Fake ‘Ukrainian’ News Websites Run by Russian ‘Troll Army’ Offshoots

How could I have missed this before?

Written by Aric Toler

Russia has engaged in a blitzkrieg of information warfare since the start of the Euromaidan protests, increasing the budget of RT (formerly Russia Today) by 41%, and creating a new international news operation called Sputnik to “provide an alternative viewpoint on world events.” More and more, though, the Kremlin is manipulating the information sphere in more insidious ways.

Last week, the Russian daily “Delovoi Petersburg” (DP) broke a story that revealed a number of news sites supposedly operating out of Ukraine, such as the “Kharkov News Agency,” are actually housed, operated, and staffed in Russia without any local correspondents. This new kind of information warfare is being waged from a nondescript building on 55 Savushkina Street in St. Petersburg, just down the hall from the Kremlin’s infamous St. Petersburg Troll Den. Photos of the building quickly spread through the RuNet.

Savushkina 55. New home for the bots. Security pass system. Not a single sign. I won’t share who took the photo.

In June, BuzzFeed published a detailed feature on this operation, through which the Kremlin supposedly funds a small army of young web-savvy Internet users who flood website comment sections around the world with pro-Russian and anti-Western rhetoric.

The slant of the stories that the ghost-writing army running ‘Ukrainian’ news sites publishes is exclusively pro-Russian. For instance, recent headlines on the Kharkov News Agency site include “Kharkov, unemployment: How to survive after Maidan” and “The ‘protectors’ of Ukraine arrested for robbery in Kiev.” According to LiveInternet statistics, over 200 thousand users have visited the website in the last month.

Even though these ‘Ukrainian’ sites claim to be local, the DP correspondents had no luck finding anyone working for the sites outside of the walls of the St. Petersburg office. The listed address for the supposed Kharkov office is a dead-end: the neighboring businesses in the office space swear that this publication does not operate nearby.

After some impressive detective work, the sleuths at DP found that an outlet calledNeva News, run from the 55 Savushkina office, bought the Kharkov News Agency’s domain name on August 25, 2013. The CEO and co-owner of Neva News, Evgenii Zubarev, confirmed DP’s findings, but insisted that the location of the outlet’s hosting or newsroom does not affect its editorial policy.

Zubarev is far from an isolated figure, as he heads up the Federal Agency News (FAN) project, which is also based out of—tell us if you’ve noticed a pattern yet—55 Savushkina.

Additionally, a series of news portals supporting pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine, such as novorus.info, newsdon.info, and newslava.info, are also operating out of Moscow while providing ‘local’ news on the Donbass region. Newslava.info reports being based in Sevastopol on 2 Lenin Street, but, as a quick Google search will reveal, this address is for the city government offices.

As it turns out, these websites are supported and run by Moscow businessman and hotelier Andrei Surkov, who says he only funds about 70% of the sites’ work, and the rest comes from public donations. Surkov himself is publishing a book entitled “Guard of the Steel Emperor: The Secret Origin of the Russian People,” detailing how the Russian people are actually descendants of the Aryan race and the guards of Genghis Khan.

While there is no direct link between the Kremlin and any of these projects—both Surkov and Zubarev say their projects are privately funded—the timing, scale, and coordination of these efforts are suspicious. BuzzFeed was not able to find evidence of direct government funding to the “Internet Research Agency,” the pro-Kremlin troll outlet operating out of 55 Savushkina, but they did reference a number of sources that revealed some level of involvement.

Over the last months, the epicenter of the grand Russian disinformation campaign against Ukraine has come into clear focus, with all paths converging on a four-story office building just off the Bolshaya Nevka River. While it’s true the Internet is still the freest media platform, it is also one that allows for ambiguity and manipulation. As the lines between private enterprise and public funding in Russian media blur, Kremlin-supported trolls and astroturfers seem bent on making the work of independent journalists and civic activists increasingly difficult.

Source: https://globalvoicesonline.org/2014/11/19/fake-ukrainian-news-websites-run-by-russian-troll-army-offshoots/

EU declares information war on Russia

Task force will start trying to win hearts and minds in eastern partnership countries next month.

8/27/15, 5:28 PM CET

Updated 8/28/15, 12:50 PM CET

The European Union’s foreign affairs department said Thursday it was launching a rapid-response team to counter what it considers biased Russian media reports.

The unit, which will include up to 10 Russian-speaking officials and media professionals from EU member states, will be fully operational by the end of September and will be part of the European External Action Service (EEAS). Officials say it is a first step in the EEAS’s response to growing concern in eastern Europe and EU Baltic states about the destabilizing influence of Russian-language news reports.

