Information operations · Information Warfare · Russia

Russian documents reveal desire to sow racial discord — and violence — in the U.S.


This report had the potential of exploding in the media but is seemingly written to actually downplay much of what Russia is still doing to weaponize information against the US and the West. I was actually disappointed by the lack of documentation of other actions taken against the US and the West.  

I am pointedly using the phrase “and the West”, because the article focuses solely on the US being the target of Russian trolls employed by Yevgeny Prigozhin.  The US, the UK, and many Western countries have been the focus of Russian propaganda, disinformation, and fake news, much of it generated by the Russian troll farm aka the Internet Research Group aka Glavnet, in St. Petersburg, Russia. The article fails to mention any propaganda, disinformation, or fake news generated by RT, Sputnik, or any other State-owned and State-controlled media.  Also not mentioned are the State-sponsored and State-controlled hackers used by the GRU, the FSB, or the SVR.  Also not mentioned are other Whole-of-Government efforts by the Russian governments to keep governments in the West off balance and constantly reacting to Russia. Last and certainly not least, the Russian leadership group, a la Putin, Lavrov, et al, are also a separate group coordinating with the overall Russian Information Warfare program.

To further muck up the picture, the article mentions the Wagner mercenary group, only to never refer to it again. It adds nothing to the argument about sowing discord and violence in the US. 

Then there is the paragraph:

“One document said that President Donald Trump’s election had “deepened conflicts in American society” and suggested that, if successful, the influence project would “undermine the country’s territorial integrity and military and economic potential.””

This has nothing to do with Russian trolls, Russian efforts to undermine the election, and absolutely nothing to do with Russian information warfare efforts.  This appears to be an attempt to snipe at President Trump and was not excised during the editing process, witting or unwittingly. Intentional or not, it points to deliberate bias, a wholly unprofessional effort. 

Then the article appears to finally return to establishing an ongoing effort by Russians to undermine the United States.  There appears to be a Russian troll brainstorming session, followed by a central approval process at the Kremlin.  The concept of ‘at the Kremlin’ needs fleshing out.  In other sources Surkov has been suggested to be that lead but the article makes no mention of the office nor the person in charge. 

After that, most of the article is a rehash of already established Russian information warfare efforts pointed at the West. 

There is no doubt that race was and perhaps is being used to sow discord in the United States. We have not seen large scale racial upheaval used since the Ferguson, Missouri to the Baltimore, Maryland time period, except for assorted tiny pockets of racial conflict, mostly pushed by racial-division zealots. 

It is good to see articles about the wedges used by Russian information warfare efforts to divide the West, but better, more professional editing and reporting is necessary to push out a good quality product. 

Bottom line, I do not consider this article remotely professional, it lacks professional reporting and editing. 

</end editorial>



New evidence suggests Russia tried to sow unrest in the U.S. beyond the 2020 election

The revelations come as U.S. intelligence agencies have warned of probable Russian meddling in the 2020 election.

By Richard Engel, Kate Benyon-Tinker and Kennett Werner

LONDON — Russians who were linked to interference in the 2016 U.S. election discussed ambitious plans to stoke unrest and even violence inside the U.S. as recently as 2018, according to documents reviewed by NBC News.

The documents — communications between associates of Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Kremlin-linked oligarch indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller for previous influence operations against the U.S. — laid out a new plot to manipulate and radicalize African Americans. The plans show that Prigozhin’s circle has sought to exploit racial tensions well beyond Russia’s social media and misinformation efforts tied to the 2016 election.

The documents were obtained through the Dossier Center, a London-based investigative project funded by Russian opposition figure Mikhail Khodorkovsky. NBC News has not independently verified the materials, but forensic analysis by the Dossier Center appeared to substantiate the communications.

One document said that President Donald Trump’s election had “deepened conflicts in American society” and suggested that, if successful, the influence project would “undermine the country’s territorial integrity and military and economic potential.”

The revelations come as U.S. intelligence agencies have warned of probable Russian meddling in the 2020 election.

