Sex, Lies and Wikipedia

— Who scrubbed the Wikipedia bio of alleged Russian spy Maria Butina? Read my latest at The Daily Beast, plus coverage of the story by The Rachel Maddow Show

Via “Who Whitewashed the Wiki of Alleged Russian Spy Maria Butina?” by Lachlan Markay and Dean Sterling Jones, The Daily Beast, July 24, 2018:

Anonymous Wikipedia users engaged in a lengthy campaign this year to alter and whitewash the online biographies of two people at the center of an alleged Russian plot to infiltrate prominent conservative groups in America.

Starting in early spring 2018, the users, one of which maintained an account on Wikipedia’s Russian-language site, made a series of edits to bios for Maria Butina, a Russian national accused of conspiracy and illegal foreign influence, and Paul Erickson, a Republican political activist whom Butina allegedly roped into her espionage campaign and with whom she allegedly traded sex for political access as a “necessary aspect of her activities.”

The edits sought to discredit reporting on the FBI investigation into one of Butina’s alleged co-conspirators, and to scrub details of Erickson’s and Butina’s business history. It also downplayed attempts by Erickson to arrange a meeting between Donald Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, allegations of fraud against Erickson, and Butina’s ties to a Russian political figure instrumental in her efforts to ingratiate herself with prominent political groups including the National Rifle Association (NRA).

The identities of the people behind the Wikipedia editing campaign are not known. But other users on the site—including a veteran editor who says his mission is to “combat promotional editing”—publicly speculated that the accounts were part of a coordinated “sockpuppet” editing campaign. Sockpuppets are online identities created by a single person to covertly manipulate information.

Details gleaned through a review of Wikipedia’s edit logs link two of the accounts to the Washington D.C. university where Butina studied before she was arrested last week. The edits suggest that months before her life blew up, someone close to, or allied with, Butina knew what investigations into her and her associates might uncover and launched a clandestine campaign to expunge the record or at least downplay it.

The edit campaign began in March when an anonymous Wikipedia user made a series of five edits to Butina’s page. The edits included adding details of her biography and noting the Russian spelling of Right to Bear Arms (Право на оружие), the non-profit gun rights group she founded in 2011 to “improve weapons culture” and provide gun owners with access to free legal advice.

The account’s only identifying information was an IP address traced to web servers at American University, the school where Butina studied from mid-2016 through the spring of 2018, and which federal prosecutors say she used to obtain a U.S. student visa. In April, another Wikipedia account sprouted up and made four edits to Butina’s page. That account also used an IP address associated with AU.

Click here to read the full article.

And via The Rachel Maddow Show, MSNBC, July 24, 2018 (skip to 13:00):

Transcript: If you were intrigued by this information about Maria Butina and her alleged boyfriend and her being in jail awaiting charges and him being an alleged co-conspirator and potentially being the subject of another federal investigation, I mean, this is the collusion case, right? It might make you want to look up more information on these two characters.

Well, their Wikipedia pages have been scrubbed clean. “The Daily Beast” tonight has a great report up on this, detailing dozens of edits to both of the Wikipedia pages for Maria Butina and for Paul Erickson, dropping all information about allege ties to the Russian government, alleged efforts to broke her meetings between Trump and Putin during the campaign, reported criminal history, reported business history between them, references to investigative reporting about Russian money being potentially had funnelled through the NRA, all of that is gone, all removed.

And the beauty of something like Wikipedia is that Wikipedia has regenerative power once somebody mounts an effort to the make real information go away, other people are likely to reinstate thought real information. But there has been a diligent effort online to submarine all of that information about this accused Russian agent who tonight sits in jail, as well as the American who allegedly helped her.

“The Daily Beast” reports now that at least some of the edits to these Wikipedia pages were made from an account that was maintained on the Russian language version of Wikipedia.

