Russian Parliament Votes to Exclude Bloggers From Bill Branding Foreign News Outlets as “Foreign Agents”

The controversial proposal was devised by Alexander Malkevich, the U.S. government-sanctioned former editor of Russian propaganda site USA Really.

Alexander Malkevich (source)

Via Malkevich’s Telegram earlier today (courtesy of Google Translate):

I’ll be honest: I’m upset; I personally voted in the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation against softening the bill on foreign agents.

And this is what happens now: https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/4617311

The requirement to indicate the status of a foreign agent in their materials will apply only to the media. Regular citizens and bloggers won’t need to do this.

“We propose more clearly to establish that the marking of materials about a foreign agent in messages and materials belongs to the exclusive competence or responsibility of the media,” said Vasily Piskarev, head of the State Duma Committee on Security and Anti-Corruption. My position on foreign agents is stated here.

I noted that the legislation on non-profit organizations and public associations contains a number of unregulated norms that allow non-profit organizations that receive assistance from foreign sources to operate, but are not registered in the register of foreign agents.

Accordingly, it is necessary to legislatively expand the conditions for the recognition of non-profit organizations, individuals, the media and public associations as foreign agents on the territory of the Russian Federation.

In addition, foreign media outlets (Radio Liberty / Present Time / Voice of America) should be prohibited at the legislative level from campaigning at their sites during the election campaign.

For violation – fines and, as a tougher measure – temporary blocking of resources by Roskomnadzor. If they do not want to comply with the legislation of our country, it means that they will be temporarily blocked for the period of the election campaign.

Legislatively establish the obligation of an individual-foreign agent in the media / Internet to publicly notify the audience about his status.

But, as you can see, their lobby is serious.

It’s unclear what is motivating Malkevich’s dislike of foreign bloggers. But — as long-suffering readers of this blog will know — since mid-2018 I’ve received numerous hostile messages from Malkevich in response to my reporting documenting his ties to Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Putin-linked oligarch widely believed to be behind Russia’s infamous election interference campaigns.

For example, in June 2018 I received the following comment from someone claiming to work for USA Really, the Russian propaganda site for which Malkevich was sanctioned later that year. The comment came in response to a blog post I wrote detailing Malkevich and Prigozhin’s involvement in the site.

Are you semicrazy person? Please, go see a doctor help the society and yourself. May be you just have a vivid imagination. I’m not sure, but it looks like you took too much acid (aka LSD) in your childhood.You always do a pretty good job with data gathering (easy as pie).

However, Dude, WFT is wrong with you? How can you suck so much with fact interpretation? Shame on all media who use your talks as actual facts. Collegues! ATTENTION! He sucks! He is lame, it’s dangerous to use his info. It will be definetely fake-news then.

Wanna real info about usareally.com write directly to us, we will gladly provide you THE FACTS, not this half-backed-shit. Actually, if you are a good journalist, you will never use someone esle info, especially you would avoid info from some anonymous dude from the internet, who is pushing his own agenda… And it’s not like usareally.com is closed for contacts. It’s wide open. Feel free to write us. Wanna come? Come. Wanna interview? Contact us. DO NOT USE this man thoughts as facts. They are not. And they will never be facts…

Earlier this year, Malkevich falsely accused me of taking orders from the U.S. government’s National Security Agency, claimed that I’d “violated all the principles of objective [journalism],” and compared me unfavourably with Washington Post duo Woodward and Bernstein. That was for a story I wrote for BuzzFeed News, about a now-deleted ad Malkevich had placed on the Post’s site.

In interviews with Russian media, Malkevich said my reporting heralded the “death of American journalism.”

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You can read more about Malkevich’s attempts to smear me via “Russian ‘troll factory’ cries foul over US advert removal,” by BBC Monitoring’s Russian disinformation specialist Olga Robinson.

Charlie Sheen Thanked After Accused Russian Troll is Released From Libyan Prison

A U.S.-sanctioned Kremlin policy adviser has thanked Sheen after the star was seemingly paid $400 to record a video in support of Russian political operative Maxim Shugaley, now free after spending 18 months in a Tripoli prison.

The video, addressed to Shugaley, was posted on YouTube in September by an obscure Russian channel named “Интер Сторис” (Russian for “Inter Stories”).

Here’s a copy of the video I uploaded to Vimeo after it was removed from YouTube:

The video was part of a lengthy campaign to free Shugaley and his interpreter, who were arrested in May 2019 and accused of being involved in a Kremlin-backed plot to help elect Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, the fugitive son of deposed dictator Muammar Gadhafi.

As detailed in a recent story I co-bylined with Foreign Policy’s Amy Mackinnon:

Sheen, alongside actors Vinnie Jones and Dolph Lundgren, seems to have been unwittingly recruited to record messages of support for Shugaley through the pay-for-videos website Cameo. [After this story published, a fourth video from “Machete” star Danny Trejo was released by troll factory-linked news site Riafan.ru.]

