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Generational Dynamics Web Log for 19-Feb-2018
19-Feb-18 World View -- Special prosecutor Robert Mueller issues farcical indictment of Russian trolls

Web Log - February, 2018

19-Feb-18 World View -- Special prosecutor Robert Mueller issues farcical indictment of Russian trolls

Comparing Russian trolls to Chinese hackers

by John J. Xenakis

This morning's key headlines from

Special prosecutor Robert Mueller issues farcical indictment of Russian trolls

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton (Reuters)
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton (Reuters)

On Friday, the Justice Department's Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, after a year of investigation, brought an indictment against a Russian "troll factory," the St. Petersburg based Internet Research Agency, along with various trolls and other officials connected to the agency.

It's hard to overestimate the farcical nature of the indictment. I wrote about the Internet Research Agency in 2014, and I've written about Russian trolls several times since then. Any journalist or analyst writes about a variety of political or international subjects is attacked by Russian trolls. I've been attacked by dozens, perhaps hundreds of Russian trolls since 2014.

Here are some excerpts from the indictment:

"2. Defendant INTERNET RESEARCH AGENCY LLC ("ORGANIZATION") is a Russian organization engaged in operations to interfere with elections and political processes. Defendants MIKHAIL IVANOVICI1 BYSTROV, MIKHAIL LEONIDOVICH BURCHIK ... and VLADIMIR VENKOV worked in various capacities to carry out Defendant ORGANIZATION's interference operations targeting the United States. From in or around 2014 to the present, Defendants knowingly and intentionally conspired with each other ... to defraud the United States by impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of the government through fraud and deceit for the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016.

3. Beginning as early as 2014, Defendant ORGANIZATION began operations to interfere with the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election. ... Defendants CONCORD and PRIGOZHIN spent significant funds to further the ORGANIZATION's operations and to pay the remaining Defendants, along with other uncharged ORGANIZATION employees, salaries and bonuses for their work at the ORGANIZATION.

4. Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and creating false U.S. personas, operated social media pages and groups designed to attract U.S. audiences. These groups and pages, which addressed divisive U.S. political and social issues, falsely claimed to be controlled by U.S. activists when, in fact, they were controlled by Defendants. Defendants also used the stolen identities of real U.S. persons to post on ORGANIZATION-controlled social media accounts. Over time, these social media accounts became Defendants' means to reach significant numbers of Americans for purposes of interfering with the U.S. political system, including the presidential election of 2016."

I'm sorry, I can't stop laughing. The CIA and Special Prosecutor's office has spent hundreds of millions of dollars sleuthing out these criminals, and discovered that Russian trolls hired by Russia's "troll factory," the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg Russia, are on blogs and social media sites posting misleading comments. This was something that was well known to me and many other people.

Here's what I wrote in August 2014:

While Russia's president Vladimir Putin maintains an iron grip on the state-run media, the internet remains a big problem for Putin, as he's had little ability to control Twitter and other social media.

Putin has responded to this problem in a bizarre way. According to documents examined by an analyst firm, since April a Russian firm called the Internet Research Agency, with a 2014 budget of $10 million, has been hiring hundreds of "internet trolls" to challenge any online article critical of Russia.

Each troll is expected to post comments on blogs and news sites 50 times per day. The comments range from lies and disinformation to abuse and profanity. Each blogger is to maintain six Facebook accounts, posting three times a day in each. On Twitter, they're expected to manage 10 accounts and tweet 50 times a day. [Emphasis added]"

I get attacked by American trolls as well, but apparently the reason that Russian trolls were indicted is because they didn't register with the US government. US Department of Justice and Russia Today

How the Russian trolls do their jobs

Let's take some example of attacks by Russian trolls, so we can see what the Special Prosecutor might be talking about. I was never attacked by trolls over the election because I never wrote about the election. However, I am always attacked by Russian trolls whenever I write about any of the following subjects:

Let's take an example: Shooting down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 passenger plane by the Russians in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014. We actually knew within minutes that the Russians had shot it down with a missile, because Igor Strelkov, the commander of the Russian forces in east Ukraine, immediately tweeted the following:

"We shot down AN-26 [military transport] near the city Torez, Donetsk People's Republic ... We warned, don't fly in our sky."

Strelkov's militias had shot down at least two Ukrainian AN-26s in the previous week, and was bragging that he'd shot down a third. The tweet was taken down a few minutes later, when he learned that he'd shot down a passenger plane.

Russian media and trolls went into full-on troll mode, making one ridiculous claim after another: Strelkov's tweet had never occurred; the US had shot down MH17 to embarrass Russia; the airplane was struck by a meteor; no living people were aboard the plane as it flew on autopilot from Amsterdam, where it had been pre-loaded with "rotting corpses."

