At a glance.
- A look at US Government counter-disinformation planning.
- Twitter takes down Chinese influence ops targeting US midterm elections.
- Current minor themes in Russian wartime disinformation.
- IAEA finds no evidence of Ukrainian dirty bomb.
- Forgiveness at RT.
A look at US Government counter-disinformation planning.
The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has withdrawn its plans for a Disinformation Governance Board that had been intended to lend the weight of the Federal Government to combating maliciously circulated error, but various approaches to content moderation continue to be mooted in Washington. The Intercept describes documents obtained in the course of a lawsuit filed by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt (also a Republican candidate for the Senate) that suggest the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has continued to look for a more assertive approach to countering disinformation. The documents in particular indicate that DHS has been looking for closer cooperation with social media platforms.
The documents are seen by many, conservatives in particular, but also many progressives, as having disturbing implications for freedom of speech and other civil liberties. The Washington Post has an overview of some reaction to the Intercept's piece. The Post focuses on Republican jockeying for partisan advantage in the headline, but the body of the article makes the point that, while in general the Democratic Party has been more sympathetic to a government role in content moderation, the approach the documents suggest has found critics across the political spectrum. That approach is particularly troubling to critics when it hints at regulation of domestic speech. As the ACLU tweeted, "The First Amendment bars the government from deciding for us what is true or false, online or anywhere. Our government can’t use private pressure to get around our constitutional rights."
Twitter takes down Chinese influence ops targeting US midterm elections.
Twitter has identified and taken down some two thousand inauthentic accounts in three networks organized by Chinese intelligence services to exacerbate fissures in American civil society during the run-up to the midterm elections, the Washington Post reports. The goal was principally to sown division and confusion, with only occasional attempts to insinuate a positive Chinese government line. Two of the networks presented themselves as right-wing; the third came across as left-wing. The operation is interesting in that it shows Chinese espionage services have learned about influence operations from observing their Russian counterparts: it's easier to increase the enemy's friction than it is to reduce one's own.
The Chinese embassy in Washington, for what it's worth, denied any involvement with the networks: “Such accusations are completely fictitious and made out of thin air, and the Chinese side firmly objects to them. China upholds the principle of non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs and we have not the slightest interest to interfere in the U.S. election.”
Current minor themes in Russian wartime disinformation.
Russia had suggested that some of the USVs used against Black Sea Fleet units in Sevastopol had been launched from grain ships. The UN has investigated and determined that this wasn't possible, Reuters says. There were no grain ships anywhere near Sevastopol at the time of the attack. Indeed, there was no shipping of any kind in the grain corridors. Russia has said that its withdrawal from the grain shipment accord is only temporary, and that Ukrainian attacks have interfered with the Russian navy's ability to protect food shipments. Given that the Russian navy is the only threat to Black Sea grain shipments, it's hard to interpret this line as anything other than disinformation.
Radio Free Europe | Radio Liberty reports that Russian President Putin has informed his Turkish counterpart, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that, before he agreed to resume participation in the grain-shipment agreement, he wanted "real assurances" that Ukraine was not abusing humanitarian corridors through the Black Sea for military purposes. The suspension was quickly over: Russia announced on November 2nd that it would resume participation now that it had received a written assurance from the Ukrainian government that Ukraine had no intention of exploiting the grain corridors for military purposes.
The Kremlin also shifted its narrative of the Nord Stream pipeline sabotage away from American to British suspects. The Telegraph quotes spokesman Dmitry Peskov to the effect that, "Our intelligence services have data indicating that British military specialists were directing and coordinating the attack. There is evidence that Britain is involved in sabotage, in a terrorist attack on vital energy infrastructure, not just Russian, but international." Russia is considering, Mr. Peskov said, what retaliatory action to take against the UK. Few outside Russia credit the accusations of Western sabotage in the Nord Stream incident.
IAEA finds no evidence of Ukrainian dirty bomb.
Accusations of Ukrainian preparation to use radiological and biological weapons have surfaced periodically during Russia's war. The accusations have been accompanied by claims that the US and the UK are providing support to, and instigation of, illegal Ukrainian weapons programs. Both sets of allegations have been debunked as disinformation.
Deutsche Welle reports that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has found no evidence of Ukrainian work on a radiological weapon, the "dirty bomb" Russia had warned the world that Ukraine had under preparation. The IAEA inspected three locations allegedly associated with a dirty bomb. "Our technical and scientific evaluation of the results we have so far did not show any sign of undeclared nuclear activities and materials at these three locations," IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said. "Additionally, we will report on the results of the environmental sampling as soon as possible."
Russia had also revived earlier charges that Ukraine was developing, or already had in its possession, biological weapons (for waging "germ warfare"). The UN Security Council yesterday rejected a Russian resolution that would have established a commission to investigate Ukraine's compliance with biological warfare conventions. US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield explained, the Telegraph reports, that "'The US voted against this resolution because it is based on disinformation, dishonesty, bad faith and a total lack of respect' for the Security Council." The Telegraph adds, "Deputy Russian ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy regretted the outcome of the vote, saying: 'Western countries demonstrated in every way that the law does not apply to them.'"
Forgiveness at RT.
We saw last week that RT had suspended its director of broadcasting, Anton Krasovsky, for unusually vile comments that (probably) jokingly advocated drowning Ukrainian children who didn't care for Russians, and for burning other Ukrainians alive. His remarks--which were not off-the-cuff, hot-mic spontaneous utterances, but edited and produced contributions to a talk show--attracted widespread odium. The Daily Beast reports that Mr. Krasovsky may be repenting his way back into the good graces of his old network. He's apologized for not being better than the evil Ukrainians. He says, he should have known better, and his failure to live up to the high standards of Russia's cause grieves him deeply. He had, he said, without intending to do so, blurred the lines "between our righteous deeds and evil... between us and them.” He explained, "I always wanted to be better than the enemy. My country wanted to be better than the enemy. I’m a fool who mixed good with evil."
That was good enough for Margarita Simonyan. Appearing on Rossiya-1's chat show "Evening With Vladimir Solovyov," last week, the RT chief explained that she forgave Mr. Krasovsky, and, moreover, that this was her religious duty. “In our culture, the Russian culture, the Orthodox culture, there are mandatory things, if we relate to the Christian faith and this culture," she said. "Specifically, it is not simply recommended but required of us to forgive one who repents. Anton has asked for forgiveness many times, made a video where he called himself a fool and an idiot, and tried to explain why he said what he said. For me, my religion is the sole imperative, the only benchmark for words and deeds.”
Leaving aside that Mr. Krasovsky's self-abasement (essentially, I'm-sorry-I-was-as-bad-as-a-foreigner) sets a pretty low bar for repentance, it will be interesting to see whether he returns to RT's programming. Jesus did indeed tell Peter (Matthew 18: 21-22) that he should forgive, not seven times, but seventy-seven times, but on the other hand he didn't, for example, tell the disciple he had to patronize the money-changers in the Temple (Matthew 21:12). Anyway, Anton Vyacheslavovich, go, and sin no more. Ms Simonyan wouldn't have it any other way.