The EEAS was tasked by the European Council in March with coming up with a response to what EU leaders described as “Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaign,” with a specific request that the EEAS establish a “communication team” as a “first step” in fighting back.

The team, which will be based in the EEAS’s Brussels headquarters, falls short ofrequests from Latvia that the EU establish a full-blown, EU-funded Russian-language television channel, to provide an alternative source of news to Russian-speakers in both EU and “eastern partnership” countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus).

Officials Thursday stressed the limited scope of the team and were adamant its role would be to improve EU communications with Russian-speaking communities and not to be producing Brussels-funded propaganda.

“This is mostly about reinforcing our existing actions,” said an EU official. “It’s more about reallocating resources and doing more to reinforce that and communicate better.”

The team’s role would be to improve EU communications with Russian-speaking communities — not to produce Brussels-funded propaganda.

The unit, which includes Russian-language experts from the U.K., Latvia and Sweden, will be attached to the EEAS’s existing communications team. The EU member states will pay the salaries of the personnel, but the unit has not been allocated a budget.

“The team will carry out media monitoring and will work on the development of communication products and media campaigns focused on explaining EU policies in the region,” the official said.

However, the EEAS said it has neither the resources nor the mandate to go beyond the capabilities of the new unit and the funding of TV channels in Russian was not on the cards.

“This is not about engaging in counter-propaganda,” the EU official said. “However, where necessary the EU will respond to disinformation that directly targets the EU and will work … to raise awareness of these activities.”

The unit’s daily routine will consist of monitoring Russian media and suggesting ways for EU institutions to tailor their media strategy to counter Russian broadcasts, in a bid to win the hearts and minds of eastern partnership audiences.

In June, a study funded by the Dutch government recommended the creation of a Russian-language “content factory” that would produce entertainment and documentary programs, alongside news and current affairs broadcast from a “news hub.”

An EU official said the department had not been approached by Euronews, a multilingual broadcaster which last year received €25.5 million from the EU, to expand its Russian- and Ukrainian-language programming as part of the EU’s response.

Source: http://www.politico.eu/article/russia-propaganda-ukraine-eu-response-disinformation/

Professional Russian Army in Ukraine. Database and Visualisation

Exposing Russian lies.

When the French engineers and inventors Paul de Faget de Casteljau and Pierre Étienne Bézier came up with the idea of Bézier curves in the middle of the last century — they hardly thought about the fact that in the XXI century — the age of the ideal curves, electric cars and digital jazz, another European nation will start a war against its peaceful neighbor, with which it is linked by cultural, economic and family ties.

More than a year the team of InformNapalm volunteer project systematically gathers the evidence proving that the war in Donbas is waged not by a bunch of marginals, but by the career servicemen of the Russian army. The strange thing is that most of the evidence is provided by the Russian servicemen themselves and not by some kind of experts or investigators.

A healthy person’s mind is designed to find explanations of what oneself is doing, no matter how terrible these deeds are, even if it is a homicide. This can be the most probable explanation of the extraordinary activity demonstrated by the Russian soldiers in the social networks. Seeing and feeling the abyss of the Russian propaganda ‘from within’, these people publish the selfies and photos of their weapons, colleagues and the locals in the hope to justify themselves and find support from the online friends.

All that is left to us is the hard work of finding, documenting, sorting, identifying and geolocating these photos and reporting the truth all over the world in the languages of the countries where the truth about the war in Ukraine is not known at all or is known vaguely. We did this not only to examine the actual participation of the Putin’s regime in the war in Donbass, but also to help the Russian society understand itself when the insight time comes. If it will never happen, then let it be the chronicles of the fall of a great and meaningless empire.

The starting point of each curve is the point of permanent deployment of a military unit in the territory of the Russian Federation (the “Units” tab in our database). The final point is the place of the incident in the territory of Ukraine which involved the servicemen of this unit (the “Incidents” tab in our database). Now we suggest you to see the ‘Bézier curves’ of this war, and then take a look at our database and think of the ways to overcome. To overcome the brutal force with the intellect.


Source: https://en.informnapalm.org/professional-russian-army-in-ukraine-database-and-visualisation/

Leaked data shows women on Ashley Madison were mostly fake

The Ashley Madison hack is getting better and better.

A billionaire who mocked Hillary Clinton’s marriage has been caught in the Ashley Madison snare.

Here is a juicy story about how Ashley Madison actually scammed everybody, at every step.  …and it worked. They got rich.