The videos are just the latest twist in an increasingly bizarre international campaign to raise the profile of Shugaley’s detention. So far, that has included his election to a local council in Russia, two feature films, an advertorial in the Washington Post, a mixed martial arts tournament, and a one-woman picket in front of the Libyan Embassy in Moscow by Maria Butina, the gun-loving Russian who spent 15 months in prison in the United States after being convicted for conspiring to act as a foreign agent.

The campaign was spearheaded by Alexander Malkevich, a Kremlin media policy advisor whose former role as editor of Russian propaganda site USA Really led to him being sanctioned by the U.S. government in 2018.

Here is Malkevich with a gift given to him by Russian state-backed TV network RT (formerly Russia Today), consisting of alcoholic cocktails made to resemble military cartridges and grenades:

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Malkevich says he employed Shugaley to conduct sociological research in Tripoli on behalf of his Moscow thinktank, the Foundation for National Values Protection. He denies allegations by Libyan prosecutors that Shugaley was working for Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, widely believed to be the mastermind behind Russia’s attempts to interfere with U.S. elections.

Yesterday, I sent Malkevich an email asking if he took credit for Shugaley’s release, and if he wanted to thank Sheen for getting involved.

“Yes and yes,” Malkevich replied.

Cambridge Analytica-Linked Data Company Behind Trump Phone-Canvassing Campaign

GOP-funded websites managed by data-mining firm Bridgetree, Inc. allowed users to canvass for Trump in key states such as Pennsylvania.

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In an effort to rally support for incumbent Donald J. Trump in the lead-up to election day, the Republican National Committee hired a data-harvesting firm whose services were once sought by Cambridge Analytica, the disgraced U.K. political consulting company behind Trump’s 2016 electoral campaign.

Bridgetree, Inc., based in Fort Mill, South Carolina, has been driving votes for Trump in battleground states going back as far as April this year, via the websites TrumpTalk.gop and TrumpTalk20.gop. The sites allowed users to “make calls to Americans across our great country” by “[turning] your computer into a anonymous phone system,” according to a Facebook post by Edwin Boyette, Vice Chair of Communications for the Hawaii Republican Party.

Once logged in, users were given access to a database of voter information (including full names, phone numbers, and addresses), then instructed to call voters to ask them to vote for Trump using scripted questions, such as “can President Trump […] count on you to vote early?” and “will you commit [to] vote absentee for President Trump?” Calls could be placed automatically from one voter to the next using the communications system LiveVox, with seemingly no oversight.

The sites were “Paid for by the Republican National Committee,” and directed users to “please contact us at gophelp@bridgetree.com.”

Here is a video tutorial by Bridgetree explaining the process for calling voters:

Bridgetree’s association with the two Trump Talk sites was first highlighted in a Twitter thread by disinformation researcher @DivestTrump. Bridgetree’s “advertised focus,” @DivestTrump notes, was “Operation Keystone,” a “massive grassroots […] phone-banking effort” in which “the fate of Pennsylvania” was said to “[hang] between the raging forces of good and the evil communists,” according to a pseudonymous post on TheDonald.win, named after the recently banned subreddit.

As of publication, Biden is leading in Pennsylvania with a clear path to the presidency.

Services listed on Bridgetree’s site include “NextGen microtargeting” and “data acquisition,” which involves “[multi-sourcing, combining and scraping data] in a unique manner that delivers the most accurate, robust and relevant information to deliver optimal results.” “Operation Keystone” is not listed among the site’s case studies.

A poorly reviewed app version of the Trump Talk service is currently available to download on the Google Play store. The app’s developers are listed as Bridgetree and Advantage, Inc., a Republican strategy firm based in Alexandria, VA, which has published an instruction manual on how to use the Trump Talk service.

Here are promotional screenshots of the app in action:

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Bridgetree’s association with Cambridge Analytica was brought to light in emails leaked by Brittany Kaiser, Cambridge Analytica’s former business development director. In one email dated February 2, 2016, Bridgetree’s business development manager Tom Boschwitz told Cambridge Analytica he could provide data scraped from Facebook and other sources in service of Ted Cruz’s 2016 failed presidential bid. The recipient of that email, Matt Oczkowski — then Cambridge Analytica’s head of product — joined Trump’s 2020 campaign earlier this year.

Cambridge Analytica’s shady tactics in support of Trump’s 2016 campaign were exposed in an undercover investigation by Britain’s Channel 4, which determined that the company had scraped data from millions of profiles without users’ consent. The company later pleaded guilty to violating U.K. data laws.

39 Satirical Images of Indian PM Scrubbed From Buzzfeed

Two BuzzFeed listicles poking fun at Indian prime minister Narendra Modi have been scrubbed following a 2018 legal threat.

