Russian Trolls Used Facebook to Get Americans to Protest Each Other

This tactic by the Russians is really nothing new since misinformation on the Internet is something long used in South Korea for political purposes:

Demonstrators at two opposing protests in Houston, Texas, in May 2016. Both protests were orchestrated by Russian trolls.

Posing as American activists, Russian government-linked trolls created 129 Facebook events between 2015 and 2017.

On multiple occasions, the events prompted real Americans to take to the streets.

In a written statement Facebook gave to the Senate Intelligence Committee released on Thursday, the social media network said that the events created by one Kremlin-linked troll group were seen by more than 300,000 Facebook users. About 62,500 users marked that they would attend the event, and an additional 25,800 expressed an interest in attending.

Facebook told Congress it does “not have data about the realization of these events,” but CNN has previously found evidence that the Russian group successfully convinced Americans to attend the demonstrations.

The events were organized on a range of divisive issues and were designed to pit Americans against each other.

In one case, the troll group organized and promoted two opposing events on the same day at the same location in Houston, Texas.

“Heart of Texas,” a page that posed as a pro-Texas secession organization, promoted a “Stop Islamization of Texas” protest at the opening of a library at an Islamic Center on May 21, 2016. The same troll group used another page, “United Muslims of America,” to promote a “Save Islamic Knowledge” event at the same time.

The Russian group spent $200 promoting the events on Facebook, the company told Congress last fall.

Executive director of the American-Islamic Relations in Texas, Mustafaa Carroll, told CNN that his organization had contacted the FBI about comments posted on the “Heart of Texas” page before the protest. One of them read: “Need to blow this place up. We don’t need this shit in Texas.”  [CNN]

You can read more at the link, but using trolls to create fake news and events is why the prior ROK government under President Lee Myung-bak implemented a real-name verification system for commenters to avoid false information influencing elections.  President Lee had first hand experience with this when the 2008 US Mad Cow Crisis nearly toppled his Presidency shortly after being inaugurated.  Afterwards the whole thing was proven to be fake news spread over the Internet and promoted by major media outlets to topple the President.

President Trump Says Russia Helping North Korea Evade UN Sanctions

In the least surprising news of the day the Russians are busy helping the North Koreans avoid sanctions:

President Donald Trump speaks during an interview with Reuters at the White House in Washington, D.C. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

U.S. President Donald Trump complained on Wednesday that Russia was helping North Korea to evade international sanctions, signaling frustration with a country he had hoped to forge friendly relations with after his 2016 election win.

“Russia is not helping us at all with North Korea,” Trump said during an Oval Office interview with Reuters. “What China is helping us with, Russia is denting. In other words, Russia is making up for some of what China is doing.”

China and Russia both signed onto the latest rounds of United Nations Security Council sanctions against North Korea imposed last year. There was no immediate comment from the Russian embassy in Washington on Trump’s remarks.  [Reuters]

I would not be surprised at all if this is all coordinated between the Chinese and the Russians.  The Chinese can increase their sanctions efforts to relieve pressure the Trump administration is putting on them while fully knowing the Russians will pick up the slack of aiding the Kim regime.

USFK Commander Stresses Regional Unity to Address North Korea

Here is what the USFK commander General Brooks had to say about North Korea’s recent overtures:

Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, commander of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), speaks in a lecture at Seoul Cyber University on Jan. 4, 2018. (Yonhap)

The commanding general of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) on Thursday stressed the importance of combat readiness and unity among regional powers to cope with North Korea’s recent peace offensive.

“We can be generally pleased by the recent overtures that happened. But we must keep our expectations at the appropriate level,” Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, who leads the 28,500-strong U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), said at a lecture in Seoul.

He was referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s Day statement that his country is willing to join the Winter Olympics that will open in the South Korean town of PyeongChang next month. He proposed immediate inter-Korean dialogue to discuss the issue.

In a follow-up move, the two Koreas reconnected a cross-border communication channel Wednesday, two years after it was severed, and are preparing to hold high-level talks.

