• Suspected Russian spy whale may have been a therapy whale

    The docile beluga whale which appeared in Norwegian waters may have previously served as a child therapy animal in Russia. There had been speculation in the media and in military circles that the harness-wearing whale was a Russian navy spy.

  • “A lot of people are saying”: Conspiracies without theories

    Russell Muirhead and Nancy L. Rosenblum are professors of government at, respectively, Dartmouth and Harvard. A few years ago, they found themselves, in their words, “startled into thought.” Yes, they knew, crazy ideas were a fixture of American life. But not this crazy. “The subject required more detailed and thoughtful interpretation,” the two write at the beginning of A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy. Elizabeth Kolbert writes in the New Yorker that among the differences between “classic” conspiracy theories and the new conspiracism is their constituencies. Historically, Muirhead and Rosenblum maintain, it’s been out-of-power groups that have been drawn to tales of secret plots. Today, it’s those in power who insist the game is rigged, and no one more insistently than the so-called leader of the free world.

  • Facebook removes more pages, accounts linked to “inauthentic” Russian operators

    Facebook said it has removed more pages and accounts that are believed to have originated in Russia and were involved in “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

  • Agents of deceit: Russian disinformation institutions and actors

    There is a burgeoning Western literature on Russian policy and practice in disinformation, but very little of it has detailed and reliable material about the government agencies and affiliated actors that promote it. A new, detailed report investigates the institutions and actors involved in Russian disinformation.

  • The Russia investigation will continue

    Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe is over, but the FBI is almost certain to continue its counterintelligence investigation into Russian espionage efforts related to the 2016 election. The FBI will continue to search for Americans working on behalf of the Kremlin. John Sipher writes in The Atlantic that the inability to establish that the Trump campaign conspired in a “tacit or express” agreement with the Russian government is not surprising. Most espionage investigations come up empty unless and until they get a lucky break. That does not mean there was no espionage activity in relation to the 2016 election. Every previous Russian political-warfare campaign was built on human spies. Russian “active measures”—propaganda, information warfare, cyberattacks, disinformation, use of forgeries, spreading conspiracies and rumors, funding extremist groups and deception operations—rely on human actors to support and inform their success. Counterintelligence professionals must doubt that Russia could have pulled off its election-interference effort without the support of spies burrowed into U.S. society or institutions.

  • Russia’s unrelenting attacks on the U.S. justice system

    Russia’s broad campaign against liberal democracies shows no signs of abating. Information operations targeted against democratic institutions provide an incredibly high return on investment for the Kremlin. The U.S. justice system is under attack as part of a long-term Russian effort to undermine the appeal of democracy and weaken the West. Using multi-platform disinformation operations, Kremlin-backed operatives work to exacerbate existent divisions within populations and increase overall mistrust of and paranoia about democratic institutions.

  • Russia’s long game: Paralyze Europe’s ability to act in its own self-interest

    With the European parliamentary elections approaching in less than a month’s time, Russia’s persistent disinformation campaign to subvert and undermine Europe’s democratic institutions is a source of growing worry. Russia is playing a long game in Europe: its objective is not merely to influence the outcome of any particular election, but rather to broadly subvert the efficacy of Europe’s democratic institutions, fuel widespread social fragmentation and mistrust, and ultimately paralyze Europe’s ability to act in its own self-interest and to defend our values.

  • Influence operations in the digital age

    Influence operations in the digital age are not merely propaganda with new tools. They represent an evolved form of manipulation that presents actors with endless possibilities — both benign and malignant. While the origins of this new form are semi-accidental, it has nonetheless opened up opportunities for the manipulation and exploitation of human beings that were previously inaccessible. Zac Rogers, Emily Bienvenue, and Maryanne Kelton write in War on the Rocks that digital influence operations, now conducted across the whole of society, indicate that we are only at the beginning of a new era of population-centric competition. With regard to propaganda, the fundamental distinction between the old and the new lies in the difference between participatory and passive forms of information consumption.

  • Studying Russian disinformation campaigns

    An interdisciplinary research team from communications, anthropology, and political science will study Russian disinformation campaigns in three former Soviet republics as part of a $1.6 million Minerva research grant awarded through the U.S. Department of Defense.

  • Deterring Russian intimidation and aggression: Unconventional approaches

    Amid concerns that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are vulnerable to Russian intimidation and hybrid warfare, experts conclude that unconventional defense plans could help deter and counteract Russian aggression.

  • Russia targeted Sanders supporters, pushing them to vote for Trump

    As part of Russia’s broad 2016 effort to ensure Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election, Russian hackers targeted supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), following his primary loss in 2016, trying to push them to vote for Donald Trump instead of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Daren Linvill, the Clemson University researcher who conducted the research of the Russian campaign, said the Russians saw Sanders as “just a tool.” “He is a wedge to drive into the Democratic Party,” resulting in lower turnout for Clinton, he said.

  • Weapons of mass distraction

    A sobering new report from the U.S. Department of State’s Global Engagement Center details the reach, scope, and effectiveness of Russia’s disinformation campaigns to undermine and weaken Western societies. “The messages conveyed through disinformation range from biased half-truths to conspiracy theories to outright lies. The intent is to manipulate popular opinion to sway policy or inhibit action by creating division and blurring the truth among the target population,” write the authors of the report.

  • China catching up to the U.S. in innovation

    If China is only a copier, not an innovator, then the competitive threat it poses to advanced economies would be limited. But there is no reason to believe China won’t follow the path of “Asian tigers” that rapidly evolved from copiers to innovators, which poses a serious threat.

  • U.S. industries turn to feds for help in economic race with China

    In the U.S. economic battle with China, the Chinese government is often portrayed as a kingmaker, making large investments in research and paving the way for Chinese companies to thrive. China, it turns out, is a good foil for U.S. industries as they ask the U.S. government to do more to help them compete globally.

  • AfD Bunestag member under Russian influence: Report

    Markus Frohnmaier, an MP for the far-right, populist AfD party, could be controlled by Russia, several European media outlets have reported. Frohnmaier has publicly sided with Moscow on practically each and every issue important to Vladimir Putin. The investigative report – the result of a joint effort by several leading European news organizations – concluded that Frohnmaier “stands under the influence of Moscow” and that his political and legislative actions aim to further Russia’s strategic interests.