How Putin seduced Oliver Stone — and Trump

Masha Gessen writes: Watching four hours of Oliver Stone interviewing President Vladimir Putin of Russia is not a lesson in journalism. Mr. Stone is an inept interviewer, and he does not get Mr. Putin to say anything the world hasn’t heard from him before. Watching the interviews for entertainment is a questionable proposition, too: The four-part series contains many dull exchanges and even more filler, like footage of the two men watching “Dr. Strangelove” together.

Still, “The Putin Interviews,” which were released this month by Showtime, may be worth watching for the view they provide of a particular kind of relationship.

Many Americans have been looking for an explanation for Mr. Trump’s apparent adoration of Mr. Putin. How can a powerful, wealthy American man hold affection for the tyrannical, corrupt leader of a hostile power?

Oddly, “The Putin Interviews” provide psychological and intellectual answers to that question. For Mr. Stone appears to have the same sort of breathless admiration for Mr. Putin as Mr. Trump does. In filming their interaction, he has broadcast the conditions on which this kind of admiration rests. Should you ever wish to experience affection for a dictator, you too should make sure that these conditions are in place. [Continue reading…]

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Russian hackers are using ‘tainted’ leaks to sow disinformation

Andy Greenberg writes: Over the past year, the Kremlin’s strategy of weaponizing leaks to meddle with democracies around the world has become increasingly clear, first in the US and more recently in France. But a new report by a group of security researchers digs into another layer of those so-called influence operations: how Russian hackers alter documents within those releases of hacked material, planting disinformation alongside legitimate leaks.

A new report from researchers at the Citizen Lab group at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Public Affairs documents a wide-ranging hacking campaign, with ties to known Russian hacker groups. The effort targeted more than 200 individuals, ranging from Russian media to a former Russian prime minister to Russian opposition groups, and assorted government and military personnel from Ukraine to Vietnam. Noteworthy among the leaks: A Russia-focused journalist and author whose emails were not only stolen but altered before their release. Once they appeared on a Russian hactivist site, Russian state media used the disinformation to concoct a CIA conspiracy.

The case could provide the clearest evidence yet that Russian hackers have evolved their tactics from merely releasing embarrassing true information to planting false leaks among those facts. “Russia has a long history of experience with disinformation,” says Ron Deibert, the political science professor who led Citizen Lab’s research into the newly uncovered hacking spree. “This is the first case of which I am aware that compares tainted documents to originals associated with a cyber espionage campaign.” [Continue reading…]

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How a dubious Russian document influenced the FBI’s handling of the Clinton probe

The Washington Post reports: A secret document that officials say played a key role in then-FBI Director James B. Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation has long been viewed within the FBI as unreliable and possibly a fake, according to people familiar with its contents.

In the midst of the 2016 presidential primary season, the FBI received what was described as a Russian intelligence document claiming a tacit understanding between the Clinton campaign and the Justice Department over the inquiry into whether she intentionally revealed classified information through her use of a private email server.

The Russian document cited a supposed email describing how then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch had privately assured someone in the Clinton campaign that the email investigation would not push too deeply into the matter. If true, the revelation of such an understanding would have undermined the integrity of the FBI’s investigation.

Current and former officials have said that Comey relied on the document in making his July decision to announce on his own, without Justice Department involvement, that the investigation was over. That public announcement — in which he criticized Clinton and made extensive comments about the evidence — set in motion a chain of other FBI moves that Democrats now say helped Trump win the presidential election.

But according to the FBI’s own assessment, the document was bad intelligence — and according to people familiar with its contents, possibly even a fake sent to confuse the bureau. The Americans mentioned in the Russian document insist they do not know each other, do not speak to each other and never had any conversations remotely like the ones described in the document. Investigators have long doubted its veracity, and by August the FBI had concluded it was unreliable. [Continue reading…]

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‘The internet is broken,’ says pioneer of social media, Evan Williams

The New York Times reports: Evan Williams is the guy who opened up Pandora’s box. Until he came along, people had few places to go with their overflowing emotions and wild opinions, other than writing a letter to the newspaper or haranguing the neighbors.

