Information operations · Information Warfare · Russia

PayPal Drops USA Really, Sanctioned Russian Propaganda Site

The website USA Really is the Russian propaganda website started by the Russian Federal News Agency, which is also affiliated with the Russian Troll Farm. 

Sanctions made dealing with USA Really not feasible, so PayPal removed their fundraising capability.  Though the connection with the Internet Research Agency and Yevgeny Prigozhin and the Russia Federal News Agency is not proven from my perspective, the relationship was severed. 

It is interesting that the removal of PayPal services is not a story on USA Really.  They could easily spin this and say “unwarranted” and “not deserved”, even though it is.  “Western Provocation”, although it is not. The website is small, it is slow, and it may be underfunded.  For the most part, it has been ignored, it does not have the staff of RT or Sputnik.  It is also interesting that GoDaddy removed them from their servers.  

This is yet another shot to Russian propaganda, albeit a small one.

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PayPal Drops Sanctioned Russian Propaganda Site

Russian propaganda site USA Really is being forced to navigate new sanctions placed on the site and its founder as part of a crackdown on Russian disinformation efforts in the United States.

The popular electronic payment platform PayPal appears to have shuttered USA Really’s account after the Treasury Department last month forbade U.S. individuals and businesses from transacting with the site; its parent company, Russia’s Federal News Agency; and its founder, Russian national Alexander Malkevich.

The website “engaged in efforts to post content focused on divisive political issues but is generally ridden with inaccuracies,” the Treasury Department said in a statement. “In June 2018, USA Really attempted to hold a political rally in the United States, though its efforts were unsuccessful. As of June 2018, Malkevich was a member of Russia’s Civic Chamber commission on mass media, which serves in a consultative role to the Russian government.”

USA Really itself is relatively obscure, and appears to draw a far smaller readership than other U.S.-based Russian media outlets accused of peddling similar disinformation, such as RT and Sputnik. But according to federal prosecutors, the Federal News Agency, USA Really’s parent company, was deeply involved in a U.S. propaganda effort dubbed Project Lakhta, alongside the infamous Internet Research Agency, the Kremlin’s primary digital media disinformation apparatus.

Last week, McClatchy News reported the Internet Security Research Group, a nonprofit that issues website security certificates, had revoked USA Really’s due to the sanctions. A security certificate makes it easier to visit websites using most internet browsers, and some browsers, such as Mozilla’s Firefox, bar access to websites without them.

“As a U.S.-based organization, we are required to comply with U.S. law,” explained Josh Aas, the group’s executive director. “As such, we cannot provides services to people, organizations, or websites” sanctioned by Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control.

The same calculus appears to have prompted a shutdown of USA Really’s PayPal account. A link to that account’s donation page now advises visitors that the website “is currently unable to receive money.”

PayPal did not respond to a request for comment on USA Really’s status.

After ISRG revoked its certificate last week, USA Really secured another one from GlobalSign, a Japanese-owned firm with offices in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. But that firm quickly dropped USA Really as well. “We took action shortly after finding out the entity associated with domain was sanctioned,” Arvid Vermote, the company’s chief information security officer, told PAY DIRT in a statement.

As of Thursday morning, USA Really had resorted to using a security certificate provided by the Chinese company WoSign.

USA Really has also been forced to change web servers due to federal action against the company. The site was previously housed on servers owned by leading hosting provider GoDaddy. After the Justice Department indicted Elena Khusyaynova, USA Really’s chief financial officer and an alleged Project Lahtka conspirator, GoDaddy pulled its services. It’s now hosted by a Russian company called Tradersoft.

In a post on its website, USA Really called that hosting change an “attack” on the site. But it’s not clear that it’s noticed PayPal’s move yet: The site still features a donation button linking to its defunct page on the platform.