Russia is behind the spread of coronavirus misinformation, US officials say


Russian intelligence services are using a trio of English-language websites to spread disinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic, seeking to exploit a crisis America is struggling to contain ahead of the November presidential election, said US officials Tuesday.Two Russians who held prominent positions in Moscow’s military intelligence service, known as GRU, have been identified as responsible for a disinformation effort reaching the American public and other Western audiences, officials said. from the US government. They spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The information had previously been classified, but officials said it had been demoted so it could be discussed more freely. Officials have said they are doing so now to sound the alarm on particular websites and to reveal what they say is a clear link between the sites and Russian intelligence.

Between late May and early July, one of the officials said, selected websites on Tuesday published around 150 articles regarding the pandemic response, including coverage aimed at either supporting Russia or denigrating the United States. .

Among the headlines that caught the attention of U.S. officials were “Russian Aid Against COVID-19 to America Advances the Case for Detente,” which suggested that Russia had given urgent and substantial aid to states. -United to fight the pandemic, and “Beijing believes COVID-19 is a biological weapon”, which amplified the statements of the Chinese.

The disclosure comes as the spread of disinformation, including by Russia, becomes a pressing concern as the November presidential election looms. U.S. officials seek to avoid a repeat of the 2016 contest, when Russia launched a covert social media campaign to divide U.S. public opinion and favor then-candidate Donald Trump over Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. The US government counter-intelligence official warned in a rare public statement Friday about Russia’s continued use of internet trolls to advance its goals.

Politics aside, the dual crisis gripping the United States and much of the world – the pandemic and race relations and protests – has offered fertile ground for disinformation or outright lies. Trump has come under scrutiny for sharing misinformation about a refuted drug to treat coronavirus in videos that have been deleted by Twitter and Facebook.

Officials have described the Russian disinformation as part of an ongoing and persistent effort to advance false narratives and create confusion. They did not say whether the effort behind these particular websites was directly related to the November election, although some of the coverage appeared to disparage Trump’s Democratic challenger Joe Biden and recalls Russia’s efforts. in 2016 to ignite race relations in America and lead corruption allegations against American politicians.

Although US officials have previously warned of the spread of pandemic-related disinformation, they went further on Tuesday by appointing a particular Russian-registered news agency InfoRos which operates a series of websites – InfoRos .ru,, and OneWorld .press – which have used the pandemic to promote anti-Western goals and spread disinformation.

An email to InfoRos was not immediately returned on Tuesday.

The sites are promoting their stories in a sophisticated but insidious effort that US officials equate to money laundering, where articles in well-written English – and often with pro-Russian sentiment and anti-American sentiment – have passed. by other sources of information to hide their origin. and strengthen the legitimacy of information.

The sites also amplify stories from elsewhere, government officials said.

Beyond the coronavirus, the focus is also on America, world politics, and current affairs stories.

A Tuesday headline on about the unrest shaking major American cities reads: “Chaos in Blue Cities,” accompanying a story that laments how New Yorkers who grew up with the harsh approach against the crime of the mayors Rudolph W. Giuliani and Michael R. Bloomberg “must adapt to life in urban areas with high crime”.

Another story carried the title of “Ukrainian Trap for Biden” and claimed that “Ukrainegate” – a reference to the stories surrounding Biden’s son Hunter’s former ties to a Ukrainian gas company – “continues to unfold with renewed vigor. “.

Two people who also held senior positions at InfoRos, identified on Tuesday as Denis Valeryevich Tyurin and Aleksandr Gennadyevich Starunskiy, previously served in a GRU unit specializing in military psychological intelligence and have deep contacts there, officials said. .

InfoRos and One World’s ties to the Russian state have already caught the attention of European disinformation analysts.

In 2019, a European Union task force that studies disinformation campaigns identified One World as “a new addition to the pantheon of Moscow-based disinformation sites.” The task force noted that One World’s content often parrots the Russian state’s agenda on issues such as the war in Syria.

A report released last month by a second non-governmental organization, Brussels-based EU DisinfoLab, examined the links between InfoRos and One World and Russian military intelligence. The researchers identified technical clues linking their websites to Russia and identified some financial links between InfoRos and the government.

“InfoRos operates in a shady gray area, where regular news activities are mixed with more controversial actions that could most likely be related to Russian state information operations,” the report’s authors concluded.

On its English Facebook page, InfoRos describes itself as an “news agency: the world through Russia’s eyes”.


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