Mr. Williams — a Twitter founder, a co-creator of Blogger — set everyone free, providing tools to address the world. In the history of communications technology, it was a development with echoes of Gutenberg.

And so here we are in 2017. How’s it going, Mr. Williams?

“I think the internet is broken,” he says. He has believed this for a few years, actually. But things are getting worse. “And it’s a lot more obvious to a lot of people that it’s broken.”

People are using Facebook to showcase suicides, beatings and murder, in real time. Twitter is a hive of trolling and abuse that it seems unable to stop. Fake news, whether created for ideology or profit, runs rampant. Four out of 10 adult internet users said in a Pew survey that they had been harassed online. And that was before the presidential campaign heated up last year.

“I thought once everybody could speak freely and exchange information and ideas, the world is automatically going to be a better place,” Mr. Williams says. “I was wrong about that.” [Continue reading…]

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4 things Western democracies need to understand to stop hostile Kremlin meddling

Jakub Janda writes: In 2015, I started the Kremlin Watch Program at a think-tank in Prague. My team analyzes Russian influence and disinformation operations, and we have helped the Czech government tailor a national strategy. We publish papers, propose strategies, and have been invited to consult in 16 countries—mostly European—so far. These are four lessons I have learned from my experience.

#1. Putin’s regime wants to call itself a superpower and to be respected as such. Apart from having nuclear weapons and large territory, Russia has nothing that makes it anything more than a regional dictatorship with living standards of a developing country. Freedom of speech in Russia is worse than in Zimbabwe, political opponents are shot or poisoned, journalists are assassinated, history is systematically falsified, and most major media outlets are controlled by the regime. Putin suppresses domestic opposition—from both political groups and independent media—because he has failed to deliver solid living standards for ordinary Russians over the course of the 17 years he has ruled. Russia has a lower GDP than Italy, and its average wages are lower than Romania’s.

On the international stage, there isn’t much to respect Russia for—apart from its status of a doping superpower; its occupation of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova; and its covering up for bloody dictators like Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Western leftists need to wake up from their naïve dream of Russia being a champion of socialist ideals, and Western rightists should recognize that Russia is not a champion of conservative values; it suppresses individual freedoms and has the highest abortion rate in the world. Putin’s regime kills and bullies to get respected. Democracies need to denounce this paradigm. It worked at the end of 1980s, and it will work again if we stop buying into the Soviet dictatorship’s fear game. [Continue reading…]

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Trump official: We ‘let the biggest perpetrator of fake news into the Oval Office’ (apart from Trump himself)

The Daily Beast reports: Senior members of the Trump administration are livid that the White House allowed the Russian government to steer the narrative of the president’s Wednesday meeting with top Russian diplomats by giving Kremlin-backed media exclusive access to the event.

The White House did not allow American press into the meeting between President Donald Trump, Russian foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak. But it did admit a photographer from TASS, a state-owned Russian news service. Its photos were subsequently posted on TASS’s website, giving that outlet a monopoly on publishable visuals of the meeting.

Russian government Twitter accounts shared photos of the event shortly after its conclusion. They revealed Kislyak’s presence—a fact that was not even mentioned in the official White House readout of the meeting. Some U.S. officials suspect Kislyak, whose conversations with Trump’s former National Security Adviser have fed an FBI investigation of his campaign, is a Kremlin spy—or at least spy-adjacent.

Two senior administration officials, one an Obama holdover and the other a Trump appointee, told The Daily Beast that the resulting reliance of U.S. media on a propaganda arm of a foreign government let Russia set the public tone of the meeting and embarrassed the administration amid already contentious discussions with Russian diplomats.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity in order to candidly express their views. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“This isn’t an ‘America First’ policy,” one of the officials fumed of the White House’s decision “to let the biggest perpetrator of fake news into the Oval Office.” Trump, the official added, is “either in bed with the Russians or too stupid to understand the severity of this mistake. Either way, the implications are truly terrifying.” [Continue reading…]

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Europeans are less likely to share fake news. Here’s why

PRI reports: If you picked up a newspaper in the UK on Monday, you might have encountered an unusual advertisement offering tips on how to spot “false news.”