Russian trolls will say that no evidence exists that Russians shot down MH17. Actually, there are literally thousands of pieces of evidence, including intercepted phone calls, photos, analyzed and authenticated, videos, forensic examinations, witness statements, satellite images, and radar data. There was a major Dutch investigation that proved with no doubt that Russians shot down MH17 with a Russian-made Buk missile. But trolls will constantly say, "there's no evidence."

Russian trolls are Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons

As another example, Russian trolls are always on the attack when you write about the use of chemical weapons, including Sarin gas and chlorine gas, by Syria's president Bashar al-Assad. Once again, they say that "there's no evidence." But once again, there are been several thorough investigations of al-Assad's 2013 Sarin gas attack, and there are thousands of pieces of evidence that al-Assad used Sarin gas on ordinary civilians, including forensic collections and analyses, photos, videos, eyewitness testimony, doctors' testimony, the UNSC report, analyses of the UNSC report, and so forth, proving al-Assad's repeated use of chemical weapons, including Sarin gas and chlorine gas.

Trolls try to use highly emotional arguments to avoid facts. One troll named "Jan Fearing" told me a darling story about her trip to Damascus where she met a mother who thought al-Assad was wonderful. One troll argument I hear frequently is that al-Assad is popular, but once again that's irrelevant, since all the worst genocidal monsters are popular, including Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot. You can't succeed as a genocidal monster if your people don't support you, and that means you have to be popular with your own people to be a genocidal monster.

Comparing Russian trolls to Chinese hackers

I find the Russian trolls to be pretty much idiots. They're usually working from prepared scripts, and they usually don't know anything about the facts except what their trollmasters have told them.

I wasn't writing about election campaign issues, so I didn't encounter trolls bashing Hillary and boosting Bernie Sanders and Trump, but I assume that the trolls who did that were just as incompetent on those subjects as they were on the subjects that I write about. During the election campaign, there must have been millions of highly partisan messages posted by hundreds of partisan organizations. How would the average Facebook user ever be influenced by a Russian troll message when it's surrounded by hundreds of other messages competing for the user's attention? I don't see how it's even remotely possible that the Russian trolls had any effect at all on the election, or that they'll affect future elections.

In fact, when he announced the indictments, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein said:

"There is no allegation in the indictment that any American was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity. There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election."

This doesn't surprise me in the least. I don't see even the remotest possibility that these trolls influenced the election, and despite the media hysteria, I don't any possibility that they will have any influence at all in the 2018 and 2020 elections. The current hysteria is fatuous.

I personally believe that the use of trolls has backfired for the Russians, not because of the Mueller's indictment, but because everyone knows about Russian trolls, so that anyone who genuinely wants to support Russia in one of these discussions is automatically assumed to be a troll.

That's why Mueller's indictments are so farcical. They target people in Russia who will never be extradited, and they reveal "crimes" that everyone has been aware of for years.

People in the mainstream media are hoping against hope that these indictments are just the first step in bringing charges against Donald Trump. We'll all be watching to see whether they get their wishes.

Finally, let's take one more quote from the indictment:

"57. After the election of Donald Trump in or around November 2016, Defendants and their coconspirators used false U.S. personas to organize and coordinate U.S. political rallies in support of then president-elect Trump, while simultaneously using other false U.S. personas to organize and coordinate U.S. political rallies protesting the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. For example, in or around November 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators organized a rally in New York through one ORGANIZATION-controlled group designed to "show your support for President-Elect Donald Trump" held on or about November 12, 2016. At the same time, Defendants and their co-conspirators, through another ORGANIZATION-controlled group, organized a rally in New York called "Trump is NOT my President" held on or about November 12, 2016. Similarly, Defendants and their co-conspirators organized a rally entitled "Charlotte Against Trump" in Charlotte, North Carolina, held on or about November 19, 2016."

So the trolls were holding pro-Trump rallies and anti-Trump rallies in two different places in New York on the same day. These are truly the gang that couldn't shoot street. We can all feel safe now that they're no longer at large. Oh, wait. All these trolls are in St. Petersburg Russia, so they're still at large, and they'll never be caught.

As a Senior Software Engineer, I'm familiar with the entire range of online attacks, whether by trolls or for espionage, or for cyber warfare. I find this hysteria over the Russian troll "threat to democracy" to be a total joke.

By contrast, the threat from China's use of online espionage a million times greater. There are dozens of Chinese high tech companies whose only job is to spy and steal secrets from the United States. China has stolen hundreds or thousands of terabytes of data from defense and law enforcement systems, as well as from energy, transportation, government, technology, health care, finance, telecommunications, media, manufacturing and agriculture systems.

There are some real threats out there, not from Russian trolls but from Chinese hackers. We should be focusing on the real dangers to our society. US Dept. of Justice and The Conversation(5-Oct-2017)

Related Articles

(Comments: For reader comments, questions and discussion, see the 19-Feb-18 World View -- Special prosecutor Robert Mueller issues farcical indictment of Russian trolls thread of the Generational Dynamics forum. Comments may be posted anonymously.) (19-Feb-2018) Permanent Link
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