Really nice story on the surface, “USA Really. Wake Up Americans.” is going to be a new propaganda outlet headquartered in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Diving into the story more deeply and contemplating the details, I was just a wee bit skeptical. I was left with more questions than answers.
- The ad where the Russian troll factory in its new digs is hiring is missing, Code 404. No biggie, as soon as the story broke, it only makes sense they’d take it down.
- The article references a “for rent” sign at the original 55 Savushkina St. address. A picture would be helpful.
- There is no relationship established between the Troll Factory and the “USA Really. Wake Up Americans”. The article is poorly written at this point, referring to the Troll Factory as a “media factory”. In the next paragraph she writes,
- “In May, this “media factory” will launch a new “information agency” called “USA Really. Wake Up Americans” whereas we know it is being launched by RIA FAN. Is RIA FAN taking operational control of the Troll Factory? Will the two operations be colocated? Will they only coordinate, deconflict, or is one in charge? I also suspect their relationship is not fully known, again.
- The source for the article was a little “off”. So I went in search of…
- First, I wrote the author, Trudy Rubin, asking for a wee bit more details.
- Google is your friend, so I dropped the key phrase “USA Really. Wake Up Americans”, the new propaganda outfit. I automatically received a bunch of hits. A select few.
- EU vs. Disinfo “USA Really. Wake Up Americans”. The story of Russia’s new private propaganda outlet.
- Unian “USA Really. Wake Up Americans”: Russia launching another propaganda outlet in U.S.
- RUEconomics.ru The federal news agency will show Americans what objectivity is… (Russian)
- Media-tics ‘USA Really. Wake Up Americans’, the new Russian means to influence the United States (Spanish)
- RIA FAN “Wake up, America” – FAN is preparing to launch a new news agency
The last story, from RIA FAN, the RIA Federal News Agency (FAN) is the one hosting and launching “USA Really. Wake Up Americans.” This appears to be the original story, but is not even referenced in Trudy Rubin’s article. Well, actually, none of them are. According to her article she went to St. Petersburg and dug up the information from Russian journalists and former Troll Factory employees.
I hunted, but I cannot find a definitive link between RIA FAN and Rossiya Segodnya, headed up by our friend Dmitry Kiselyov and “wholly owned by the Government of Russia as a unitary enterprise”. Euvsdisinfo.eu blurs the line even more, claiming that Yevgeny Prigozhin will run both RIA FAN and “USA Really. Wake Up Americans.” This is offered as an example of Russia’s peculiar government/private corporations, such as the Wagner group, also owned by Prigozhin. In case you need to be reminded, Prigozhin is nicknamed “Putin’s Chef”, and earned his billions through government contracts catering public schools, government facilities, catering Putin’s daughter’s wedding, etc.
There are two paragraphs of note in the RIA FAN article.
In May 2018, the information agency “USA Really, Wake Up Americans” will start its operations, it will focus on promoting information and problems that are hushed up by major American publications.
We invite English-speaking journalists and authors to work on the project – send your CVs to email@example.com with the subject “Wake up, America”.
“…[F]ocus on promoting information and problems that are hushed up by major American publications” is a euphemism used by many Russian propaganda, disinformation, misinformation, and fake news publications.
The ad that I referenced before, which is now Code 404, now has an alternate contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bottom line at the bottom. RIA FAN, already fervently anti-Western (and specifically anti-American), is launching another Russian propaganda, disinformation, misinformation, and fake news publication called”USA Really, Wake Up Americans”. I only wonder what its relationship is to the Russian Troll Farm.
Russian troll factory hiring for new anti-U.S. operation; biggest danger is not to America | Trudy Rubin
APRIL 27, 2018
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — The four-story building at 55 Savushkina St. that housed the infamous Russian internet “troll factory” that meddled in America’s 2016 election now appears empty. I saw a huge “For Rent” sign in one of its large windows facing the street.
The main trolling operation has moved to an impersonal seven-story glass office building in the distant Lakhta business district. I couldn’t enter the building due to tight security. (Journalists seen taking pictures have been grabbed and harassed.) The city’s leading business daily Delovoy Peterburg reported late last year that the operation’s workspace has tripled.
Yet, little known to Americans, this fake news factory, whose organizers and some staff were indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller for interfering with the U.S. political system, was not initially intended to wage information warfare on America.