Facebook published the full-page ads in major newspapers — including the Guardian and the Times of Londn — ahead of the country’s general elections next month. Last month, it published the same ads in Germany and France, ahead of elections in those countries.

“People want to see accurate information on Facebook and so do we. That is why we are doing everything we can to tackle the problem of false news,” Simon Milner, Facebook’s Director of Policy for the UK, wrote in a statement.

Research indicates that Internet users in some European countries are less likely than Americans to share fake news online. Still, Facebook and other social media companies have been facing mounting pressure from European leaders to address fake news, as well as other hateful, racist and violent posts.

“I think Europe has within living memory much more understanding of the consequences of letting hateful propaganda spread,” said Zeynep Tufekci, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina who studies the effect of technology on politics and society. “They lived through World War I and World War II, and they have a deeper visceral reaction to the consequences of letting hate speech, incitement to violence, misinformation, propaganda — the whole range of things that we see online today — going unchecked.” [Continue reading…]

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The clever timing of the Macron data dump

An election whose outcome is widely perceived as a foregone conclusion, is an election sure to be met with widespread voter apathy. Combine that with the fact that many French voters have almost equal distaste for both candidates in Sunday’s election and the assumption that its outcome is certain becomes much more questionable.

Wikileaks/Julian Assange, posturing as an impartial observer, was quick to promote the #MacronLeaks hashtag and to focus on the timing of the “leak.”


The Wikileaks/Russian narrative is clear: don’t be misled by reports that reveal Russian involvement in this “massive leak.” It’s timing makes it clear that this is the handiwork of naive hackers who “don’t get timing.”

A stronger argument can be made, however, that the timing of this data dump, far from being curious or naive, was strategically chosen to be of maximum effect and that its intended effect, more than anything else, was to taint the election outcome. This has less to do with determining who becomes France’s next president than it has with poisoning the democratic process.

Think about it: A leak worthy of that label is by its nature revelatory. It brings to light information that was up until that moment, guarded in secrecy. That secrecy had been maintained purposefully to prevent the damaging effects of revelation.

The Macron data dump, however, was identified by its size rather than its content. The shorter the interval between its release and election day, the less time there would be to highlight its vacuity.

Moreover, in terms of political effect, the act and event of digital leaking has in this cynical era generally taken on more significance as a form of political theater than as an instrument of truth telling.

The leak makes the target look vulnerable and poorly equipped to handle the levers of state in a age that requires data security.

The hacker, like the terrorist, “wins” for no other reason than the fact that he couldn’t be stopped.

The cleverness of timing this attack on the French election minutes before political campaigning was legally required to end, was that #MacronLeaks would then be able to play out most freely in social media while France’s mainstream media would remain largely silent.

The overarching strategy here is one we’ve seen before: it’s about fabricating something out of nothing in order to foment and sustain a visceral mistrust that is immune to reason.

This hacking will have worked, like many before and many more to come, not because it raised awareness but because it can serve as an instrument for steering popular sentiment.

This is hacking as a form of advertising and thus its purpose is less to change the way people think than the way they feel.

In order to achieve its maximum effect, as Dominic Cummings, who ran Britain’s Vote Leave campaign, has noted, the crucial element in advertising is timing:

One of the few reliable things we know about advertising amid the all-pervasive charlatanry is that, unsurprisingly, adverts are more effective the closer to the decision moment they hit the brain.

In France, as has happened elsewhere, the war against democracy will continue to progress with or without spectacular victories, as citizens lose faith and lose interest in actively sustaining freedoms they have long taken for granted. #MacronLeaks advances that process.

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How Soviet dissidents ended 70 years of fake news

Gal Beckerman writes: In the summer of 1990, at a fulcrum moment when his country was tipping from reform to dissolution, Mikhail S. Gorbachev spoke to Time magazine and declared, “I detest lies.” It was a revolutionary statement only because it came from the mouth of a Soviet leader.

