Canadian professor’s website helps Russia spread disinformation, says US State Department

0
146


As U.S. officials are wary of the dirty tricks of foreign adversaries in the run-up to the November 3 presidential election, an unlikely source has come under renewed scrutiny as a major vector of misinformation linked to the Russia: A website based in Montreal and run by a retiree. Professor at the University of Ottawa.The platform, Global Research, features a Canadian domain name and offers an ever-growing collection of conspiracy theories, such as the myth that the September 11 attacks and the COVID-19 pandemic were both planned to control the population. . The site also hosts articles that experts have attributed to a Russian spy agency.

With over 275,000 Facebook subscribers and a potential readership of over 350,000 per article, the US State Department has identified the site as having the most reach among “Kremlin-aligned” disinformation sites.

“This is part of a larger effort to sow disarray and distrust in Western democracies,” said James Andrew Lewis, senior researcher at the Washington, DC-based think tank for Strategic and International Studies.

U.S. intelligence agencies have discovered that Russian state actors staged a multifaceted assault ahead of the 2016 U.S. election in an attempt to undermine Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and bolster Donald Trump’s chances of victory. They say the operation involved spreading false claims and amplifying divisive debates within American society online.

Russia has been “so successful in 2016, I’m sure they will try the same thing again in 2020,” Lewis said, “and this website is part of that effort.”

Michel Chossudovsky, professor emeritus of economics at the University of Ottawa who runs the site, told CBC News through a lawyer that his platform was not a Russian-aligned disinformation site and has urged a journalist not to embark on a “witch hunt”. In an email, the lawyer also said his client would not accept an interview.

The FBI has identified these proxy sites as one of the main tools used by Russia this year to sow discord and disparage Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

During a hearing in the U.S. Congress on September 17, FBI Director Christopher Wray said Russian agents wielded “malicious foreign influence” ahead of the 2020 presidential election (John McDonnell / Pool via Reuters)

FBI Director Christopher Wray Told a congressional committee in September that the agency again observed “very active efforts” by Russia to influence the elections through “malicious foreign influence”, including the use of the media social, state media and agents.

Experts say the Canada-based website fits into the vast network Russia uses to achieve its goals, but they also say it’s unclear whether there is coordination with Moscow.

A collection of conspiracy theories

Since 2001, Global Research has acted as an online component of the Center for Research on Globalization, a self-proclaimed “independent research and media organization” headed by Chossudovsky.

With over 40 “research associates” and editors, the website lists a PO box in a convenience store as a mailing address, just down the street from Montreal City Hall.

Chossudovsky, a frequent guest on Russian state broadcaster RT, is the site’s editor and one of its main contributors. He has regularly questioned the severity of COVID-19, recently calling it a “manufactured pandemic”.

Disinformation researchers have previously distinguished Russia and China as drivers of coronavirus conspiracy theories. One of the Global Research papers, containing the unsubstantiated claim that the virus first came from a US source, was tweeted in March by a spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, then deleted.

Marcus Kolga, founder of the site DisinfoWatch, said that platforms like Global Research give extravagant narratives “an air of legitimacy that they otherwise wouldn’t have” – ​​something called “information laundering”.

WATCH | A disinformation researcher claims that sites like this help legitimize extravagant theories:

Marcus Kolga, founder of DisinfoWatch.org, explains the risk when fringe academics team up with conspiracy theory sites. 0:55

On Tuesday, for example, Global Research published an article highlighting Joe Biden’s unproven “cognitive decline”. The same article also warned of “the imminent danger of a Kamala Harris presidency,” suggesting that as a prosecutor she disproportionately jailed black men over a vendetta against her Jamaican father. American.

The website also posted articles favorable to the Russian-backed regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and other articles criticizing NATO, the Western alliance that sought to contain the aggression on Moscow.

The Globe and Mail reported in 2017, Global Research had become the target of an investigation by NATO information warfare specialists, who suspected the site played a role in amplifying Russia-aligned narratives with little evidence .

“No other point of sale had half the reach”

This year, a US State Department report identified Global Research as part of a network of proxy sites which, while having no visible connection to Moscow, “serve no other purpose than to promote pro-Kremlin content. ”

“This provides plausible deniability to Kremlin officials when proxy sites peddle blatant and dangerous disinformation, allowing them to deflect criticism while continuing to introduce pernicious information,” read the report, released by the branch. State Department’s anti-foreign propaganda campaign, the Global Engagement Center.

