2017) cites the above act with this statement:

“According to CENTCOM, the US-based Facebook and Twitter networks are not targeted by the program because US laws prohibit state agencies from spreading propaganda among US citizens as according to the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012.[6] However, according to the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012, dissemination of foreign propaganda to domestic audiences is expressly allowed over the internet including social media networks.[7]”

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