It represents Pyongyang’s “sincere” pursuit of reconciliation, but it may be in line with its typical strategy to keep apart five countries — South Korea, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia — aimed at weakening their power against the regime trying to win the status of a “nuclear capable” nation.

“We can’t ignore that reality,” the command emphasized during the session at Seoul Cyber University, organized by the National Unification Advisory Council, a presidential consultative body mainly on long-term inter-Korean ties.

In the face of the North’s peace gesture, he said, it’s important for South Korea and the U.S. to maintain an “ironclad and razor sharp” alliance and joint combat readiness in the event that it leads to a “negative outcome, not a positive outcome.”

He likened North Korea to the center of a palm and the five regional powers to five fingers, showing his right hand.

The North wants these five fingers to be separated but they should operate in “harmony and closely connected to one another” as a fist to create necessary pressure to cause a change in its course, he added. [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link, but I think the problem with General Brooks analogy is that two of the fingers have no intention of being part of the fist, Russia and China.  It is arguable they share the same strategic objective of the Kim regime to separate the US from the ROK.

Russia Upset That Japan is Trying to Better Defend Itself Against North Korean Missile Threats

The Russians are actually more angry at the Japanese for trying to defend themselves than at the North Koreans which are the only reason the Japanese are spending so much money on missile defense in the first place:

Japan has approved the installation of two Aegis Ashore missile defence systems to defend the country against North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threats (AFP Photo/Daniel Mihailescu)

Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov on Saturday accused the United States of violating a key arms treaty by selling a missile defence system to Japan.

“The US is deploying them (missile defence systems) at their military bases in Romania and Poland, that is near our western borders, which goes against the 1987 INF Treaty banning the deployment of such systems on the ground,” Ryabkov said in a statement published on the Russian Foreign Ministry website.

“The fact that such complexes could now appear on Russia’s eastern borders creates a situation that we cannot ignore in our military planning,” said Ryabkov.

On Thursday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the deployment of the US missile defence system would have a negative impact on relations between Tokyo and Moscow.

“We consider the step made by the Japanese side as going against efforts of ensuring peace and stability in the region,” Zakharova said, adding that Moscow has “deep regret and serious concern” over the move.

On December 19, the Japanese government approved the installation of two land-based US-made Aegis Ashore missile defence systems to defend the country against North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threats.  [AFP]

You can read more at the link.

Tweet of the Day: Lankov on When A Russian Defected in the JSA

Putin Says Global Strike to Disarm North Korea Possible, But Outcome Would Be Uncertain

Here is the latest on what Russian strongman President Vladimir Putin had to say about the current crisis over North Korea’s nuclear program:

Vladimir Putin

A global strike to disarm North Korea would be possible, yet its outcome uncertain, as it is a “closed state,” Russian President Vladimir Putin stated.

“Let us speak to the point, after all – can someone launch a global disarming strike? Indeed. Will it reach its targets? It’s unclear because no one knows for sure what is where,” Putin said while addressing the 2017 International Forum on Energy Efficiency on Wednesday.

He added there is no “100 percent knowledge” about North Korea’s objects as it is “a closed country.”

Meanwhile, Putin said, coercive rhetoric against Pyongyang and attempts “to speak from a position of strength” only give more power to the North Korean leadership.

The Russian leader urged all sides to cool down their rhetoric and engage in dialogue.

“All sides must ease rhetoric and find ways for face-to-face dialogue between the United States and North Korea, as well as between North Korea and countries in the region,” he said.

“Only this would help find balanced and reasonable decisions.”

“At any rate, it is not my cup of tea to define and assess policies of the United States president,” Putin added.  [Russia Today]

You can read more at the link.  Of course no one knows exactly where every strategic military asset the North Koreans have is located at.  However, we do know where the Yonbyong nuclear facility, their test launch site, SLBM barge, and missile manufacturing facilities are located at.  Taking those out would not end their nuclear or missile programs, but would set them back.

Russian Online Disinformation Targeting Veterans Has No Proven Effect

This sounds like much to do about nothing:

Russian trolls and others aligned with the Kremlin are injecting disinformation into streams of online content flowing to American military personnel and veterans on Twitter and Facebook, according to an Oxford University study released Monday.

