The Russian government is creating and proliferating English-language articles that spread misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic, and aiming them at Americans, US officials told The Associated Press (AP).
Two officials from the secretive GRU military intelligence unit are running three websites which have together published 150 articles about the pandemic, the officials said.
Some also exacerbated tensions between the US and China over the origins of the coronavirus, as well as domestic tensions over the Black Lives Matter movement.
The websites are InfoRos.ru, Infobrics.org, and OneWorld.press. Among the headlines that the US officials deemed suspicious were:
“Russia’s Counter COVID-19 Aid to America Advances Case for Détente”
“Ukrainian Trap for Biden”
“Beijing Believes COVID-19 is a Biological Weapon”
“Chaos in the Blue Cities”
The disclosure is significant given that Wednesday marks 97 days until the 2020 presidential election.
In the runup to the 2016 presidential election, a Russian government disinformation project used social media bots, fake articles, and Facebook adverts to attack Donald Trump’s rival Hillary Clinton.
Russian assets also hacked the websites of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee and tried to set up meetings with the Trump campaign to discuss secret information that would damage Clinton’s chances.
A subsequent investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller found that Russia launched a “sweeping and systematic” attempt to influence US voters.
In recent months, evidence has emerged once again that shows Russia’s propaganda machine is using disinformation to try and influence US politics.
On February 13, US intelligence officials told Congress that Russia was already meddling in the 2020 campaign by trying to drum up support for Trump, according to CNN and The New York Times.
And last Friday, William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said that “using a range of efforts, including internet trolls and other proxies,” Russia “continues to spread disinformation in the US that is designed to undermine confidence in our democratic process.”
The news of the websites is troubling, but the US officials said it wasn’t clear if the websites were specifically trying to influence the November election, the AP said.