Update, October 16, 2020: In a comment, BuzzFeed said that the most recent removals were not the result of further legal threats from Mumbai police, but the result of updates to BuzzFeed’s old content. Here is BuzzFeed’s comment:

“The removals last month did not have to do with legal threats–they are part of a broader systematic process we’ve been going through. For context, the rules around image usage on the Internet have vastly changed over time, so for the last few months we’ve been working to bring our posts from the early days of BuzzFeed up to the editorial standards of today. In certain cases, images that didn’t need to be removed have been swept up in the process, so we’ve also ended up restoring a number of images brought to our attention by former employees as improperly removed.”

Since Feb. 2018, I’ve been documenting heavy-handed legal attempts by Mumbai police to scrub photoshopped images of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi from the Internet.

Notable examples include forcing BuzzFeed to remove a doctored image of Modi embracing his right-hand man Rajnath Singh on an idyllic beach, plus two unsuccessful attempts to remove the same image from this blog.

In case you missed it the first time:

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The offending image was originally included in a Jan. 4, 2016 BuzzFeed listicle, “18 Modi Photoshops That Should’ve Never Fucking Happened,” by BuzzFeed India contributor Imaan Sheikh. The image was removed following a legal threat from Mumbai police alleging defamation, according to a BuzzFeed spokesperson. The removal served to highlight Modi’s taste for censorship and, incidentally, his party’s poor record on gay rights.

Last month, Sheikh’s post was updated yet again, this time removing all 17 of the remaining images. Here’s a snapshot of what the article looks like now:

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Another article by Sheikh, “21 Of The Most Awkward Modi Moments Of 2015,” which documented Modi’s “social awkwardness” in 21 images, has also been scrubbed of all of its content. The article was also removed from BuzzFeed’s “BestofIndia2015” list.

A cache of the “BestofIndia2015” list shows that BuzzFeed last month scrubbed content from at least ten other articles about India.

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I’ve asked BuzzFeed for comment.

The Wikipedia Whitewash That Cleared the Way for Trump Tower Moscow

As he was chasing a Trump Tower deal in Moscow, Trump associate Felix Sater — or someone working on behalf of Sater — was working hard to whitewash Trump’s Wikipedia biography.

Felix Sater — the Russian-American real estate developer and former adviser to President Donald J. Trump — is back in the news, following a new report by the U.S. Senate Select Committee, published Tuesday.

The report details, in part, Sater’s ill-fated efforts to help Trump build a Trump Tower in Moscow during the 2016 U.S. presidential election — namely, Sater’s “high-level outreach to Russian businessmen and officials that Sater claimed to have undertaken related to the deal.”

From the report:

In September 2015, Trump authorized [former Trump Organization lawyer Michael Cohen] to pursue a deal in Russia through Felix Sater, a longtime business associate of Trump. By early November 2015, Trump and a Russia-based developer signed a Letter of Intent laying out the main terms of a licensing deal that promised to provide the Trump Organization millions of dollars upon the signing of a deal, and hundreds of millions of dollars if the project advanced to completion.

(U) Cohen kept Trump updated on the progress of the deal. While these negotiations were ongoing, Trump made positive public comments about Putin in connection with his presidential campaign. Cohen and Sater sought to leverage Trump’s comments, and subsequent comments about Trump by Putin, to advance the deal.

…the Committee found that Sater did, in fact, have significant senior-level ties to a number of Russian businessmen and former government officials, and was in a position, through intermediaries, to reach individuals close to Putin.

What the report doesn’t mention is that, shortly before Trump gave Cohen the go-ahead on the Moscow deal, Sater — or someone working on behalf of Sater — launched a surreptitious effort to scrub Sater’s convictions for racketeering and assault from Wikipedia.

The eight-month timeline of edits closely correlates with the Trump Tower Moscow timeline and suggests that Sater anticipated and may have sought to preempt any negative responses to his involvement.

Felix Sater (centre) with Donald Trump (source)

As I covered in a previous post (before information about the Moscow deal became widely known), the Wikipedia editing campaign began in August 2015, when someone using the handle “591J” made repeated attempts to edit Trump’s biography to whitewash the aspiring candidate’s business ties to Sater and delete references to Sater’s alleged “mafia and Russian criminal ties.”

591J appeared to reveal their true identity in January 2015, when the user admitted owning three websites that had been registered using Sater’s name, physical address, email address, and phone number.

Sater has not yet replied to any of my requests for comment.

591J’s first three edits to Trump’s biography were made as Sater was busy negotiating the preliminaries of the Moscow deal with Cohen. These edits removed details of a 2013 BBC Panorama interview that Trump cut short after being asked about Sater by British investigative journalist John Sweeney.

