Track­ing tool charts how Rus­sians ex­ploit U.S. po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sions.

Moscow ex­ploits in­ter­nal strife to fur­ther di­vi­sions

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAN BOY­LAN

A for­mer FBI spe­cial agent-turned dis­in­for­ma­tion ex­pert says a pro­pa­ganda track­ing tool he helped de­velop took less than a week to pin­point ev­i­dence of Krem­lin ef­forts to ex­ploit cur­rent White House po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sions at the high­est lev­els of na­tional se­cu­rity.

The tracker de­vel­oped by Clint Watts and a bi­par­ti­san group of U.S. in­for­ma­tion op­er­a­tives found that Rus­sian­backed so­cial me­dia cam­paigns played a crit­i­cal role in am­pli­fy­ing a con­ser­va­tive whis­per cam­paign de­mand­ing the dis­missal of for­mer Gen. H.R. McMaster, Pres­i­dent Trump’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser. Mr. McMaster was ac­cused of purg­ing hawk­ish mem­bers of the White House staff, in­clud­ing for­mer se­nior di­rec­tor of in­tel­li­gence pro­grams Ezra Cohen-Wat­nick, and Mr. Trump was forced to is­sue a pub­lic state­ment sup­port­ing Mr. McMaster late last week.

The tool — a web dash­board named “Hamil­ton 68” af­ter Alexan­der Hamil­ton’s es­say warn­ing in “The Fed­er­al­ist Pa­pers” against for­eign in­flu­ence in Amer­i­can elec­tions — mon­i­tors Rus­sian on­line in­flu­ence cam­paigns in the United States and abroad, with a spe­cific fo­cus on Twit­ter. It also aims to alert jour­nal­ists to Krem­lin dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns as they’re un­der­way.

“The dash­board dis­plays the con­tent and themes be­ing pro­moted by Rus­sian in­flu­encers on­line, in­clud­ing at­trib­uted sources such as RT (Rus­sia To­day) and Sput­nik, as well as Twit­ter ac­counts that are in­volved in pro­mot­ing Rus­sian in­flu­ence and dis­in­for­ma­tion goals,” the site says.

The dash­board was de­vel­oped by Mr. Watts; In­ter­na­tional Cen­ter for Coun­terT­er­ror­ism fel­low J.M. Berger; Cen­ter for Cy­ber and Home­land Se­cu­rity fel­low An­drew Weis­burd; CEO of New Knowl­edge AI Jonathon Mor­gan; and the Ger­man Mar­shall Fund’s Al­liance for Se­cur­ing Democ­racy di­rec­tor Laura Rosen­berger, which pro­vided sig­nif­i­cant lo­gis­ti­cal and fund­ing sup­port.

Rus­sian ma­nip­u­la­tion of so­cial me­dia has long been a fo­cus of the probe look­ing into the Krem­lin’s at­tempts to in­ter­fere in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. Last month at the Aspen Se­cu­rity Fo­rum, CIA Di­rec­tor Mike Pom­peo said dur­ing a rare pub­lic ap­pear­ance that Rus­sian med­dling was a his­toric trend.

“They have been at this a hell of a long time,” Mr. Pom­peo said. “And I don’t think they have any in­ten­tion of back­ing off.”

Schol­ars ar­gue Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin en­joys a cult­like sta­tus among some Western na­tion­al­ist and pop­ulist groups for his will­ing­ness to chal­lenge the dom­i­nance of Western lib­eral ideas.

While early Soviet Union pro­pa­ganda pro­moted a “so­cial­ist fu­ture of the world,” these days Rus­sia is seen as merely op­por­tunis­tic in defense of its na­tional in­ter­ests. “Rus­sian pro­pa­ganda tends not to push the po­lit­i­cal right or the left,” said Ms. Rosen­berger. “It pro­motes what is in the Krem­lin’s best in­ter­est — which is ex­ploit­ing cul­tural, racial and eco­nomic di­vi­sions in so­ci­ety.”

Hamil­ton 68 does not track so-called fake news, but in­stead mon­i­tors the ac­tiv­i­ties of 600 Twit­ter ac­counts known to be linked to Rus­sian on­line in­flu­ence ef­forts.

These ac­counts, Hamil­ton 68 back­ers say, are likely con­trolled by Rus­sian gov­ern­ment in­flu­ence op­er­a­tions, “pa­tri­otic” pro-Rus­sians or au­to­mated “bots” which can pump the Krem­lin’s mes­sag­ing pri­or­i­ties into the so­cial me­dia con­ver­sa­tion with ro­botic pre­ci­sion. The 600 ac­counts are mon­i­tored in real time — with deeper an­a­lytic re­ports is­sued reg­u­larly.

Last week, amid the McMaster-White House in­fight­ing ru­mors, the dash­board iden­ti­fied that of the 600 Twit­ter ac­counts it watches, #FireMcMaster was the top hash­tag and was tweeted more than 50,000 times.

Ms. Rosen­berg called the episode a clear ex­am­ple of Rus­sian at­tempts to am­plify Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sions. Both the left-lean­ing New York Times and right-lean­ing Weekly Stan­dard no­ticed and re­ported on the find­ing.

When asked how long she thought it would take for Hamil­ton 68 to be tar­geted by the Krem­lin, Ms. Rosen­berg laughed. “We don’t ex­pect the Rus­sians to take kindly to this,” she said. State-owned Sput­nik News, she noted, “has al­ready done five sto­ries trash­ing this ef­fort.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Clint Watts, a dis­in­for­ma­tion ex­pert, says a pro­pa­ganda track­ing tool he helped de­velop found ev­i­dence the Krem­lin is ex­ploit­ing White House di­vi­sions on­line.

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