On the surface, he was simply embracing his own policy of glasnost, the new openness introduced alongside perestroika, the restructuring of the Soviet Union’s command economy that was meant to rescue the country from geopolitical free-fall. Mr. Gorbachev was wagering that truthful and unfettered expression — a press able to criticize and investigate, history books without redacted names, and honest, accountable government — just might save the creaking edifice of Communist rule.

For the Soviet leader, glasnost was “a blowtorch that could strip the layers of old and peeling paint from Soviet society,” wrote the Baltimore Sun’s Moscow correspondent (and now Times reporter) Scott Shane in “Dismantling Utopia: How Information Ended the Soviet Union.” “But the Communist system proved dry tinder.”

We in the West have always praised Mr. Gorbachev for his courage in taking this gamble — even though he lost an empire in the process — but he did it under pressure. The idea that a better relationship with facts might be liberating for a corrupt and ailing Soviet Union was not new. Mr. Gorbachev was echoing and appropriating the arguments of a dissident movement that, for decades, had made an insistence on truth its essential form of resistance.

If the Soviet Union was the 20th century’s greatest example of a regime that used propaganda and information to control and contain its citizens — 70 years of fake news! — the centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution is an important moment to appreciate how it also produced a powerful countercurrent in the civil society undergrounds of Moscow and Leningrad. [Continue reading…]

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Louise Mensch on Mike Flynn’s treason tour: Russian propaganda coordinated with Trump

There is still considerable wariness around Louise Mensch because of her persona and her politics, but even so, considerable evidence that she has earned the trust of sources inside the intelligence community. In February, The Guardian reported:

The full facts about the connections between the Trump camp and the Kremlin are not yet known. Trump now has authority over all the intelligence agencies that were investigating the Russian connection. Investigations have been officially launched in the Senate, but there too, Republicans are in command, and only a handful of senators seem ready to break party ranks to inquire further.

However, it seems increasingly clear that Mensch landed an extraordinary scoop [that a FISA court in Washington had granted a warrant to allow the FBI to conduct surveillance of “US persons” in an investigation of possible contacts between Russian banks and the Trump organisation] that had eluded the best investigative journalists in the US. Her explanation is that her vocal advocacy on behalf of UK and US intelligence agencies since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations about mass surveillance led her sources to trust her.

“They gave me one of the most closely guarded secrets in intelligence,” she said in a telephone interview. “People are speculating why someone trusted me with that. Nobody met me in a darkened alley in a fedora, but they saw me as someone who has political experience and is their friend. I am a pro-national security partisan. I don’t have divided loyalties.”

Mensch said she gained her reputation among intelligence professionals on both sides of the Atlantic as a result of her furious criticism of the Guardian’s handling of the NSA files leaked by Snowden when he walked out of his NSA job in Hawaii and fled to Hong Kong.

Mensch now writes: Sources linked to the intelligence community say that General Mike Flynn’s trips to Cambridge and across Europe will form a key part of Donald Trump’s impeachment and the prosecutions of dozens of his associates.

According to several sources within the intelligence community, Michael Flynn was co-ordinating, with and for Russian agents, the drafting of messages that Vladimir Putin was using to attack democracy in not only the United States, but across Europe. Furthermore, Flynn was doing this with the full knowledge of the Trump campaign, including Donald Trump himself.

This news directly relates to the data laundering performed by the Alfa Bank server on behalf of Donald Trump and Russia, where, as I reported, the Trump campaign colluded with the hacking of both the DNC and state voter databases.

The Alfa Bank server ‘washed’ that data together to tell Trump where to target it, sources say. But the messages and content with which targets were served was co-ordinated with Russia by General Flynn.

Furthermore, Flynn took the same hacking tools and artificial intelligence coded in Russia and helped far-right and Nazi parties across Europe use it in their own nations. Intelligence sources assert that multiple NATO partners have evidence of this and that it has been provided to the FBI.

If ‘data laundering’ is the first part of the Trump Russia incontrovertible evidence, ‘propaganda targeting’ is the second part. Flynn attacked not only the United States but all her Western allies on Russia’s behalf, with the full knowledge and connivance of Donald Trump.

