Russian intelligence operatives are using three English-language websites to spread misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic in an attempt to exploit the crisis the United States is trying to contain ahead of the November presidential election, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
Two Russians in senior positions in Moscow’s military intelligence service, known as the GRU, have been found responsible for disinformation efforts aimed at American and Western audiences, U.S. government officials said. They spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak in public.
The information had previously been classified, but officials said it had been reduced so that they could discuss it more freely. Officials said they were doing so now to raise concerns about specific websites and to identify the link between the sites and Russian intelligence.
From late May to early July, according to one official, the three websites published about 150 articles about the pandemic response, including coverage aimed at strengthening Russia and humiliating the United States.
Among the headlines that caught the attention of US officials were “Russian Comfort COVID-19, which helps America advance the Detente case, which suggests that Russia has provided urgent and substantial assistance to the United States in the fight against the pandemic, and” Beijing believes COVID-19 – biological weapons “.
The revelation comes as the spread of misinformation, including from Russia, is a pressing concern in the November presidential election as US officials try to avoid a repeat of the 2016 contest, when Russia launched a covert social network to share US public opinion in favor then-candidate Donald Trump. A senior U.S. counterintelligence official warned in a public statement Friday that Russia would continue to use Internet trolls to achieve its goals.
Even in addition to politics, the twin crises that have engulfed the country and much of the world — pandemics and racial relations and protests — have offered fertile ground for misinformation or victory against untruth.
Officials described the misinformation as part of Russia’s persistent and persistent efforts to cause confusion. They did not say whether the effort was directly related to the November election, although some publications appeared on websites to humiliate Trump’s Democratic candidate Joe Biden. The stories emphasize Russia’s efforts since 2016 to aggravate racial relations in the United States and encourage corruption allegations against US politicians.
U.S. officials on Tuesday singled out the news agency InfoRos.ru, which runs three websites – InfoRos.ru, Infobrics.org and OneWorld.press – that they used the pandemic to promote anti-Western goals and spread misinformation.
The sites advertise their stories in a subtle but insidious effort that officials liken to money laundering, where stories in well-written English – and often with pro-Russian and anti-American sentiments – are passed through other news sources to hide their origins and increase the legitimacy of information.
The sites are also amplifying stories from other places, government officials said.
The sites also focus on modern politics. Tuesday’s headline on InfoRos.ru about the riots of major US cities read “Chaos in the Blue Cities”, accompanying a story that complained about how New Yorkers who grew up are experiencing the harsh treatment of criminals Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg “must adapt to living in urban areas with high crime. “
Another story was titled “Ukrainian Trap for Biden” and claimed that “Ukrainegate” – a reference to stories related to Hunter Biden’s son’s former ties to Ukraine’s gas company – “continues to unfold with renewed vigor.”
Two people who also held senior roles in InfoRos, identified on Tuesday by Denis Valeryevich Tyurin and Alexander Gennadyevich Starunsky, had previously served in the GRU’s military-psychological intelligence unit and maintained deep contacts there, officials said.
InfoRos and United World’s ties to the Russian state have attracted the attention of European disinformation analysts in the past.
In 2019, a working group of the European Union, which studies disinformation campaigns, defined “United World” as “a new addition to the pantheon of Moscow disinformation points.” The expert group noted that the content of the “United World” often determines Russia’s agenda in matters, including the war in Syria.
A report released last month by the second Brussels-based non-governmental organization, EU DisinfoLab, examined the links between InfoRos and One World and Russian military intelligence. Researchers have found technical tips linking their websites to Russia and identified some financial links between InfoRos and the government.
“InfoRos is developing in a shady gray area, where regular information activities are mixed with more contradictory actions, which are quite possibly related to the information operations of the Russian state,” the report’s authors concluded.
On its English-language Facebook page, InfoRos describes itself as “a news agency: the world through Russia’s eyes.”