Here’s a clip:

And here’s one of 591J’s attempts to remove a reference to the interview:

August 25, 2015 edit of Trump’s Wikipedia entry by user 591J (source)

When that information was later reinstated, 591J created Sater’s current biography, in which 591J described Sater as a “prolific senior advisor” to The Trump Organization, boasted about his various real estate deals, and, inexplicably, claimed that Trump’s mother and father were Sater’s own biological parents.

This first draft also included an explicit warning to other Wikipedia editors atop the page: “DO NOT REMOVE prior to the result of the Presidential election.”

Over the course of three months starting February 2016, 591J obsessively revised the page, adding details of Sater’s “major role” in the development of the Trump SoHo hotel-condominium in Lower Manhattan (since renamed The Dominick) and attempting to roll back what the user claimed were “illegitimate” references to his 1993 assault conviction and 1998 stock fraud conviction.

591J stopped editing in April 2016, shortly before 591J and four associated accounts were banned from Wikipedia following an investigation by the site’s administrators. (In 2018, Sater hired a third-party content writing company to edit his biography to add reporting from BuzzFeed News about his undercover work for the FBI, according to an admission on Wikipedia’s talk pages.)

By then, Sater’s Trump Tower Moscow dream was quickly unraveling, with Cohen angrily berating him for failing to find a viable Russian bank to finance the project.

“After almost two months of waiting you send me some bullshit letter from a third-tier bank and you think I’m going to walk into the boss’s office and tell him I’m going there for this?” Cohen wrote in a series of late-2015 text messages. “Tell them no thank you and I will take it from here.”

Cohen later claimed he’d told Trump in January 2016 that the deal was dead, according to BuzzFeed News’ “definitive” reporting on the subject. However, Sater and Cohen continued to message each other about new developments as late as June 2016.

As Sater told BuzzFeed News, he knew the deal was toast on July 26, 2016, when Trump tweeted: “For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia.”

“Fuck me, I thought to myself. All that work for nothing,” Sater told BuzzFeed News.

New Action Film “Shugalei” is Propaganda for Putin’s Cook

The film credits election-meddling Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin as copyright holder. Yet the film’s co-financier, Alexander Malkevich, claims he was “not aware Prigozhin took any part in the creation of the film.”

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As Libya’s U.N.-backed Government of National Accord wrests back control of Tripoli from Khalifa Haftar, the renegade leader of the Libyan National Army, a bizarre new propaganda-feature film is claiming to tell “the harrowing yet true story” of two Russian prisoners said to be at the center of it all.

Via “How Two Russians Got Caught Up in Libya’s War, Now an Action Movie” by Andrew Higgins and Declan Walsh, The New York Times, June 18, 2020:

[Maxim Shugalei and Samer Hassan Ali Seifan’s] Libyan misadventure began in March last year with what their Russian employer described as a “research project,” which quickly landed them in a notorious jail on charges of visa violations and meddling in Libyan politics. [Note: A third Russian, Alexander Prokofiev, accompanied the two men to Libya, but managed to return home unscathed.]

As part of a campaign to get the Russians freed, their employer, a shadowy private Russian foundation [the Foundation for National Values Protection] helped finance a feature-length movie [titled Shugalei] that premiered on Russian state television last month.

The Times’ story notes that “Shugalei’s trip appeared to be part of a push for influence by a St. Petersburg businessman, Yevgeny Prigozhin,” who spearheaded Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and has been sending mercenaries from his private militia in Russia, the Wagner Group, to support Haftar in his failed campaign to gain control of Tripoli.

What the story doesn’t mention is that the copyright to the film belongs to Aurum LLC, a wholesale manufacturing company founded by Prigozhin in 2017. There is little information available about Aurum online, and the company’s business address leads to a random apartment building in St. Petersburg.

Aurum’s involvement appears to contradict statements given to the Times by “Shugalei’s employer, [Alexander Malkevich, who] said his foundation had no ties to Mr. Prigozhin.”

Malkevich rose to prominence in mid-2018, when he attempted to organize a flash mob at the White House to celebrate the launch of USA Really, a clumsy Russian propaganda site aimed at an American audience. That December, he was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for “attempted election interference” in connection with Prigozhin’s infamous troll farm.

Alexander Malkevich (source)

Last week, I e-mailed Malkevich to ask him about his involvement in the film and whether he’d met with Prigozhin. He told me that despite consulting with the film’s writers and director, he was “not aware that Yevgeny Prigozhin took any part in the creation of the film.”

I also asked him about allegations by Libyan prosecutors that his employees helped plan the election campaign of Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, the fugitive son of the deposed dictator Muammar Gadhafi, as part of a Kremlin-backed plot that included helping Russia to secure a military base in Libya, as Bloomberg reports.