Instead, its original purpose, starting in 2014, seems to have been to shape the thinking of ordinary Russians by viciously attacking domestic opposition activists and fueling public hostility toward Ukraine – and the United States.
The domestic propaganda barrage continues out of the troll factory’s new digs, which include a massive online media conglomerate that intertwines news with Kremlin propaganda. “A tricky mix of normal reporting and hate speech,” one Russian journalist calls it. RBC magazine wrote in March 2017 that this “media factory” now reaches an audience that exceeds 50 million Russians a month.
In May, this “media factory” will launch a new “information agency” called “USA Really. Wake Up Americans.” It has already put out an announcement that it “will focus on promoting information and problems that are hushed up by major American publications controlled by the U.S. political elite.” The agency is inviting “English-speaking journalists and authors to work on the project “ and send their CVs.
Now that its secret internet project has been exposed, the troll factory will apparently focus more on open information warfare. Kremlin propaganda mills masquerading as news agencies will try to insert anti-American propaganda into U.S. – and Russian – media.
Given the rising tensions between Moscow and Washington, I think the domestic trolling operation holds more potential threat to America – than any (over-hyped) efforts to subvert U.S. democracy. It promotes Kremlin efforts to convince Russians that the United States wants to destroy their country and start WWIII (enhancing similar messages on state-controlled TV).
Since at least 2014, this trolling operation has been posting grotesque fabrications to foster Russian support for the Kremlin’s invasion of eastern Ukraine — and to whip up hostile feelings toward America. The information operation is funded by a Putin-friendly oligarch, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who just also happens to control a mercenary outfit known as Wagner that has contract troops in Ukraine and Syria.
To find out how the trolling worked, I talked to brave Russian journalists and undercover activists in Moscow and St. Petersburg who have been reporting on the fake news factory since long before Americans ever heard of Russian trolls.
Vitaly Bespalov, a 27-year-old freelance journalist with long blond hair and a tattoo of Russian opposition politician Ksenia Sobchak on one arm, came to St.Petersburg in 2014 to try to find work. He answered an ad for a “content manager” at 55 Savushkina St. and was offered a salary about a third higher than a normal starting job in Russia. It was not long after Russia invaded eastern Ukraine and he was told he would be working for a department called Ukraine II.
Bespalov had to pull 20 news stories about Ukraine daily from the internet and rewrite them to fit the Russian propaganda version. Ukrainians resisting the Russian invasion were “terrorists” and Russia-backed separatists were “volunteers.”
When a Ukrainian rocket hit an empty school where “volunteers” were hidden, the news was that Ukrainians wanted to kill children. Americans wanted to use the uprising as an excuse to start World War III.
(According to the BBC’s Russian service, the troll factory was linked to a video operation in Ukraine that produced gems like a supposed U.S. soldier shooting bullets into a Quran, clips that might enrage Russian Muslims in the Caucasus.)
After a few days, Bespalov realized what was going on and decided to “stay and get more information and make it public.” He was later assigned to distribute links to fake news stories to social-media groups in different Russian cities. These stories were filled with clichés, such as “[Secretary of State] Clinton wants war with Russia” and nasty claims about President Barack Obama.
“I used to think this work was absolutely stupid work with no results,” Bespalov told me. But later he heard ordinary people using these clichés in their conversation “not just about Ukraine but about the USA.”
The trolling news operation backs Kremlin efforts to convince Russians that the United States wants to destroy their country. Similar messages are delivered by state-controlled TV.
Unfortunately, I was unable to learn what the American department of the troll factory is up to these days. Russian journalists say that, since 2016 it is much harder to find sources that have worked inside the troll factory. “They are scared and refuse to talk,” says Bespalov.
Only a handful of Russian news outlets still cover this story, which can put journalists at severe risk. After Vitaly Bespalov was interviewed by NBC late last year, the main state TV channel attacked him viciously, and his picture appeared on social media with false claims that he was a drug addict.
In the United States, on the other hand, we have plenty of information, overhyped, about Russian trolling. (Russian journalists I met uniformly expressed astonishment at any claims that the troll factory changed the outcome of the 2016 election.)
We know what happened in 2016, and should be fully able to take adequate precautions about any similar efforts. Forewarned about Russian trolling should be forearmed.