The documents contained proposals for several ways to further exacerbate racial discord in the future, including a suggestion to recruit African Americans and transport them to camps in Africa “for combat prep and training in sabotage.” Those recruits would then be sent back to America to foment violence and work to establish a pan-African state in the South, particularly in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

There is no indication that the plan — which is light on details — was ever put into action, but it offers a fresh example of the mindset around Russian efforts to sow discord in the U.S.

The blueprint, entitled “Development Strategy of a Pan-African State on U.S. Territory,” floated the idea of enlisting poor, formerly incarcerated African Americans “who have experience in organized crime groups” as well as members of “radical black movements for participation in civil disobedience actions.”

The goal was to “destabilize the internal situation in the U.S.”

Frank Figliuzzi, a former assistant director of counterintelligence at the FBI and an NBC News contributor, who reviewed the documents, said that they offer a warning to the U.S.

“Regardless of whether or not these plans are an amateurish thought experiment, the fact that these people are talking about doing this should disturb Americans of all stripes,” Figliuzzi said.

“The unfortunate reality is that we’re seeing an adversary that will consider virtually anything to get what it wants, and if it means violence or splitting America along racial lines or eroding our trust in institutions, they’ll do it.”

Some of the documents appear to have been sent by Dzheykhun “Jay” Aslanov, an employee of the Internet Research Agency, the St. Petersburg-based troll farm that played a key role in the 2016 Russian meddling campaign. Aslanov was one of 13 Russians indicted by Mueller in February 2018 for his role with the IRA.

The plan was shared with Mikhail Potepkin, a Russian businessman, who then circulated it more widely, according to communications reviewed by NBC News.

Both Aslanov and Potepkin have been linked to Prigozhin, a Russian catering magnate often described as “Putin’s chef.” Prigozhin was also indicted by Mueller for funding the IRA. Widely perceived as a Kremlin operative, he has been connected to a shadowy mercenary outfit known as the Wagner Group, whose guns-for-hire are reportedto have been involved in Russian military operations in Syria and Eastern Ukraine, according to U.S. military officials.

The Mueller report exposed how Russian trolls, employed by associates of Prigozhin, deliberately inflamed racial tensions by spreading false and incendiary stories to African Americans via social media. Among the objectives was to suppress black turnout in the 2016 U.S. election.

Another of the newly obtained documents is a map of the U.S. overlaid with information about African American population size in seven southern states. Also included are the number of subscribers to websites and social media accounts that were set up by Russian trolls at the IRA to spread race-baiting rhetoric, the latter of which were later removed by the social media companies.

Image: A map of the U.S. overlaid with information about African-American population size in seven southern states that was part of a cache of documents found in communications from Russians linked to U.S. election interference.
A map of the U.S. overlaid with information about African-American population size in seven southern states that was part of a cache of documents found in communications from Russians linked to U.S. election interference.The Dossier Center

Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., who was briefed on the documents, said they highlight how ongoing racial issues in the U.S. can be used in misinformation efforts.

“Russia understands how critical the African American vote is to determining the outcome of elections,” said Demings, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee. “And because we have not effectively dealt with racism as a country ourselves, I believe we’ve made ourselves vulnerable to foreign powers like Russia to continue to try to undermine.”

The documents also discuss how to expand Russia’s clout on the African continent and win business there, from arms sales to mining contracts. They outline propaganda efforts to target Africans and stir up negative opinions about Europe and the U.S.

Cooking up elaborate interference schemes is standard practice within Prigozhin’s circle, according to Andrei Soldatov, an expert on Russian intelligence and author of “The Red Web,” a book on Russian information warfare.

“This is typical of the way Prigozhin and his team operate,” Soldatov said. “They come up with pitches, some of them very ambitious. They discuss many possible ideas and then send the pitches to the Kremlin to be authorized or rejected. It’s their modus operandi.”

The idea of African American statehood has an intellectual precedent in Russia. During the early 20th century, communists in America proposed forming a “black-belt nation” in the South. Some party members traveled to the Soviet Union for training.

“Even though these kinds of initiatives from the Russians aren’t new to us, what is new is the rapidity with which they can get this message out on social media and saturate the American consumer with these kinds of thoughts,” said Figliuzzi, the former FBI official. “That puts the Russian initiative on steroids and should scare all of us.”

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