Here’s what he sent me:

I have not seen the official charges. As far as I know, no one at all has seen them. All the charges are still only in words and have not been converted into a legal document 13 months after. All the so-called charges are replicated in the press, appearing primarily in the US, but maybe they know better. In answer to your question, Seifan was hired as a translator on the eve of the trip by the Foundation for National Values Protection. Shugaley was also approved for the project. So they both worked for the Foundation. About Gaddafi: what kind of election campaign could we be talking about if no election was scheduled, there is no Constitution and as a result, no electoral law?! And as you know, one of our sociologists left a few days before the kidnapping of Maxim and Samer who were supposed to leave 2 hours after him. No long-term work of any kind was planned.

GUARD A MILITARY BASE??? The two of us? Does Russia have a military base in Libya? and I want to remind you that Samer is diabetic, and Maxim has suffered a stroke. What kind of security of a military base are you talking about? are they hobbits from Middle-earth? Have the eagles flown Prokofiev out of Libya yet? Let’s have a serious conversation. Election campaign without the election, protection of a military base without the military base (!!!) by people with health problems.

We conducted a sociological study, a complete one, not hiding from anyone. It had questionnaires, focus groups and expert interviews. Nothing more was planned or discussed.

*     *     *

The film’s storyline corresponds closely with Malkevich’s version of events, depicting Shugalei and Seifan as intrepid sociologists who uncover “explosive evidence” that threatens to undermine Libya’s “puppet” government, for which they are imprisoned and sadistically tortured.

Throughout it all, the devil-may-care film version of Shugalei, played by 51-year-old Russian character actor Kiril Polukhin (doing his best Bruce Willis impersonation), spouts witty dialogue, drinks whiskey straight from the bottle, and, above all, “[does] not lose a sense of humor despite the challenging times.”

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Although not the main focus of the film, Haftar plays a key role, mounting a daring but entirely fictional rescue that undermines the film’s claim of documentary-level accuracy. Meanwhile, Prigozhin, a central figure of the real story, is never mentioned.

The film is “a very powerful propaganda tool,” said Khadeja Ramali, a Libyan disinformation expert. She said that in addition to whitewashing the allegations against Shugalei and Seifan, the film feeds into an already existing narrative that most Libyans preferred living under Gadhafi’s dictatorial regime and view the 2011 revolution as a curse.

“The movie pushes a lot of points I’ve seen online in Arab media — that revolutions lead to chaos, that terrorism and violence follow,” Ramali told me. “It tries to paint Tripoli as this place overrun by militias (which it is) but in a way that fits in with [Haftar’s] narrative.”

It’s not the first time Malkevich has sought to manipulate the narrative around Libya’s civil conflict to his own advantage. In January, he placed an advertorial on The Washington Post’s site — seemingly in violation of U.S. government sanctions — pleading his employees’ innocence and calling on Libyan prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj to set them free.

Asked if he feels any guilt over his employees’ current situation, Malkevich said he is “certainly concerned for both of our colleagues, Maxim and Samer” but that “it is not my fault” and that “all the blame lies with the so-called Government of National Accord, as well as with Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj personally.”

al-Sarraj’s office did not return a request for comment.

Shugalei is currently available to watch on two separate YouTube channels run by Russian state-funded news network, Russia Today. As of publication, the film has been viewed nearly 700,000 times.

 

Tommy Robinson Praises Putin, Slams “British Presstitutes” During Whirlwind Tour of Russian Media

The anti-Islam activist pandered to pro-Kremlin media, mingled with a U.S.-sanctioned propagandist, and had some choice words for the British press.

RIA FAN headline (source)

Tommy Robinson, the co-founder and former leader of the anti-Islam English Defence League (EDL), landed in St. Petersburg last week for a whirlwind tour of Russian media, during which he praised Russia’s president, obfuscated Russia’s role in the 2018 poisoning of an ex-KGB agent, mingled with a U.S.-sanctioned propagandist, floated the idea of hosting his own show on Russian TV, and slammed the British press.

Robinson is a controversial figure in Britain. In addition to co-founding the EDL, Robinson has criminal convictions for mortgage fraud, instigating a football riot, assaulting an off-duty police officer, and illegally entering the U.S. using someone else’s passport, among other offences. He also seemingly has a deep affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin, naming him “the strongest man in the West” in an interview last Friday with Russian newspaper Evening Moscow. It’s unclear if the feeling is mutual.

Evening Moscow headline (source)

In the same interview, Robinson said that, if the opportunity arose, he would ask Putin to help him fight anti-Russian “censorship and propaganda,” and envisioned a scenario in which Putin let him host his own TV show. Robinson also denied that Russia was responsible for the 2018 poisoning of former Russian military officer Sergei Skripal and daughter Yulia, and said if Russia had wanted to “take out” the Skripals, they would have done so quietly without using chemical weapons.

Robinson’s other engagements last week included a speaking gig at a meeting of the Libertarian Party of Russia, a bumpy interview on Russian state-backed TV network Russia Today, and a press conference at the headquarters of Komsomolskaya Pravda (KP), a pro-Kremlin tabloid that once suggested that the U.S. orchestrated the 2015 Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack.