The researchers found fake or slanted news from Russian-controlled accounts are mixing with a wide range of legitimate content consumed by veterans and active-duty personnel in their Facebook and Twitter news feeds. These groups were found to be reading and sharing articles on conservative political thought, articles on right-wing politics in Europe and writing touting various conspiracy theories.  [Washington Post]

Sounds scary right that the US military is being influenced by Russian misinformation?  Here is what the study really found out:

The kind of information shared by and with veterans and active-duty personnel span a wide range, with liberal political content also common, though not as common as conservative political content. The online military community, the researchers found, also shared links about sustainable agriculture, mental health issues such as addiction, and conspiracy theories.

No one subject dominated the online content flowing among these communities, but the largest individual categories dealt with military or veteran matters. Russian disinformation was a smaller but significant and persistent part of the overall information flow.

So basically the Russian disinformation was irrelevant.  This article could not even cite one piece of disinformation that had any effect on veterans.  The Washington Post even headlines this story with “Russian operatives used Twitter and Facebook to target veterans and military personnel, study says”.  The Washington Post could have more accurately titled this article “Study Finds Veterans Follow Military and Veterans Matters Online; Russian Disinformation Has No Proven Effect”.

The bottom line is that the Internet is filled with disinformation and people need to use critical thinking to sift through what is real and what is not.

American and Russian Analysts Expect North Korea to Test ICBM Soon

I found it interesting in the below article how the North Koreans have pretty much told the Russians they plan to conduct a ICBM test in the near term.  If so it will be additionally interesting to see what trajectory they use to test its full capability because if it lands too close to Hawaii or Alaska it could give the Trump administration the excuse it needs to conduct an attack to destroy their nuclear and missile programs:

The next rocket launch by North Korea could be another Hwasong-12 (HS-12), which is a mobile, solid-fueled, nuclear-capable medium-range ballistic missile, or the Hwasong-14 (HS-14), first tested in July, which is believed to be a two-staged version of the HS-12, giving it a longer and intercontinental range.

“I think they are not done with testing the HS-12 into the Pacific. They also have yet to start testing the HS-14 at anything like its full range,” said Joshua Pollack, a senior research associate with the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

“Once they have done that a couple of times, I would be concerned about the potential for an atmospheric nuclear test over the Pacific,” Pollack, also editor of the Nonproliferation Review, told VOA.

Russian media on Friday quoted a lawmaker in Moscow as saying North Korea is preparing to test a long-range missile able to reach the West Coast of the United States.

The comment was made by Anton Morozov, a member of the Russian Duma’s international affairs committee, who was among lawmakers who returned home Friday after a four-day visit to Pyongyang for “high-level meetings.”

“They are preparing for new tests of a long-range missile. They even gave us mathematical calculations that they believe prove that their missile can hit the West Coast of the United States,” Russian media quoted Morozov, a member of a right-wing populist party, as saying.

“As far as we understand, they intend to launch one more long-range missile in the near future,” Morozov explained. “And in general, their mood is rather belligerent.”  [VOA News]

You can read more at the link.

Russia Opens New Internet Line to North Korea After US Cyberattack

The Russians are at it again:

A major Russian telecommunications company appears to have begun providing an Internet connection to North Korea. The new link supplements one from China and will provide back-up to Pyongyang at a time the US government is reportedly attacking its Internet infrastructure and pressuring China to end all business with North Korea.

The connection, from TransTeleCom, began appearing in Internet routing databases at 09:08 UTC on Sunday, or around 17:38 Pyongyang time on Sunday evening. Internet routing databases map the thousands of connections between telecom providers and enable computers to figure out the best route to a destination.  (…….)

On Saturday, The Washington Post reported that US Cyber Command has been carrying out denial of service attacks against North Korean hackers affiliated with the Reconnaissance General Bureau. The attacks attempt to overwhelm their computers and the Internet connection with traffic making them slow or impossible to use.

The US cyber attack was due to end on Saturday, reported the Post. That means the new Russian connection went online just after the US Cyber Command attack ended.  [38 North]

You can read more at the link.