Now they’re finding that most of the women supposedly signed up for the service were fake.

by Mariella Moon | @mariella_moon

It’s no secret that Ashley Madison has fake female profiles to engage users — heck, it’s even noted in the ToS that the website “is geared to provide you with amusement and entertainment.” When its user data was leaked to the public, though, people got a chance to see just how many women there are on the website exactly, and how many of them are definitely fake. Gizmodo editor-in-chief Annalee Newitz took a closer look at the data dump in an effort to determine the site’s female population and found that barely any of the 5.5 million profiles marked as “female” actually used the website.

Newitz examined several factors to get to that conclusion. First, she checked email addresses and found around 10,000 accounts that use the ashleymadison.com domain, which is a sure sign that they’re fake. Next, she discovered that 68,709 female profiles were created from a single IP: That means they were created from a “home” computer located within the company’s HQ. She also found out that the most common surname on the website for women is an unusual one identical to an ex-employee’s.

What truly convinced Newitz, though, is a data field marked “mail_last_time.” It shows a time stamp of the last time a member has checked his/her inbox, and she found that only 1,492 women ever checked theirs. In addition to confirming that the website’s real users are “paying for a fantasy,” she also confirmed that accounts marked <paid_delete> still have all their data intact despite people paying to have them nuked.

Here’s the silver lining, if you’re a user: 12,108 deleted accounts belonged to women, and since people have to pay to get themselves deleted, it indicates that real women (or those pretending to be one, anyway) used the site at one point. At the moment, Ashley Madison is doing what it can to catch its hackers, even offering a $376,000 bounty for info that leads to their arrest.

Source: http://www.engadget.com/2015/08/27/ashley-madison-barely-has-female-users/

The Russian Public Has a Totally Different Understanding of What Happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

And it’s more of a problem than you think.


Did you know Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was full of corpses when it took off from Amsterdam? Did you know that, for some darkly inexplicable reason, on July 17, MH17 moved off the standard flight path that it had taken every time before, and moved north, toward rebel-held areas outside Donetsk? Or that the dispatchers summoned the plane lower just before the crash? Or that the plane had been recently reinsured? Or that the Ukrainian army has air defense systems in the area? Or that it was the result of the Ukrainian military mistaking MH17 for Putin’s presidential plane, which looks strangely similar?

Did you know that the crash of MH17 was all part of an American conspiracy to provoke a big war with Russia?

Well, it’s all true—at least if you live in Russia, because this is the Malaysia Airlines crash story that you’d be seeing.

READ: I Slept Next to the Wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17As the crisis surrounding the plane crash deepens and as calls for Vladimir Putin to act grow louder, it’s worth noting that they’re not really getting through to Putin’s subjects. The picture of the catastrophe that the Russian people are seeing on their television screens is very different from that on screens in much of the rest of the world, and the discrepancy does not bode well for a sane resolution to this stand-off.

Western media has been vacillating for days between calling Putin a murderer and peppering their coverage with allegedlys, telling the heart-rending tales of the victims, scrounging for anonymous leaks to link the Russians to the downed jet, and punditizing about exit ramps.

But in Russia, television—most of it owned or controlled by the Kremlin—is trying to muddy the water with various experts who insist that there is no way that an SA-11 missile system could possibly have downed a plane flying that high. And, mind you, this is not part of a larger debate of could they, or couldn’t they; this is all of Russian television and state-friendly papers pushing one line: The pro-Russian separatists we’ve been supporting all these months couldn’t have done this. Watching some of these Russian newscasts, one comes away with the impression of a desperate defense attorney scrounging for experts and angles, or a bad kid caught red-handed by the principal, trying to twist his way out of a situation in which he has no chance.

READ: Malaysia Air Corpses Used as Sickening PR Stunt for Rebels’ Fake RepublicAnd that’s when they’re not simply peddling conspiracy theories, which have become a kind of symbiotic feedback loop between state TV and the most inventive corners of the Internet. The best of the bunch is, of course, an elaborate one: MH17 is actually MH370, that Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared into the Indian Ocean. According to this theory, the plane didn’t disappear at all, “it was taken to an American military base, Diego-Garcia.”

Then it was taken to Holland. On the necessary day and hour, it flew out, bound for Malaysia, but inside were not live people, but corpses. The plane was flown not by real pilots; it was on autopilot. Or take-off (a complicated procedure) was executed by live pilots, who then ejected on parachutes. Then the plane flew automatically. In the necessary spot, it was blown up, without even using a surface-to-air missile. Instead the plane was packed with a bomb, just like the CIA did on 9/11.

