USA Really Implicated in Russian Troll Indictment

Russian accountant Elena Khusyaynova was just indicted for allegedly assisting attempts to interfere in US elections. Now US-Russian news organisation USA Really says Khusyaynova is its chief financial officer

A US-Russian media venture flagged by cybersecurity experts earlier this year has been implicated in the indictment of Russian national Elena Khusyaynova, who is accused of assisting attempts to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election and 2018 US midterm elections.

USA Really, a Moscow-based news website headed by Russian government media adviser Alexander Malkevich, has drawn significant scrutiny since its launch in May, including close comparisons to the Robert Mueller-indicted Internet Research Agency, better known as the Russian troll factory.

Alexander Malkevich (source)

Articles on the USA Really website highlight hot-button social, cultural, and political issues using charged language, including reporting about Donald Trump, the Mueller probe, US elections, neo-confederate movements, and unsubstantiated conspiracy theories. For example, last month an article with the title “New Shocking Facts About Michelle Obama’s Gender” recycled bogus claims originated by InfoWars founder Alex Jones—once described by New York Magazine as “America’s leading conspiracy theorist”—that former first lady Michelle Obama was born a man.

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USA Really is overseen by the Federal News Agency (FAN), a pro-Kremlin news agency identified by the Department of Justice (DOJ) as belonging to a network of Russian entities allegedly controlled by “Putin’s chef,” Yevgeny Prigozhin, one of 13 Russian nationals indicted in February in connection with the now-infamous troll factory.

In an indictment released yesterday, Khusyaynova is accused of helping to manage and obscure payments to FAN and other entities allegedly involved in Project Lakhta, a political and electoral influence campaign waged on US social media networks going back to 2014.

Malkevich has previously dismissed questions about who funds USA Really, even claiming the existence of a deep state conspiracy to falsely link the website to Russian troll operations. Those claims reemerged in two anonymously penned articles published earlier today on the USA Really website, which described Khusyaynova as the victim of a “Big American Witch Hunt” perpetrated by the DOJ in cooperation with Facebook and Twitter.

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“There are just two weeks left before the election, so all the dirtiest political techniques are being used,” Malkevich is quoted as saying in one of the articles.

A second article tagged as an “Exclusive” made no attempts to conceal Khusyaynova’s relationship to USA Really, even claiming that the indicted accountant currently works as USA Really’s chief financial officer—information not mentioned anywhere in the DOJ’s indictment.

“The truth is that Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova is CFO of the USA Really news agency and its parent organization, Federal News Agency,” the article explained, before launching into a stream-of-consciousness diatribe describing the indictment as a “disgusting, monstrous octopus stretching its arms to choke free speech and independent journalism panicked upon hearing USA Really’s voice of truth that it tries to hush up through the hegemony of conventional American media.”

The tirade ended with an appeal to readers, including agents of the US federal government, to submit evidence of US interference in other countries via a writing contest on the USA Really website, which includes an award named The Pepe The Frog “Best Meme” Award. Pepe the Frog is a comic book character created by Matt Furie that was recently adopted as a mascot by white nationalist groups.

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It’s unclear if Malkevich or USA Really will be named in any future indictments. A spokesperson for the National Security Division of the DOJ declined to comment.

Why Did This Florida Takedown Lawyer Try to Suppress Negative Reviews for InventHelp?

— InventHelp is currently being sued for allegedly scamming aspiring inventors. Two years ago, Florida takedown lawyer Zachary Sloan tried to suppress those allegations

InventHelp is a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based company that claims to help aspiring inventors patent and market their inventions.

From its inception in 1984, InventHelp has cultivated a slick image. For example, since 2014 legendary former boxer turned small appliance pitchman George Foreman has been spokesman for the company, appearing in upbeat, “you can do it” promotional videos.

Despite that image, in recent years InventHelp has faced allegations of fraud.

Recently, some of InventHelp’s former clients filed a $108 million class action lawsuit against the company, claiming, among other allegations, that the company had failed to follow through on its promises, that it preyed upon low income people, and that it also “fraudulently targets minorities and women through the use of misleading websites, including www.black-inventor.com and www.women-inventor.com.”

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In April 2016, someone named Zachary Sloan—who according to ZacharySloan.com appears to be a defamation lawyer in Boca Raton, Florida—sent Google four identical de-indexing requests targeting InventHelp’s profile on PissedConsumer.com, an online forum that allows consumers to write reviews of companies.

(Sloan previously represented online reputation management company Profile Defenders, which is currently facing scrutiny for allegedly filing fraudulent lawsuits in order to get negative reviews de-indexed from Google’s search results).

“How to get your money back from an invention scam!” wrote one anonymous reviewer, who provided a step-by-step guide on how to force InventHelp into offering a refund. “1) send out your complaint letter, 2) contact an attorney, and 3) call an investigative journalists (like “7 On Your Side”) – this will keep up the pressure. The last thing the invention company wants is to be scrutinized by Attorney General’s, the Federal Trade Commission, lawyers and reporters.”

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Citing a court order he claimed he’d obtained from an unidentified court in Canada, Sloan requested that Google de-index four PissedConsumer.com pages from its search results, including the above review, which Sloan claimed contained defamatory information about InventHelp.

“We are requesting these links be deindexed from Google.CA specifically per the details of the attached court order that calls for deindexing from all of Google Domains, specifically Google.CA,” Sloan wrote. “This Plaintiff is a US and Canadian business, but most of its customers are Canadian and find Plaintiff’s website and reputation via searching Google.ca. However, these postings which have been ruled as defamation and admitted by the Defendant to posting them, and are severely impacting the Plaintiff and its ability to acquire new customers.”

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It’s unclear if Google capitulated to his de-indexing request, and multiple attempts to contact Sloan went unanswered. However, it appears that InventHelp, or someone working on behalf of InventHelp, did succeed in obscuring the Pissed Consumer reviews.

Now when consumers try to access InventHelp’s profile at Invent-Help.PissedConsumer.com, instead of being directed to a page of negative reviews and accusations of fraud, they’re quickly redirected to a second, privately registered domain, InventHelp.reviews, where they’re shown a page of glowing testimonials.

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Although the negative reviews are still available to view via that second domain, most have been moved to the back of the website, while many others, including the anonymous review quoted above, are only available to view by clicking a drop-down option below InventHelp’s own, more prominently positioned replies to the reviews.

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InventHelp and Pissed Consumer did not reply to requests for comment. However, Pissed Consumer’s page of Frequently Asked Questions states that the website will remove reviews upon receiving a U.S. court order. The website also provides a dispute resolution service.