Fighting Fire with Fire: Russia and U.S. Ramp up Propaganda Efforts

Information warfare is all around us. It’s been well-documented in U.S. media and here on Progressive Army that three U.S. Intelligence Agencies accused Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik Radio of helping Donald Trump become president (see pg 2-3):

Russian Propaganda Efforts. Russia’s state-run propaganda machine—comprised of its domestic media apparatus, outlets targeting global audiences such as RT and Sputnik, and a network of quasi-government trolls—contributed to the influence campaign by serving as a platform for Kremlin messaging to Russian and international audiences. State-owned Russian media made increasingly favorable comments about President- elect Trump as the 2016 US general and primary election campaigns progressed while consistently offering negative coverage of Secretary Clinton.

What many Americans may not know, is that the Russian government makes the same sort of claims against U.S. media outlets. In a recent BBC article, Farida Rustamova reports that, in a closed-door meeting, “Director of the FSB Alexander Bortnikov spoke about the influence of foreign media on Russian politics, comparing it with the information war, [a] source said that Bortnikov mentioned CNN and the Washington Post.” Russian intelligence claims U.S.-backed media, namely, Radio Liberty, Voice of America, and the BBC, negatively affected their State Duma elections in September 2016.

The U.S. Counter to Russia Today (RT)

In June, The Economist outlined a new arm of Radio Free Europe called “Current Time,” a U.S. government-funded 24-hour Russian language TV channel, set to compete with Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik in Ukraine and Russia. The goal of “Current Time” is to re-enter the information war in the region, The Economist explains:

Current Time reflects something of a return to cold-war thinking: for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian-language broadcasting is the priority for American counter-information efforts. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its aggressions in Ukraine, followed by the Kremlin’s disinformation campaigns to obscure or justify those incursions, jolted the leadership of Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty into action. In addition to news, Current Time features documentaries from independent filmmakers depicting people’s lives inside Russia. The two services have also set up a fact-checking unit to correct Russian official statements, called Polygraph. At present it is available only in English, but its backers hope to get funding to offer it in Russian and other languages.

Radio Sputnik in D.C.

Meanwhile, in Washington D.C., Sputnik is set to take over a local radio station.  In Sputnik’s press release on June 30th, Mindia Gavasheli, Sputnik editor-in-chief, said that “he’s glad to finally make the Sputnik Radio broadcasts available to listeners in DC so that they can form their own opinion instead of relying on rumors and stories spread by certain media outlets.”  In his address, Gavasheli states:

We’re glad to finally be able to directly address our listeners in Washington. During the last few months Sputnik Radio has become the target of constant attacks in the US corporate media. And often the people who wrote or spoke about us didn’t even bother to listen to our broadcasts first. Now however, Washington residents will get the opportunity to listen to us and not just to what is being said about us, and I believe that the difference will become apparent to them. We hope that our entrance onto the Washington market is just the first step, and will strive to ensure that more and more people are able to hear our broadcasts instead of rumors about them.

The Hill, possibly one of the media outlets Gavasheli was referring to, picked up on Sputnik’s arrival in D.C., immediately tying it to the story of Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election:

Sputnik Radio’s expansion to the D.C. area comes amid ongoing investigations into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, including possible collusion between Moscow and members of President Trump’s campaign.

U.S. intelligence officials concluded in a report made public in January that the Russian government had sought to politically damage Hillary Clinton and elect Trump through a sophisticated hacking and influence campaign.

The Case of the Missing Article

On December 19th, 2013, The Nation published an article titled “Amazon, ‘The Washington Post’ and That $600 MIllion [sic] CIA Contract.” In the article, author Greg Mitchell outlined how Jeff Bezos, who recently purchased The Washington Post, “secured a $600 million contract from the CIA” which is purportedly around twice as much as he paid for the news outlet.

Norman Solomon describes the ethical dilemma in question:

When the national political “newspaper of record” is owned by a business partner of the CIA, every word on its pages should be suspect. Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos is in financial bed with a cloak and dagger agency that tells lies for living, yet the public is expected to believe his newspaper. Bezos’ technicians at Amazon are building information “clouds” for the CIA — while his reporters discharge clouds of disinformation at the Post.

The ethical dilemma elucidated above, became ever more apparent during the 2016 presidential primary when Wikileaks repeatedly called out The Washington Post.

The strangest part of the story, though it may be benign, is that The Nation slyly took down the article linking Bezos to the CIA on May 17th, 2017, three and a half years after its original publication. They did not, as far as my research illustrates thus far, issue a statement or retraction. You can find the original (broken) link here, and view the archived version by ‘Wayback Machine’ here.

I’ve reached out to The Nation to ask why the article was taken down, but have not received a response.

U.S. Agencies not ‘Winning’ this War

As outlined in Consortium News on Friday, if this is an information war, the U.S. currently does not have the upper hand in its own country, let alone in Russia. For example, a poll conducted by Harris Poll and Harvard’s Center for American Political Studies found that “62 percent of voters see no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, while 54 percent believe the ‘Deep State’ is trying to unseat the President by leaking classified information.”

Earlier last month, I outlined the fact that a Crowdstrike report was being used to direct a narrative about Russian interference in the U.S. election. Given Crowdstrike’s history, and trouble with their attribution, the narrative that the Russian government was involved in a hack appears to be falling apart.

Read on The Progressive Army.

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