U.S. officials say Russian intelligence services are using three English-language websites to spread information about the coronavirus pandemic and are trying to exploit the crisis that America is suppressing ahead of the November presidential election.
The two Russians, who held top positions in the Moscow military intelligence service known as the GRU, were identified as responsible for the disinformation efforts affecting American and Western audiences. They spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak in public.
The information was previously classified, but officials said it had been reduced so that they could discuss it more freely. Officials said they were doing so now to sound the alarm about specific websites and reveal what they were saying, a clear link between the website and Russia̵7;s intelligence services.
Between late May and early July, one official said the website had published about 150 articles on the pandemic response, including coverage aimed at either supporting Russia or dishonoring the United States.
Headlines that caught the attention of US officials include, for example, the “Russian Anti-Corruption Contract 19 to Assist America for Détente”, which indicated that Russia had provided urgent and significant assistance to the United States in the fight against the pandemic. “Beijing believes Covid-19 is a biological weapon,” which reinforced Chinese statements, was another statement.
The announcement comes because the spread of misinformation, including by Russia, is an urgent concern in the November presidential election. U.S. officials are trying to avoid a repeat of the 2016 race, when Russia launched a secret social media campaign to divide American public opinion and favor then-candidate Donald Trump over his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. The US government’s anti-intelligence chief warned on Friday of isolated government statements about Russia’s continued use of Internet trolls to achieve its goals.
Despite the crisis of the couples, which cover the country and much of the world – pandemic and racial relations and protests – they have offered fertile territory for misinformation or fraudulent fraud, in addition to politics. Trump himself has come under control by sharing misinformation about coronavirus drug abuse in videos that have been downloaded on Twitter and Facebook.
Officials described Russia’s misinformation as part of an ongoing and persistent effort to pass on false stories and cause confusion. They did not say whether the efforts behind this particular website were directly related to the November election, although some coverage seems to denote Joe Biden, and recalls that since 2016, Russian efforts have worsened racial relations in America and led to allegations of corruption against American politicians.
Although US officials warned earlier about the spread of misinformation associated with the pandemic, they went further on Tuesday and selected a specific information agency, which is registered in Russia, InfoRos and which operates a number of websites – InfoRos.ru, Infobrics.org. and OneWorld.press – which used the pandemic to support anti-Western goals and to spread disinformation.
The email for InfoRos was not returned immediately on Tuesday.
The site promotes its stories with a sophisticated but insidious effort that U.S. officials liken to money laundering, where stories in well-written English – and often with pro-Russian and anti-American sentiment – cycle through other news sources to cover up their origins. and increase the legitimacy of information.
The site also disseminates stories that come from other places, government officials said.
In addition to coronavirus, it focuses on America, global politics, and current stories.
A headline on InfoRos.ru on Tuesday on the riots in major US cities read “Chaos in the Blue Cities,” which accompanied the story of how the New Yorkers grew up in the harsh approach of mayors Ruda Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. “They must adapt to life in high-crime urban areas.”
Another story was titled “The Ukrainian Trap for Biden,” arguing that the “Ukrainian Gate” – a reference to stories about Biden’s son Hunter’s former ties to the Ukrainian gas company – “is constantly evolving with renewed vigors.”
The two individuals who also held senior positions in InfoRos, identified on Tuesday as Denis Valeryevich Tyurin and Alexander Gennadyevich Starunsky, had previously served in a GRU unit specializing in military psychological intelligence and maintained deep contacts there.
InfoRos and One World’s relations with the Russian state have in the past attracted scrutiny from European misinformation analysts.
In 2019, a European Union task force studying disinformation campaigns described One World as “a new addition to the pantheon of disinformation outlets in Moscow”. The task force noted that the content of one world often pushed Russia’s state agenda on issues including the war in Syria.
A report published last month by a second NGO, Brussels-based EU DisinfoLab, examined the links between InfoRos and One World with Russia’s military intelligence services. The researchers identified the technical footprints linking their websites to Russia and identified certain financial relationships between InfoRos and the government.
“InfoRos is developing in a shady gray zone, where common information activities are mixed with more controversial steps that could quite likely be associated with the information operations of the Russian state,” the authors of the report concluded.
On its Facebook page in English, InfoRos describes itself as an “information agency: the world through the eyes of Russia”.