Information operations · Information Warfare · Russia

FBI Investigating Russian Propaganda Radio Station in D.C.

Russian President Vladimir Putin. Why does his “personal propagandist” oversee a government media operation with a station in the United States? Photograph: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images.

Yahoo News reports the inquiry looks into whether Sputnik is acting in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

In July, I noted that Sputnik Radio—an honest-to-God Russian propaganda outlet—had started broadcasting on Washington D.C. airwaves:

I spent the last few days driving around listening to Sputnik, and the experience is like being immersed in some menacing alternate history timeline: It’s like The Man in the High Castle, but for Cold War kids and with real-world implications. It’s not an exaggeration to say that any patriotic American with a half-functioning brain would be alarmed by what’s being said.

If you listen to Sputnik Radio, America is a relentless military aggressor. Every other word that comes out of the various hosts and guests’ mouths is “imperialism”—never mind that in the last decade Russia has invaded two countries to claim territory, more or less unprovoked. Leaps of logic that would derail any conversation between normal people are tolerated as long as the impetus is anti-American, e.g., “Well, of course, the real reason for invading Afghanistan after 9/11 was America’s history of institutionalized racism …”

Now broadcasting the un-distilled id of Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky would be bad enough. But overlaid on this nonsense is a very Russia-specific agenda. NATO is a curse word, and members of the organization are derided as “Vassal states” of America. The prospect of missile defense systems being deployed in Europe was discussed on the station’s programming so often that the emphasis couldn’t have been accidental.

I also noted that the business arrangement that put the station on air was shrouded in secrecy, and was generally baffled that this station was facing neither public outrage or its existence being legally queuestioned. Well, it took a few months, but the FBI is finally digging into it, per Yahoo News:

The FBI recently questioned a former White House correspondent for Sputnik, the Russian-government-funded news agency, as part of an investigation into whether it is acting as an undeclared propaganda arm of the Kremlin in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

As part of the probe, Yahoo News has learned, the bureau has obtained a thumb drive containing thousands of internal Sputnik emails and documents — material that could potentially help prosecutors build a case that the news agency played a role in the Russian government “influence campaign” that was waged during last year’s presidential election and, in the view of U.S. intelligence officials, is still ongoing.

The emails were turned over by Andrew Feinberg, the news agency’s former White House correspondent, who had downloaded the material onto his laptop before he was fired in May. He confirmed to Yahoo News that he was questioned for more than two hours on Sept. 1 by an FBI agent and a Justice Department national security lawyer at the bureau’s Washington field office. …

Sputnik is owned by Rossiya Segodnya, a Russian government media operation headed by Dmitri Kiselyov, a belligerent television broadcaster who is known as Putin’s “personal propagandist” and has been sanctioned by the European Union in response to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. On its website, Sputnik describes itself as a “modern news agency” that “covers global political and economic news targeting an international audience.”

I understand why the FBI would be skittish about the First Amendment implications of investigating media outlets, but what Sputnik is doing seems potentially well over the line of what is acceptable in terms of lobbying and influence efforts. And regardless of the FBI investigation, the station should still be a public outrage.



2 thoughts on “FBI Investigating Russian Propaganda Radio Station in D.C.

  1. Lenin pushed the anti-imperial angle heavily, this seems to have been a classic feature in “old school” Russian propaganda. Easy to see how anti-imperialism also coincides with the classic “peace movements” and “disarmament” campaigns run by the Soviets. (This old school also probably includes the anti-fascist and “police race war” propaganda stylings of folks like Orson Welles which we also see coming back on the left.) Nothing is really new in these themes compared to Communist days, except the Russians aren’t commies anymore and are more transparent about playing both sides of the coin than they used to be. That said, though the modern and 1930s-1980’s Russian propaganda themes do seem quite similar, there is clearly a lot better psychological science behind modern propaganda narratives.

    Glad to see some of the coverage of this is also getting into RT’s promotion of “truther” narratives – one of my personal favorite arguments about RT, given that Putin was the first world leader to contact Bush on 9/11/01:

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