At the KP conference, Robinson gave a presentation titled “Rape of Britain,” in which he claimed that “migrants attack young girls or adopt girls and turn them into prostitutes” (possibly referring to a recent report in the Independent). That’s according to the Federal News Agency (FAN), a Russian news site that U.S. prosecutors have linked to Russia’s efforts to meddle with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

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“This is not just about one-off crimes by individuals but about gangs of migrants raping underage British girls,” the FAN quoted Robinson as saying (translation courtesy of Byline Times). “You can’t believe the British media!” he continued. “I’ve seen their manipulations, how they make up lies about me […] That’s why I’m here! Because all these issues are relevant in Russia.”

Robinson shared the stage with, among others, Alexander Malkevich, the former editor of the FAN’s English-language subsidiary USA Really, which is responsible for such false, misleading, and purposefully offensive content as the anti-Semitic “Star of David Spotted Amidst Migrant Caravan: Who’s Behind the Invasion?” Malkevich currently chairs the Civic Chamber Commission on mass media, from which he advises the Russian government on media policy and has called for “information war” in America and Europe.

Malkevich and Robinson (source)

In December 2018, Malkevich, USA Really, and the FAN were sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for “attempted election interference.” An accompanying statement cited USA Really’s error-ridden, politically divisive content, as well as Malkevich’s calamitous attempts to stage a flash mob at the White House on Donald Trump’s 72nd birthday (the statement mirrored information first reported by this blog). Malkevich was forced to significantly scale down the event — which originally included a symphony orchestra — after applying for the wrong permit. USA Really later blamed the error on a deep state conspiracy.

Malkevich returned to the States in November 2018 as a journalist covering the U.S. midterms for the FAN. During that trip, he gatecrashed a November 6 election night party at Washington D.C.’s National Press Club, from which he spuriously reported that he’d been accosted by security for Trump nemesis/Nike blackmail lawyer Michael Avenatti. Malkevich was later briefly detained and questioned by the FBI.

On Friday, Malkevich posted on Russian social media that he is acting as Robinson’s “producer,” and is “ready to consider offers” for Robinson to “become a host on Russian TV.” He also said that he and Robinson planned to launch the “StopTwitter international public initiative,” aimed at fighting against “Internet monopolists” (both men have been banned by various social media platforms, including Twitter). The post included a photo of the two men shaking hands at the KP event.

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Robinson didn’t return a request for comment. Instead, he posted a screenshot of tweets by me and Brendan Cox — husband of murdered British politician Jo Cox — on his recently launched Telegram account. In an accompanying comment, he called us “British Presstitutes” and denied any suggestion that he’d made money from his various engagements in Russia.

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BBC Monitoring: Russian “Troll Factory” Cries Foul Over U.S. Ad Removal

I wrote this story for BuzzFeed News, then I was targeted by a Russian disinfo campaign. BBC Monitoring reports

Earlier this month, I bylined a story in BuzzFeed News, “A Russian Propagandist Ran An Ad In The Washington Post — And Then Ran Victory Laps In Russian Media.”

After that story was published, a bunch of Russian news sites — including members of Patriot Media Group, which is run by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s personal chef — ran what appeared to be a coordinated disinformation campaign in a seeming effort to discredit my reporting.

Via “Russian ‘troll factory’ cries foul over US advert removal” by Olga Robinson, BBC Monitoring, February 21, 2020:

Russian news outlets with links to a St Petersburg “troll factory” have accused US media of “censorship” after the Washington Post removed a controversial pro-Kremlin advert that briefly appeared on its website.

The advert — written in the form of an open letter — was placed in late January by Alexander Malkevich, the former editor of the English-language USA Really site, which has been linked by the US Treasury to Russia’s troll operation.

It called for the release of political strategist Maxim Shugalei, who was arrested along with his interpreter, Samer Hassan Ali Seifan, in Libya last year, on suspicion of trying to influence upcoming elections in the country…

The removal of the advert hit the headlines of at least three dozen sensationalist and pro-Kremlin Russian news websites, including USA Really and at least four other outlets that have links to the troll factory…

The Russian websites also hit back at another US publication, BuzzFeed News, over its reporting of the story. They quoted Malkevich as saying that the US security services interfered with the BuzzFeed reporting of the ad controversy and forced its journalists to twist his comments.

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“BuzzFeed has confirmed that ahead of the publication of the article about censorship in the US media, employees of the security services approached the editorial office and strongly recommended that the essence of the article be changed,” the RIA FAN article said.

As a result, RIA FAN added, the report became a “powerful anti-Russian article in which Malkevich was described as a propagandist”.

Speaking to the BBC, the author of the Buzzfeed story, Dean Sterling Jones, denied the allegations. “In reality, I was never contacted by US security agents and all comments attributed to Malkevich are exactly as he provided,” he said.