Both halves of the social media impeachment will, sources assert, be key to Director Comey’s overall case. This is the ‘incontrovertible evidence’ to which Sir Richard Dearlove and others have referred. [Continue reading…]

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Estonia: The little spycatcher who could

Michael Weiss writes: Estonia regained its independence in 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and had no time at all to reconstitute its security services from scratch; it took a calculated gamble that grandfathering in many old hands from the ancien régime, the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic, wouldn’t result in Swiss cheesing its service with loyalists to the former occupying superpower.

One such transitional figure, a former KGB colonel named Herman Simm, who reinvented himself as a champion of Estonian self-determination, worked his way up to the head of security at the Estonian Defense Ministry. In 2004, when the country joined NATO, Simm established the National Security Authority, a department in the Defense Ministry which gave him access to whatever classified intelligence was shared among the then 26 allied countries. Two years later, Simm was awarded two medals: one from Estonia’s president for “service to the Estonian nation,” and the other from his Russian handler announcing Simm’s promotion to the rank of major-general in the SVR, the branch of Moscow’s own reconstituted KGB in charge of foreign intelligence.

Simm had been a spy who fed reams of sensitive NATO secrets back to Moscow Center. Funnily enough, the one secret that he kept being asked to uncover was the one he was unable to because it didn’t exist: NATO’s invasion plan for Russia.

He was finally arrested in 2008, a year after Russian cyber hackers shut down Estonia’s e-government and digital banking sector for the better part of 24 hours in retaliation for the relocation of a Red Army World War II monument, which precipitated drunken riots in central Tallinn.

NATO subsequently named Simm the “most damaging” foreign operative in Alliance history. It was a grave national embarrassment for a new member-state that had sought membership to protect itself from exactly this type of Kremlin subversion and interference but which had hitherto spent the bulk of the ’90s and early aughts trying to root out the seemingly more urgent threats of gangsterism and organized crime—much of that also emanating from its eastern neighbor. [Continue reading…]

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Behind #SyriaHoax and the Russian propaganda onslaught

ABC News reports: As Syrian president Bashar al-Assad called videos of last week’s chemical attack a “fabrication,” a piece of propaganda promoted by a Russian cyber operation and bearing the hashtag #SyriaHoax has gained traction in the United States, analysts tell ABC News.

Following the chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of civilians on Tuesday, Al-Masdar News, a pro-Assad website based in Beirut, published claims that “something is not adding up in [the] Idlib chemical weapons attack.” Its author cited “holes” in the accounts provided by the “Al-Qaeda affiliated” White Helmets leading to the conclusion that “this is another false chemical attack allegation made against the government.”

That hoax story was promoted by a network of Russian social media accounts and ultimately picked up by popular alt-right personalities in the United States, including Mike Cernovich, one of the leading voices in the debunked ‘Pizzagate’ conspiracy theory. Cernovich popularized its new hashtag — #SyriaHoax — and sent it soaring through cyberspace. According to Trends24, within hours of the retaliatory missile strike President Donald Trump launched on Thursday night, #SyriaHoax was the No. 1 trending Twitter topic in the United States.

J.M. Berger of The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism at The Hague, who studies propaganda and social media analytical techniques, said #SyriaHoax is “a clear example of a Russian influence campaign” designed to undermine the credibility of the U.S. government.

“The point of an influence campaign is to get people involved who wouldn’t otherwise be involved,” Berger said. “A lot of people in the alt-right would not necessarily characterize themselves as being pro-Russian, but they’re receiving influence from this campaign.” [Continue reading…]

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Russia: Syria gas attack victims faked it

Michael Weiss writes: Between 69 and 100 people have died so far, and hundreds more are still suffering from being poisoned, or from the follow-up airstrike on a nearby hospital that was treating them from being poisoned. As the bodies pile up, so too do the Kremlin conspiracy theories for whodunnit or whether or not this atrocity was even done at all.

Maria Zakharova, the foreign ministry’s new spokesperson, has taken a leaf from her predecessor’s playbook. On Wednesday, she intimated that despite a U.S., EU assessment that around 60 people were gassed by the regime from the air using sarin—a nerve agent Assad has previously admitted to have stockpiled—the whole ordeal was an elaborate bit of playacting.