Russian Trolls Cancel White House Flash Mob Following Media Exposés, Citing Deep State Conspiracy

— It appears that organisers of the event applied for the wrong permit, before accusing US authorities of conspiring against them

Update, June 14, 2018: The USA Really website has posted a new article stating that the flash mob will go ahead “in downtown Washington not far from The White House.”

Last month, I scooped the story that a media campaign linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), —better known as the Russian troll factory—had planned to flash mob the White House on June 14, Donald Trump’s 72nd birthday, to mark the launch of its new website, USAReally.com.

The story was subsequently reported by McClatchy DC and The Rachel Maddow Show.

Courtesy of your friendly neighbourhood unpaid blogger, here’s another scoop (or two):

• The troll campaign has apparently cancelled its plans, having applied for the wrong permit (banners advertising the rally are still up on the USA Really website);

• The campaign says it’s currently operating from an office opposite the White House.

• Bonus scoop: The campaign says it had hired a symphony orchestra to play at the rally.

The cancellation was announced via the Federal News Agency (FAN), the pro-Kremlin Russian website behind the campaign. FAN has been traced back to the IRA by open-source researcher Lawrence Alexander. Russian news websites including RBK Group and The Moscow Times have also published stories linking FAN to the IRA.

“The Federal News Agency (FAN) planned to open in Washington its affiliated project, the information agency ‘USA Really. Wake Up Americans,’” an article on the FAN website reads. “The office of the news agency USA Really is located in the White House business center opposite the US president’s residence and we officially requested permission for the celebration, knowing the delicacy of the situation – after all, we invited a symphony orchestra, prepared invitations to many people, and thought out the opening ceremony.”

source

The post continues:

“However, the Metropolitan Police Department categorically denied the information agency USA Really in coordinating the holiday action. Moreover, in addition to a written refusal, we were told by telephone that ‘the local police and intelligence agencies, including the CIA, have been informed [of the campaign] and will respond to all challenges on your part.’”

Here’s what the DC Metropolitan Police Department’s Director of Communications told me when I asked if his department had denied USA Really’s rally permit:

Dean,

Our Special Operations Division Planning Office has not received a request for a permit to be issued related to this.  You may want to contact the National Park Service’s Permit Office as well as they also issue permits.

Regards,

Hugh Carew
Officer, Public Information Office
Office of Communications
Metropolitan Police Department
300 Indiana Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
202-727-4383 (Office)
hugh.carew@dc.gov
http://www.mpdc.dc.gov
Twitter: @DCPoliceDept

Going by this screenshot of an e-mail posted on the FAN website, it appears that USA Really might have applied for a film permit instead of a rally permit:

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If you can’t read that, it says:

Good morning Alex,

We have received your permit request and are referring you to the Metropolitan Police Department for a rally/public gathering permit. I’m not sure which would suit your project – but it appears to me that filming this project may only be incidental to the ‘rally’ aspect which you requested.

https://mpdc.dc.gov/service/get-permit-special-event

Therefore your permit application is denied since we’ve determined this is a rally more so than a filming.

Sincerely,

Ray Williams / Locations, Resources & Film Permit Manager
Office of Cable Television, Film, Music and Entertainment
Government of the District of Columbia
1899 9th St NE (HQ)
1 202-671-0066 main

In a separate article on the campaign’s US website, USAReally.com, the campaign accused “Deep State” security forces working from within the US government of conspiring with journalists and social media platforms to violate its First Amendment rights.

“The case surrounding the suppression, or outing, if you will, of ‘USA Really’ might be looked at closely, and at the end of the day described as just one more instance where certain political powers have shoved themselves into the democratic processes of the American people,” the post reads.

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It continues:

“This project hasn’t even officially started yet, but the deep state and the security services have already launched into their standard defamation campaign, and have started up again with their typical tropes and tired labels that we saw pop up around the time of the last presidential election, where any line contrary to the anti-constitutional and pro-imperialist one is magically ‘fake news.’”