Based on an analysis of web traffic to seven of those sites from February to April this year, the report named the Canadian platform as the Kremlin-aligned disinformation site with the largest potential audience. “With over 350,000 potential readers per article, no other outlet had half the reach of Global Research,” he says.

Kolga, who is also a senior researcher at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an Ottawa-based think tank, said it is difficult to contain disinformation once it is posted on such websites and then shared by users on social media – especially on less regulated message boards. as 4Chan and in groups of QAnon believers.

Plus, Kolga said, when the main voice of a disinformation website is linked to a respected university, “that makes it believable. This is the problem here. “

The University of Ottawa still lists Chossudovsky as Emeritus Professor of Economics. (Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press)

Punctual colleagues distance themselves

Chossudovsky’s CV indicates that he joined the Department of Economics at the University of Ottawa in 1968 and was promoted to full professor in 1979. In 2001, the Faculty of Social Sciences granted him his Excellence in teaching Price for “exceptional performance”. The university website always lists him as professor emeritus.

Two other University of Ontario professors, Marcel Mérette and Yazid Dissou, who appear alongside Chossudovsky in a 2014 photo on his website, said they were unaware that the photo was used to that way until a CBC reporter brought it to their attention. Both sought to distance themselves from Chossudovsky.

Mérette, currently the university’s vice-provost, said he “does not endorse or support the views and opinions expressed by former professor Chossudovsky on the website or in any other medium.”

Dissou, an economics professor, also said he did not want to be associated with Chossudovsky’s “activities or ideas”, calling him “a former colleague who retired from the department more than six years ago.” .

Chossudovsky’s website also features photos of him chatting with late Cuban Communist leader Fidel Castro. Chossudovsky’s CV indicates that he has Canadian, British and Irish citizenship and has been interviewed in mainstream media such as CBC, CTV and BBC.

Chossudovsky is seen with former Cuban communist leader Fidel Castro in Havana in 2010. (Revolution Studios / Cubadebate via Reuters)

In 2005, the Jewish advocacy organization B’nai Brith complained to the university after the group learned of Holocaust denial material on Chossudovsky’s website.

“We remain concerned that the website continues to promote conspiracy theories, including anti-Semitic theories,” B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn said in an email to CBC.

He pointed to a series of savage claims on the site, including unsubstantiated claims that Israel worked with the United States to intentionally trigger COVID-19 and that Israel and American Jewish politicians organized the attacks on the site. September 11th.

Chossudovsky declined to answer questions via email from CBC about its ties to Russia and the source of funding for its website. Instead, his Montreal-based attorney John Philpot told CBC that Chossudovsky “has been pursuing legitimate journalism as he has been doing for almost 20 years.”

Philpot also said: “Please do not get into the type of witch hunts that have become common practice south of the border. “

Some authors linked to the GRU, according to the report

Research from the Stanford University Internet Observatory, a program examining abuses in information technology, has found links linking global research to operations by the Russian military intelligence agency. the Study 2019, commissioned by a US Senate intelligence committee, analyzed online content that Facebook attributed to the spy agency commonly known as GRU.

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech at a 2018 event marking the 100th anniversary of the main leadership of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, commonly known as GRU. (Photo by Alexei Druzhinin / Sputnik / Kremlin via Reuters)

Based on the research, the State Department said Global Research had published or republished articles by at least seven authors using pseudonyms – or “sock puppet characters,” according to the Stanford report – to hide their links with the GRU. The content remains accessible on the site.

According to an indictment from the US Department of Justice unsealed this week, six suspected officers from the same agency have been indicted in the United States for a series of cyberattacks across the globe. The GRU has also been linked to a Democratic Party email hack in 2016.

In an interview, Shelby Grossman, a Stanford researcher, said the team was looking for evidence that disinformation from the spy agency had made its way into the mainstream press.

“It didn’t really work out,” she said, as the papers were only published on fringe sites like Global Research. She said the content was more likely to reach an audience who already tended to believe in conspiracy theories and “weird, Russia-aligned views.”

“That being said… it’s still dangerous,” she said. “This type of content can further polarize people into having incorrect beliefs. “

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here