Russia Running COVID Disinformation Campaign in the West, Intel Officials Reveal
Declassified intelligence files show Russian troll farms spreading virus falsehoods
Russia is running a campaign to spread online disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic in the West, U.S. intelligence officials have revealed.
U.S. officials warned Tuesday that Russian intelligence services are seeking to exploit a crisis that America is struggling to contain ahead of the presidential election in November.
Two high-level Russians, who have held senior roles in the GRU, Moscow’s military intelligence service, have been identified as those responsible for a disinformation effort targeting Western audiences, the U.S. government officials said.
They spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
After being previously marked as classified, officials said the information had been downgraded so they could more freely discuss it.
Officials said they are now hoping to raise the alarm about the particular websites and to expose the clear link between the sites and the Russian government.
The websites singled out Tuesday reportedly published about 150 articles about the pandemic response between late May and early July, including coverage aimed either at propping up Russia or denigrating the U.S., one of the officials said.
Among the headlines that caught the attention of U.S. officials were “Russia’s Counter COVID-19 Aid to America Advances Case for Détente,” which suggested that Russia had given urgent and substantial aid to America to fight the pandemic, and “Beijing Believes COVID-19 is a Biological Weapon," which amplified statements by the Communist Party of China (CPC).
The campaign also reportedly includes the dissemination of a variety of other news articles with unfounded claims about the virus’s origins and how Moscow and the U.S. have responded to it.
The officials did not issue any underlying information regarding Russia's alleged activities.
The news articles were published on websites such as InfoRos.ru, which is controlled by the Russian government, and OneWorld.Press, which U.S. officials say has ties to the GRU, according to The New York Times.
During a period between late May and June, some of the websites reportedly published 150 articles that spread false claims about the coronavirus pandemic.
Other articles suggested that the coronavirus was part of a U.S. effort to impose its vision of "world order" and that COVID-19 was "An Experiment In Manipulating The World."
The reports about a new alleged Russian disinformation campaign come less than 100 days before the November presidential election, though U.S. government officials told the AP it was unclear if the efforts were linked to the 2020 elections.
The officials did say some of the content on the websites related to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
U.S. intelligence officials have warned recently that foreign nations are attempting to interfere with this year's election.
William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said last week that Russia, Iran, and China were actively attempting to sway the fall elections, noting that “the coronavirus pandemic and recent protests ... continue to serve as fodder for foreign influence and disinformation efforts in America.”
The new alleged Russian disinformation campaign deals primarily with websites acting as legitimate news outlets, according to the reports published Tuesday.