A U.S. Senate-commissioned analysis by a cybersecurity firm released on Dec. 17 found that Russia's infamous troll factory, the Internet Research Agency, is conducting "modern information warfare."
Renee DiResta, the research director of the firm, described the IRA's battle plan as a "cross-platform attack that made use of numerous features on each social network and that spanned the entire social ecosystem."
Russian fake news reports and cyberattacks attempted to undercut the 2017 campaign of French President Emmanuel Macron. Russia-linked sites have published false reports about a police mutiny and about officers' supposed support for the recent "yellow vest" protests throughout France. In addition, a Russian propaganda outlet mounted a blatant disinformation attack on news reporting by the BBC.
Russia's disinformation and propaganda campaigns are nothing new. In the 1980s the Soviet Union concocted an elaborate disinformation scheme to blame the appearance of the HIV virus and AIDS on U.S. military research. They first planted the story in a sympathetic Indian newspaper and then followed it up with other fake stories that cited the initial report.
Today, TV "news channel" RT (formerly Russia Today), which has its roots in Pravda, the Kremlin's English-language propaganda arm, is an important mouthpiece for Russia President Vladimir Putin's agenda.
A report from the Office of the U.S. Director of National Intelligence implicated RT in Russian hacking during the 2016 presidential election. It found that the network uses the Internet and social media to conduct "strategic messaging for the Russian government" and that its programming aims "at undermining viewers' trust of U.S. democratic procedures" and U.S.-dominant technologies. According to the DNI's' report, RT became a platform to push anti-fracking disinformation in order to damage the American shale industry.
Genetic engineering in agriculture is another technology sector that holds intense interest for the Russians. The Russian propaganda machine works closely with the complementary, well-financed U.S.-based anti-genetic engineering movement. Examples of their collaborations with Russia on disseminating propaganda are described here and here. USRTK, the most aggressive of the anti-genetic engineering nongovernmental organizations, and RT have the same objective: to undermine American science and technology for financial gain.
More direct evidence of a Russian connection to anti-technology trolling in the United States can be found in a 2017 story claiming that first lady Melania Trump has banned genetically engineered foods from the White House and favors organic products. Much of the article, including some of the quotes attributed to the first lady, are cribbed verbatim from a 2010 article in Yes! Magazine that had nothing whatever to do with her. It ran on Your News Wire, another fake news source linked to Russia. The author of the article, "Baxter Dmitry," has penned articles that allege that, among other things, "Sweden Bans Mandatory Vaccinations Over 'Serious Health Concerns'" (untrue), and the arrest for "treason" of a "former Hillary Clinton employee" (untrue).
If the involvement of Russia and its notorious troll factories in disparaging U.S. biotechnology seems a stretch, consider the study by two Iowa State University researchers who looked at the source of articles containing the word "GMO" (genetically modified organism) and how genetic engineering was portrayed. They found that Russia's English-language propaganda outlets RT and Sputnik produced more articles containing "GMO" than five other major news organizations — Huffington Post, Fox News, CNN, Breitbart News, and MSNBC — combined.
The two Russian outlets accounted for more than half of all the GMO-related articles among the seven sites (RT, 34 percent; Sputnik, 19 percent). "RT and Sputnik overwhelmingly portrayed genetic modification in a negative light," the researchers wrote. "Among U.S. news organizations, the left-leaning Huffington Post produced the most 'anti' articles, followed by CNN . Fox News produced the most neutral or mixed coverage of GMOs."
The researchers also found that RT published "nearly all articles in which the term GMO appeared as 'click bait.'"
For me, as a physician, the last straw is the evidence that Russian trolls are fomenting controversy about vaccines in the United States and that bots spreading malicious software appeared to use anti-vaccine messages to provoke strong responses in order to attract clicks. For example, a Russian troll tweeted: "Apparently only the elite get 'clean' #vaccines. And what do we, normal ppl, get?! #VaccinateUS."
The actions of the Russians and their American " useful idiots" are bringing us back to the brink of another Cold War.
Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is a Senior Fellow at the Pacific Research Institute. He was the founding director of the FDA's Office of Biotechnology.