When contacted by BuzzFeed, Malkevich “spuriously claimed that the US National Security Agency had forced the Washington Post to pull his ad”, Sterling Jones added.

“BuzzFeed News chose not to publish that claim because we didn’t want to give him a platform to spread false information…”

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[Malkevich] has a history of spreading conspiracy theories and unsubstantiated claims about the West in Russian media. Earlier this year, he claimed — without any evidence — that the Ukrainian Boeing shot down by Iran may have been downed by a US drone and accused the West of spreading fake news about the new coronavirus.

“This is just another attempt by Malkevich to, in his words, wage ‘information war,’ seemingly in order to pollute the narrative and stir up anti-American feelings back home,” said Sterling Jones, commenting on Malkevich’s latest allegations about the US media.

Click here to read the full story.

Twitter and Reddit Suspend Accounts Run by U.S.-Sanctioned Russian Propaganda Site

Russian troll factory-linked news site USA Really is struggling to connect with American voters ahead of 2020 election

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For the second year in a row, Twitter and Reddit have suspended accounts belonging to sanctioned Russian propaganda website USA Really, one of a number of shady news outlets allegedly funded by Robert Mueller-indicted catering oligarch, Yevgeny Prigozhin aka “Putin’s Cook.”

It’s the latest setback in a series of misplaced attempts by the site to cultivate an American audience.

Launched in May last year as a U.S.-facing adjunct of Russia’s Federal News Agency, the site initially presented itself as a homegrown, independent news and storytelling platform. However, the site quickly gained notoriety when its calamitous efforts to stage a flash mob at the White House fell flat.

In December, the site, its parent company, and its founder, bumbling Kremlin policy adviser Alexander Malkevich, were sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in connection with Project Lakhta, a massive social media influence campaign that allegedly sought to “sow discord” in the lead-up to the 2016 election.

Alexander Malkevich (source)

Under Malkevich’s leadership, USA Really “engaged in efforts to post content focused on divisive political issues but is generally ridden with inaccuracies,” the Treasury Department said in an accompanying statement, which mirrored reporting first published by this blog.

In February, as U.S. tech companies severed ties with USA Really and the site’s American contributors fled, Malkevich resigned his editorship. Under current editor Leonid Savin — who previously edited the pro-Putin think tank Katehon — the site has continued to publish politically contentious content.

Leonid Savin (source)

In July, the site quietly registered new Twitter and Reddit accounts in a seeming attempt to mount a second social media influence campaign ahead of the upcoming 2020 election. The site’s reappearance highlights how propagandists and other bad actors are easily able to thwart even the most vigilant of social media platforms.

Asked to comment, Twitter quickly suspended the new account, which USA Really had been using primarily to post links back to its site.

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After multiple inquiries, Reddit also removed USA Really from its platform, putting an end to a racist, sexist, and homophobic commenting campaign that appeared to follow Russian troll factory directives for posting online.

“The account in question has been banned in accordance with our site-wide policies,” a Reddit spokesperson said in a statement.

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The intentionally offensive comments were posted across at least 25 different hot-button subreddits, including r/progun, r/republicans, r/SandersForPresident, r/conspiracy, r/WikiLeaks, r/Feminism, r/MensRights, and even r/gaybros, a support group for “those of us who are gay and trying to leave the parTy scene.”

In other words, exactly what you might expect from a Russian troll account.

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Equally unsurprising was the site’s targeting of Democratic congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, known for her advocacy of progressive policies such as the Green New Deal.

In July, someone posted a video of Tlaib heckling Donald Trump on the r/republicans subreddit. The video soon caught the attention of USA Really, who, using the handle “usaUNreally,” wasted no time firing off a disparaging comment.

“She need a better bra,” wrote usaUNreally, in perhaps one of the most childish examples of professional trolling ever published to the Internet.

Last month, usaUNreally struck again when a commenter on the r/Conservative subreddit asked why the House of Representatives had not opened a sexual misconduct investigation into Tlaib’s friend and colleague, Somali-American congresswoman Ilhan Omar.

“[It’s] because she is only capable of incest,” replied usaUNreally, alluding to an unfounded rumour that she’d married her brother.

Ilhan Omar (source)

On the r/Conspiracy subreddit, usaUNreally turned to the topic of immigration, playing up xenophobic claims that illegal immigrants had secretly invaded a Californian town on a fleet of buses.

“Democrats,” wrote usaUNreally, “buy votes, but insolently bring ‘electorate’ from abroad. What we have in line … Reparations, bribery of Jewish communities, satisfaction of other ethnic minorities, gay voices will be valued twice as much as a heterosexual white man. Welcome aboard!”

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In a race-baiting rant on the r/PublicFreakout subreddit, usaUNreally just stopped short of using a racist expletive.

“the question is as old as the sea,” usaUNreally pontificated. “but explain why white people shouldn’t call African-Americans a n-word (they always say this to each other), but black can use the word “white” (snow white)?”