In a press conference, Zakharova darkly commented on the “too-calm behavior of the representatives of this organization under emergency conditions,” by which she meant the White Helmets, an internationally funded and trained group of first-responders who often pull victims from the rubble of Russian, Syria and American bombing raids. Her government has vilified them as being either agents of regime change, al-Qaeda or both. Though her characterization of the rescue workers’ composure is at odds with press accounts describing how some “grew ill and collapsed from proximity to the dead.” But then, this is a woman who previously said that Donald Trump won the presidency because American Jews decided the election.

Speaking of Trump, one of his allies in the tin-hatted corner of the internet, the conspiracy site InfoWars, ran several articles and segments on Wednesday calling the atrocity a “false flag attack.” One article said the attack hadn’t been carried out by Assad but by the White Helmets, which InfoWars labeled as a “an al-Qaeda affiliated group funded by George Soros and the British government.” [Continue reading…]

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Don’t get fooled again by bogus links, bots and pure bunk. Here’s how

Margaret Sullivan writes: Roger Daltrey of the Who sang it with a full-throated scream in 1971: “We don’t get fooled again!”

And yet, we still do. Oh, do we ever.

Remember this one from the presidential campaign? The “news story” that spread the lie that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump for president? It was shared more than a million times. Or recall the faked report that the leader of the Islamic State was urging American Muslims to vote for Hillary Clinton.

With the proliferation of hoaxes, conspiracy theories, doctored photos and lies that look like news, it’s inevitable: We’re all chumps sometimes.

For those who are tired of it, along comes the first International Fact-Checking Day — which arrived, appropriately, on Sunday, just after April Fools’ Day.

Think of it as a global counterpunch on behalf of truth.

“It’s not about being killjoys, shaking a finger at everyone, so we’re trying to do it with a sense of fun,” said Alexios Mantzarlis, the 28-year-old director of the International Fact-Checking Network, based at the Poynter Institute in Florida. [Continue reading…]

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Every day a new Russian revelation. That’s not as bizarre as it sounds

Anne Applebaum writes: The former national security adviser wants to testify under immunity. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee sneaks off to the White House for illicit briefings. Every day brings a new revelation in Washington, and every day reveals the story of someone else’s conversation with someone else from Russia.

But if this seems momentous or ludicrous, bizarre or improbable, it shouldn’t. Take a step back and look around the world: Russian interference in democratic elections is neither new nor unusual. On the contrary, it’s ubiquitous, it plays a role in just about every Western democracy, it often follows the same patterns as it did in the United States, and it often leads to the same disarray.

True, in some places it includes funding, of which there is no evidence in the United States. One of France’s presidential candidates, Marine Le Pen of the “far right” National Front, was in Moscow last week as her party is openly seeking Russian financial support. In 2014, her party received a 9 million euro loan from a Russian-Czech bank, and in 2016, it was revealed this week, she received an additional 3 million euros from another Russian bank; a political fund run by her father, the former party chairman, also received 2 million euros from a Russian-backed fund based in Cyprus. Le Pen’s agenda — anti-NATO, anti-European Union — is perfectly aligned with that of Moscow, which seeks to destroy the European and transatlantic institutions that curb Russian influence. That support hasn’t damaged her standing with her voters: At a major Le Pen rally in Lille, France, a few days ago, Putin’s name was cheered.

Sometimes, Russian interference is more covert, involving training and support for far-right and extremist groups. A Hungarian neo-Nazi who authorities say murdered a police officer late last year had illegal military-grade weapons and ties to Russian operatives. Scandinavian far-right groups also have links to strange Russian “nationalist” groups that sometimes lend them money or help them train.

But most of the time, Russian interference in foreign elections takes the same forms that it did in the United States. [Continue reading…]

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Senate intelligence leaders pledge bipartisan Trump-Russia inquiry

Reuters reports: The Republican chairman of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday promised a thorough investigation into any direct links between Russia and Republican Donald Trump during his successful 2016 run for the White House.