The theory also notes that the passports of victims at the crash site all look brand new even though there was an explosion and a fire. “That is, the passports were tossed in [after the crash].” And, most damningly, all the victims’ Facebook pages were created in one day and the media is not showing any of the victims’ families, just the crash site. Though this is not true of Western media, Russian television has not featured any of this. “There’s very little talk about the human cost of this catastrophe,” says independent television analyst Arina Borodina, formerly of the prominent Russian daily Kommersant. “Instead we’re seeing these unbelievable versions. For example, that someone had actually been hunting for the president or that some of the locals saw parachutists coming down from a height of 30,000 feet.”

But though it may look unconvincing to us in the West, that is because we have seen and read other things that contradict it. The Russian media space has become so uniform and independent voices so cowed and marginalized that there is no counterweight and, when there’s no counterweight, if you repeat a thing often enough, it becomes the truth.

This isn’t an innocent you-say-tomato moment; this is a very problematic development. The result of all this Russian coverage is that Russians’ understanding of what happened is as follows. At best, the crash is an unfortunate accident on the part of the Ukrainian military that the West is trying to pin on Russia, which had nothing to do with it; at worst, it is all part of a nefarious conspiracy to drag Russia into an apocalyptic war with the West. So whereas the West sees the crash as a game-changer, the Russians do not see why a black swan event has to change anything or they want to resist what they see is a provocation. To them, after a few days of watching Russian television, it’s not at all clear what happened nor that their government is somehow responsible for this tragedy. And the more we insist on it, the less likely the Russians are to agree.

Floriana Fossato, a longtime scholar of Russian media, says that this, coupled with the media’s conscious use of the Soviet language of crisis—“traitors,” “fascists,” “fifth columns”—quickly brings to the surface the psychological demons of a society massively traumatized by the twentieth century, traumas that society has never adequately addressed. The result, she says, is a kind of collective PTSD-meets-Stockholm Syndrome.

In Russians’ view, “Americans have recreated the situation where they have excuse for intervention,” Fossato says. “No one admits that they are afraid, but they are. They are panicked. And they are right in being afraid because they know what happened, and they know there must be an answer to what is going on. And so they lock onto Putin for protection. This is why they don’t turn to Putin and ask him to do something.”

But in addition to the Russian public not clamoring for decisive action from Putin, there is a far more serious problem. As The New Yorker’s David Remnick noted in his column on the crash of MH17, Putin has become prisoner to his own propaganda machine, much as he’s become prisoner of the rebels he thought were doing his geopolitical dirty work in Ukraine.

After Putin’s ascent, media became the flexible element that could be readjusted for any twist or turn of the political rudder. “Today, it’s the opposite,” says Gleb Pavlovsky, a political consultant who helped Putin win his first election and was a Kremlin advisor for years afterwards. “It’s almost impossible to turn the rudder of the picture that’s formed on television because it would mean losing the audience they formed in this year” of sword-brandishing and imperialistic conquest.

This audience is now fired up and brandishing its own swords, and the propaganda apparatus, much like the rebels in eastern Ukraine, has rolled on and on, fed by inertia and paranoia, reproducing and magnifying itself with each newscast. The sensationalized newscasts are now neck-and-neck, ratings-wise, with the sitcoms. “It keeps people in a traumatized state,” Pavlovsky says. “It’s notable in media metrics, and in conversations with people. They lose their sanity, they become paranoid and aggressive.”

This has had a noticeable impact on the ruling class, Pavlovsky says, which has to watch this stuff in order to stay au courant. And they become less sane as a result, too, which limits their ability to adequately assess a situation such as this and devise a good way out of it.

“It’s noticeable that the Kremlin is much more tempered than Russian TV but can’t change it,” Pavlovsky says. “It’s fallen into a trap, so it’s now trying to function within the strictures of this picture.” He cites the example of the PR contortions the Kremlin had to use just to announce that it would not send troops into eastern Ukraine. “In this seemingly controlled media, any rational political arguments of the state have to be hidden and packaged in idiotic, jingoistic rhetoric,” Pavlovsky says.

None of this looks very good for the West, which is clearly hoping that MH17 is the thing that will bring Putin to his senses and get him to agree to some kind of off-ramp, or, at least, a deescalation. But that’s hard to do if neither your public nor your political class see it as a game-changer or as anything that should force Russia to end this game.

“Of course it gets in Putin’s way. He has to be the hero of this TV material, he’s not free from it anymore,” says Pavlovsky. “I have a feeling he’s not very comfortable right now.”

Source: http://www.newrepublic.com/node/118782

Sven Sakkov assumes command of NATO CCDCOE

Colonel Artur Suzik of the Estonian Defence forces handed over the command of the Tallinn-based NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence to Sven Sakkov today.

