Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Senate Report on Russian Interference Was Written by Information Warriors Behind Alabama 'False Flag' Operation

By Dan Cohen - December 26, 2018 at 10:35AM

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On December 17, two reports detailing ongoing Russian interference operations commissioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee were made public. They generated a week’s worth of headlines and sent members of Congress and cable news pundits into a Cold War frenzy. According to the report, everything from the Green Party’s Jill Stein to Instagram to Pokemon Go to the African American population had been used and confused by the deceptive Facebook pages of a private Russian troll farm called the Internet Research Agency.

Never mind that 56 percent of the troll farm’s pages appeared after the election, that 25 percent of them were seen by no one, or that their miniscule online presence paled in comparison to the millions of dollars spent on social media by the two major presidential campaigns and their supporters to sway voters. This was an act of war that demanded immediate government action.

According to Sen. Mark Warner, the Democratic chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the reports were “a wake up call” and a “bombshell” that was certain to bring “long-overdue guardrails when it comes to social media.” His Republican counterpart on the committee, North Carolina Senator Richard Burr, hailed the research papers as “proof positive that one of the most important things we can do is increase information sharing between the social media companies who can identify disinformation campaigns and the third-party experts who can analyze them.”  

But the authors of one of the reports soon suffered a major blow to their credibility when it was revealed that they had engaged in what they called a “Russian style” online disinformation operation aimed to swing a hotly contested special senate election. The embarrassing revelation has already resulted in one of the authors having his Facebook page suspended.

The well-funded deception was carried out by New Knowledge, a private cyber intelligence firm founded by two self-styled disinformation experts who are veterans of the Obama administration: Jonathon Morgan and Ryan Fox.

‘It may be designed to manipulate you’

Morgan began his career as a product manager at AOL before founding a series of start ups, some with funding from the United States Agency for International Development and Silicon Valley billionaire Pierre Omidyar’s Omidyar Network. Once a Brookings Institution researcher and special advisor to the Obama White House and State Department, Morgan founded Data for Democracy, a volunteer organization said to use “public data to monitor the election system for signs of fraud.” Morgan also developed technology for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the arm of the Department of Defense created for basic, applied technological research, and futuristic war toys.

Rising through the ranks of the national security apparatus, Morgan ultimately emerged as a go-to source for credulous reporters seeking to blame Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump on Russian disinformation.

In an interview with the local CBS affiliate in Austin, Texas, Morgan told viewers that feelings of discontent were telltale signs that they had been duped by Russian disinformation. “If it makes you feel too angry or really provokes that type of almost tribal response, then it may be designed to manipulate you… People should be concerned about things that encourage them to change their behavior,” he warned.

Fox, for his part, is a 15-year veteran of the National Security Agency and was a computer analyst for the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) military unit. JSOC is notorious for its spree of atrocities across the Middle East including digging their bullets out of dead pregnant women’s bodies in Afghanistan. Comparatively little information is available about Fox’s background.

Since receiving an $11 million investment from venture capital firm, GGV Capital, in August 2017, New Knowledge has positioned itself as one of the leading private intelligence firms taking on the scourge of Russian disinformation. The outfit made its biggest splash on December 17th when it published one of the two Senate Intelligence Committee-commissioned reports.

The report, titled “The Tactics and Tropes of the Internet Research Agency,” was oversseen by Renee DiResta, a former Wall Street trader and tech specialist who was recruited by Obama’s State Department to devise strategies for combating online ISIS propaganda. The New York Times described DiResta as one among a small group of “hobbyists” who “meticulously logged data and published reports on how easy it was to manipulate social media platforms.”

The hobby lobby of online obsessives converged at New Knowledge this year to sound the alarm on supposed Russian disinformation. In a New York Times op-ed published as Americans went to cast their votes in the midterm elections, Morgan and Fox alleged that the Kremlin was secretly running hundreds of propaganda websites in an effort to swing the outcomes. That assertion ran counter to the narrative the two operatives had been spinning out just months before.

In an interview earlier in the year, Ryan Fox suggested that despite the Trump administration’s multiple rounds of sanctions against Russia, Vladimir Putin was so satisfied with the state of U.S. affairs that the Kremlin had actually cut back on its supposed interference. “Strategically, are they content with the way things are? Does it play in their favor to do anything right now? That’s a valid question,” Fox said. “Keep up the momentum, keep poking away. But do they have to implement drastic measures like hacking the DNC and exposing thousands of emails? Probably not.”

More recently, Fox claimed to have identified hundreds of Russian-controlled Facebook and Twitter accounts active in France’s Yellow Vest movement, which has raged against the country’s neoliberal leadership and sparked anxiety among centrist elites across the Atlantic.

However, Fox produced no evidence to support his incendiary accusation, prompting reporters to qualify his assertions as “very likely” and write that he merely “believes” Russian interference took place.

Fair Use Excerpt. Read the entire article at Grey Zone Project.

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