Committee Chairman Richard Burr and Mark Warner, its top Democrat, pledged at a joint news conference that they would work together, in contrast with the partisan discord roiling a similar probe by the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee.

Burr was asked if the Senate panel wanted to determine if there was anything suggesting a direct link to Trump, and responded: “We know that our challenge is to answer that question for the American people.”

Trump’s young presidency has been clouded by allegations from U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia sought to help him win, while connections between his campaign personnel and Russia also are under scrutiny. Trump dismisses such assertions and Russia denies the allegations.

The Senate committee intends to begin interviewing as many as 20 people, including Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and one of his closest advisers, beginning as early as Monday.

Burr served as a security adviser to Trump’s campaign but said he had not coordinated with him on the scope of the committee’s investigation. He insisted he could remain objective.

Burr declined to go along with the White House’s denial of collusion between the campaign and Russian hackers, who U.S. intelligence officials believe favored Trump in last year’s campaign at the expense of Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton.

Warner and Burr both stressed the importance of exposing the activity of Russian hackers, which Warner said included reports of “upwards of 1,000 paid Internet trolls” who spread false negative stories about Clinton. [Continue reading…]

Aaron Blake writes: Americans live in two realities when it comes to the Russia investigation. On one side is the intelligence community, and on the other is a Republican Party that very much believes President Trump’s alternative facts.

Including, apparently, that Trump’s offices were wiretapped during the 2016 presidential campaign.

A new CBS poll shows that three in four Republicans believe it’s at least “somewhat likely” that Trump’s offices were wiretapped or under some kind of surveillance during the race. Although 35 percent think it’s “very likely,” 39 percent say it’s “somewhat likely.” About half (49 percent) of independents also say it’s at least “somewhat likely.” [Continue reading…]

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The future of free speech, trolls, anonymity and fake news online

Pew Research Center: The internet supports a global ecosystem of social interaction. Modern life revolves around the network, with its status updates, news feeds, comment chains, political advocacy, omnipresent reviews, rankings and ratings. For its first few decades, this connected world was idealized as an unfettered civic forum: a space where disparate views, ideas and conversations could constructively converge. Its creators were inspired by the optimism underlying Stuart Brand’s WELL in 1985, Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web and Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Perry Barlow’s 1996 “Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace.” They expected the internet to create a level playing field for information sharing and communal activity among individuals, businesses, other organizations and government actors.

Since the early 2000s, the wider diffusion of the network, the dawn of Web 2.0 and social media’s increasingly influential impacts, and the maturation of strategic uses of online platforms to influence the public for economic and political gain have altered discourse. In recent years, prominent internet analysts and the public at large have expressed increasing concerns that the content, tone and intent of online interactions have undergone an evolution that threatens its future and theirs. Events and discussions unfolding over the past year highlight the struggles ahead. Among them:

To illuminate current attitudes about the potential impacts of online social interaction over the next decade, Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center conducted a large-scale canvassing of technology experts, scholars, corporate practitioners and government leaders. Some 1,537 responded to this effort between July 1 and Aug. 12, 2016 (prior to the late-2016 revelations about potential manipulation of public opinion via hacking of social media). [Continue reading…]

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Information wars: A window into the alternative media ecosystem

Kate Starbird writes: For more than three years, my lab at the University of Washington has conducted research looking at how people spread rumors online during crisis events. We have looked at natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes as well as man-made events such as mass shootings and terrorist attacks. Due to the public availability of data, we focused primarily on Twitter — but we also used data collected there (tweets) to expose broader activity in the surrounding media ecosystem.

Over time, we noted that a similar kind of rumor kept showing up, over and over again, after each of the man-made crisis events — a conspiracy theory or “alternative narrative” of the event that claimed it either didn’t happen or that it was perpetrated by someone other than the current suspects.

We first encountered this type of rumor while studying the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. We noticed a large number of tweets (>4000) claiming that the bombings were a “false flag” perpetrated by U.S. Navy Seals. The initial spread of this rumor involved a “cascade” of tweets linking to an article on the InfoWars website. At the time, our researchers did not know what InfoWars was, but the significance of that connection became clear over time. [Continue reading…]

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