“Cyber is not a new security challenge any more, it is here to stay and it is transforming most facets of our everyday life. It is ubiquitous and all-encompassing,” Sven Sakkov, the new Director of the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence said. “There is no other topic in modern world than cyber. And there is no better team in cyber than the team in this Centre.”

“The astounding growth of the Centre in recent years is testament to national defence priorities. The NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence was established with 7 nations on board. Today you see the flags of 14 sponsoring nations and one contributing participant,” said Colonel Artur Suzik, Director since 2012. “The fact that 3 more nations will join the Centre very soon only confirms that,” noted Suzik adding that this will make the NATO CCD COE largest of its kind in terms of participating nations.

Sven Sakkov has been the Undersecretary for Defence Policy in the Estonian Ministry of Defence since 2008, coordinating policy planning, international cooperation and work with NATO and EU. He has previously served as Defence Counsellor at the Estonian Embassy in Washington and Director of Policy Planning Department at the Ministry of Defence. Sven Sakkov has also worked at the Estonian Delegation to NATO and the Office of the President of the Republic of Estonia.

Colonel Artur Suzik was appointed the Director of the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in 2012. His previous positions among others have included commander of the Signal Battalion, Chief of Planning Section of the Communication and Information Systems Department and Chief of J6 at the Headquarters of Estonian Defence Forces. His has also served as a staff officer at the Estonian Delegation to NATO.

The Tallinn-based NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence is a NATO-accredited knowledge hub focused on interdisciplinary applied research and development as well as consultations, trainings and exercises in the field of cyber security. The Centre’s mission is to enhance capability, cooperation and information-sharing between NATO, Allies and Partners in cyber defence. The Centre is staffed and financed by sponsoring nations and contributing participants.

NB! Estonian Defence Forces photographs of the event are available for free from http://pildid.mil.ee/NATO-k-berkaitsekeskus-sai-uue-lema-27-08-2015 (photo credit: Siim Teder, Estonian Defence Forces).

Liisa Past
NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre od Excellence
+372 5518384

Social Media Is A Major News Source

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 12.32.30 PMMONETA, Va.  At 6:45 this morning, near Roanoke, Virginia, a gunman savagely murdered two people while they filmed a news story.

So far, it’s a horrible story.  Then it gets strange.

The gunman, now identified as Vester Flanighan AKA Bryce Williams, his on-air name as he was a former reporter, posted a Go-Pro video of the shooting to Facebook.  Then, to draw more hits, he tweeted that he had posted the video.

He was on the run from Police, yet he felt it was important enough to share what he had done on social media. I can only guess at his motivation, I have only read bits and pieces of what he wrote.  I read some of his tweets before his account was closed by Twitter.

I was sitting in a doctor’s office, on my iPhone, receiving near-real-time updates via a Google News App and a Breaking News App.  I learned the gunman’s name, looked up his picture online immediately, and knew what he looked like.

My wife emerged from her appointment with her doctor and knew all the details I did, she was following on her phone as well.

We got home and I was following both Bryce Williams and Vester Flanighan via Twitter and various news feeds.

I discovered Bryce Williams had taken several “selfies” after the shooting and posted them to Twitter.

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 12.40.51 PMI knew exactly where the police thought he was near-real-time because of tweets. I-81, then I-64 (a mistaken posting) and finally on I-66.  I’ve driven that stretch of road, often, that is one heckuva long drive.  But somehow he managed to continue Tweeting until his account was suspended.

I followed this until two corroborating Tweets were received, one from a reporter and one from a Police source. Bryce Williams aka Vester Flanighan shot himself.

Initial reports were that he killed himself, but now we are finding out he is in “very critical” condition.

Bottom line, we live in a new world. Social media is such a major part of our world that after shooting two people, Bryce Williams continued to post updates on Twitter. He took several “selfies” and posted them online. He posted the video of the shooting on Facebook.

Police reports were available almost instantly via Twitter. Online news sources were easily scooped, the Twitter feeds preceded them by periods up to 30 minutes. Bad reporting in the form of conflicting tweets were common, the fog of a rapidly developing situation was easily seen.

The shock, the pain, the anguish, the frustration, the despair of the station employees of WDBJ, where both victims worked, was instant. The one victim’s boyfriend tweeted his love for Alison Parker, they had just moved in together and were to be married.

Bryce Williams was fired twice for erratic behavior. 

Even more bizarre, but indicative of our new world was his obsession of sharing these tragic events on social media.

We live in a new world.  Tragically, this new technology works both for and against peaceful, naive, and protected lives.

Welcome to the 21st Century.