Russia's Top Spy Agency Runs Fake News At Home

If the definition of a successful intelligence service is obscurity, the GRU is probably Russia's most effective spy agency. In communist times, the KGB was synonymous with ruthless soviet spies, either  infiltrating the corridors of power abroad or suppressing dissidents at home. 

But few people ever heard of the GRU, an abbreviation  for the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.

Yet the military intelligence service, GRU outlasted the KGB when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and appears to be flourishing today. Since 2016, numerous studies have shown Russian intelligence services’ involvement in online information operations.

Case studies on the notorious fake news operations Internet Research Agency (IRA) and the Ghostwriter campaigns have shed light on the methods allegedly employed by the Russian government to influence and discredit beyond its borders. 

However, little research has focused on Russian Intelligence’s control over the domestic information space. Now, the open source intelligence investigation charity OpenFacto has discovered and mapped more than one thousand Russian-speaking websites linked to the GRU to reconstruct their strategy and objectives, in a landscape already saturated with media loyal to the Kremlin.

OpenFacto’s study revealed that InfoRos, a news agency run by the GRU, began expanding into local news around 2012 throughout Russia.

By registering no fewer than 1,341 digital « news portals » attached to cities, towns, districts, or even villages, InfoRos has created a network of amplifiers that surreptitiously broadcast the Russian government’s preferred narrative. The websites are primarily empty shells that regularly copy and paste innocuous content. These sites publish InfoRos content at regular intervals, which has a pro-government or anti-Western tone.

The sites appears to propagate an editorial policy which appears to be defined by the GRU, whose mandate is theoretically limited to outside the Russian Federation.

“Russian intelligence agencies are taking a more central role in disinformation efforts that Russia is pushing now,” said Laura Rosenberger, the director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy. “It is not the blunt force” of the operations mounted by the Internet Research Agency, which was previously been accused of hacking the Democratic National Committee computer network and trying to influence the 2016 US presidential election.

OpenFact.fr:     ResearchGate:        Reddit:      BBC:       NYT:      Meduza.io

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