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Elsewhere, usaUNreally defended using violence against women.

“I’m not protecting this exact guy,” explained usaUNreally, referring to a video in which an alleged batterer gets his comeuppance. “But sometimes women behave as men, so if they demands the same attitude to themselves they should handle what they deserve.”

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DivestTrump, an online disinformation researcher who outed USA Really’s attempts to infiltrate r/The_Donald subreddit last year (as reported by Newsweek, BuzzFeed News, and NBC News), said that despite the site’s lack of success this time around, the end goal remained the same.

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“Their traffic plummeted after the previous bans and they’re clearly trying to rebuild an audience,” DivestTrump tweeted from an undisclosed location. “Their endgame hasn’t changed. They exist to heighten divisions, sow distrust in our own government, and push a Russian agenda in America.”

USA Really’s editor did not reply to a request for comment.

Maria Butina Pens Article for Russian Think Tank Run by U.S.-Sanctioned Kremlin Policy Adviser

The article appears to be the first in a regular column published by the Foundation for the Protection of National Values, an obscure Russian think tank run by sanctioned Kremlin mass media policy adviser Alexander Malkevich

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Maria Butina is teaming up with a Russian think tank whose founder allegedly has close ties to the Kremlin’s infamous disinformation apparatus.

In collaboration with the Foundation for the Protection of National Values (FPNV), Butina has penned an article titled “Oh please, make me a tool of American propaganda!” lambasting the American press and judicial system. The article, which claims to mark the beginning of a broader collaboration, comes just a few weeks after Butina was released from the Tallahassee Federal Correction Institution, where she served a 15-month sentence for acting as an unregistered agent of the Kremlin.

Recounting an interview she gave 60 Minutes while still in prison, Butina described her sentence as “a shameful deal for the US prosecutor’s office, with an investigation in which they had to recognize my legitimate status as a student, apologize for sexist charges and, in order not to hit the dirt in the face and justify the money spent by American taxpayers on me, appoint me a prison term ?!”

Maria Butina (source)

The most scathing comments, however, were saved for interviewer Lesley Stahl, whose “little dry American face,” Butina wrote, “doubled in the grimace of surprise and clear misunderstanding of my words.”

On returning to Russia, Butina claimed she “was barely alive from lack of sleep and stress,” but nevertheless “remained true to my promise to the women who sat with me, still imprisoned in the mortal arms of the American penitentiary system … not to be silent about all violations of their rights…”

Butina went on to thank FPNV founder Alexander Malkevich, who, “having experienced the bullying of American law enforcement officers himself,” had “systematically helped” her during her prison term.

Alexander Malkevich (source)

Readers of this blog will remember Malkevich as the former editor of USA Really, a Russian propaganda site allegedly funded by Robert Mueller-indicted catering oligarch, Yevgeny Prigozhin aka “Putin’s cook.” Both Malkevich and Prigozhin are currently under U.S. sanctions for their alleged involvement in Project Laktha, a massive social media influence operation that allegedly sought to “sow discord” in the American political system in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election.

At least four of Malkevich’s current employees — three of whom he reportedly shares with Prigozhin’s infamous troll factory — were recently accused of attempting to meddle in African elections. Malkevich has denied the claims.

In May, Malkevich launched a crowdfunding effort in Russia to help pay Butina’s legal bills. In an interview with this blog, he said he intended to pay the money through a third-party in Moscow in order to circumvent financial restrictions placed on him by the U.S. Treasury Department.

“Of course I am not paying [Butina’s lawyers] directly because I am under sanctions,” he told Shooting the Messenger at the time. “But I am the producer of this crowdfunding.”

Malkevich with Butina (source)

When Butina returned to Moscow last month, Malkevich met her at the airport with a bouquet of flowers. Following that appearance, I again asked Malkevich about his involvement with Butina. This time he said he’d made an offer for Butina to work for FPNV as its vice president.

“Yes, I offered Maria Butina to become a part of our foundation for national values protection, and I will be happy if she will agree to become a vice president of our fund, of our foundation,” Malkevich said in an audio recording. “About her possible acceptance, you know that I heard that she expressed interest in our joint work. But you know that nowadays she is in Barnaul in her native city in Altai region, and I think that for week or maybe for two weeks she has to have a rest among her family, with her father, her mother, with her friends. So we are not in a hurry. We are not in a hurry.”

Butina did not reply to multiple requests for comment.

I also asked Malkevich if he was excited to see himself back in the American press.

I can’t say that I was excited to see myself on CNN because a lot of American media wrote about me and are still writing something about me,” he said. “Maybe that first time I was a little bit excited when I found myself in New York Times, and really big article with photo about me and so on.”

He added that his next project will involve compiling the various definitions western news outlets have used to describe him and his activities. You can learn more about that project via the SoundCloud link below.