USA Really’s Facebook and LiveJournal accounts were both recently suspended following the widely seen reports by McClatchy and Rachel Maddow.

source

Meanwhile on Twitter, the campaign is busy dealing with an onslaught of criticism by doing what it does best: trolling the electorate.

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Scooping McClatchy

— Shooting the Messenger scoop makes it to The Rachel Maddow Show via McClatchy DC

For the past month I’ve been blogging about a new anti-US media campaign started by the Internet Research Agency (IRA), better known as the Russian troll factory.

In April, my post about the campaign’s recruitment of “English-speaking journalists” was picked up by The Daily Beast, Taegen Goddard’s Political Wire, and Press Pool with Julie Mason.

Then late last month, I scooped the story that the IRA is planning to flash mob the White House on June 14, Donald Trump’s 72nd birthday, as part of the new campaign.

Yesterday, McClatchy DC published its own story about the campaign, “New internet accounts are Russian ops designed to sway U.S. voters, experts say” by Tim Johnson.

WASHINGTON—A new Russian influence operation has surfaced that mirrors some of the activity of an internet firm that the FBI says was deeply involved in efforts to sway the 2016 U.S. elections, a cybersecurity firm says.

A website called usareally.com appeared on the internet May 17 and called on Americans to rally in front of the White House June 14 to celebrate President Donald Trump’s birthday, which is also Flag Day.

FireEye, a Milpitas, Calif., cybersecurity company, said Thursday that USA Really is a Russian-operated website that carries content designed to foment racial division, harden feelings over immigration, gun control and police brutality, and undermine social cohesion.

The website’s operators once worked out of the same office building in St. Petersburg, Russia, where the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency had its headquarters, said Lee Foster, manager of information operations analysis for FireEye iSIGHT Intelligence…

Russians involved in the website work for the Federal News Agency, which is known by its Russian acronym FAN and closely follows the Kremlin line on international issues. Ownership of the agency is not publicly known.

Johnson subsequently went on The Rachel Maddow show to explain the story:

Meanwhile, the USA Really campaign is steadily picking up traction, with over 400 Twitter followers within a few days, and a perfect Twitter audit score.

Update, June 3, 2018: Raw Story picked up the story.

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Russian operatives with ties to a notorious “troll factory” under indictment by special counsel Robert Mueller may be preparing to launch an influence operation to interfere in the 2018 U.S. midterm elections, McClatchy reports.

Speaking at the end of the Fifth Annual Government Forum on Cyber Threat Intelligence, researchers at the cybersecurity firm FireEye warned of a new effort that mimics the information warfare campaign that U.S. intelligence has concluded Russia conducted to help Donald Trump during his successful 2016 presidential campaign.

FireEye, which was a sponsor of the conference, warned of a new website, usareally.com, that appeared on the internet on May 17. The site has posted an average of nine articles a day, in broken english.

On May 25, the website teased that their “USA Really” campaign would officially launch on June 14.

“June 14th isn’t just Trump’s birthday. It’s not just Flag Day, either,” the post read. “This is the day when we officially launch our project, ‘USA Really’, which is an honest media outlet that tells you what’s really happening in America.”

“Our slogan is ‘The USA As It Really Is!’ We invite everyone who care (sic) about America to come and celebrate with us outside the White House on June 14th at 2pm to congratulate the rest of the country on this triply important day,” the post continued.

“We’re all patriots, and we all want everyone else to finally wake up!” they added.

The researchers at the cybersecurity firm warned the website’s operators once worked out of the same St. Petersburg “troll factory” known as the Internet Research Agency. Special counsel Mueller indicted the company on February 16.

“We’re not saying it (USA Really) is the Internet Research Agency but there are a number of indicators that suggest it is,” said Lee Foster, manager of information operations analysis for FireEye iSIGHT Intelligence.

The Russian operatives behind the website reported work for the Federal News Agency (FAN), whose ownership is unknown.