Tuesday March 26, 2019
Home Lead Story Online Trolls...

Online Trolls Exposed By FBI Task Force

FBI officials have provided top social media and technology companies with several classified briefings so far this year, sharing “specific threat indicators and account information, and a variety of other pieces of information so that they can better monitor their own platforms.”

0
//
U.S.
FBI Director Christopher Wray speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House. VOA

The FBI’s new foreign influence task force is sharing information about online trolls with technology companies as part of the bureau’s behind-the-scenes effort to disrupt Russian and other foreign influence operations aimed at U.S. elections, FBI and Justice Department officials say.

FBI Director Christopher Wray set up the task force last November as part of a broader government approach to counter foreign influence operations and to prevent a repeat of Russian meddling in the 2018 midterm and the 2020 presidential elections.

The U.S. intelligence community concluded last year that Russia tried to interfere in the 2016 election in part by orchestrating a massive social media campaign aimed at swaying American public opinion and sowing discord.

“Technology companies have a front-line responsibility to secure their own networks, products and platforms,” Wray said. “But we’re doing our part by providing actionable intelligence to better enable them to address abuse of their platforms by foreign actors.”

He said FBI officials have provided top social media and technology companies with several classified briefings so far this year, sharing “specific threat indicators and account information, and a variety of other pieces of information so that they can better monitor their own platforms.”

Adam Hickey, deputy assistant attorney general of the National Security Division at the Justice Department,
Adam Hickey, deputy assistant attorney general of the National Security Division at the Justice Department, testifies on Capitol Hill. VOA

FBI expertise

The task force works with personnel in all 56 FBI field offices and “brings together the FBI’s expertise across the waterfront — counterintelligence, cyber, criminal and even counterterrorism — to root out and respond to foreign influence operations,” Wray said at a White House briefing.

Adam Hickey, a deputy assistant attorney general, said on Monday that the FBI’s unpublicized sharing of information with the social media companies is a “key component” of the Justice Department’s to counter covert foreign influence efforts.

“It is those providers who bear the primary responsibility for securing their own products and platforms,” Hickey said this week at MisinfoCon, an annual conference on misinformation held in Washington, D.C.

“By sharing information with them, especially about who certain users and account holders actually are, we can assist their own, voluntary initiatives to track foreign influence activity and to enforce their own terms of service,” Hickey said.

 Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats testifies on worldwide threats during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill. VOA

The comments come as top U.S. security officials from Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats on down warned about continued attempts by Russia and potentially others to disrupt the November midterm elections.

Coats said on Friday that U.S. intelligence agencies continue “to see a pervasive message campaign” by Russia, while Wray said Moscow “continues to engage in malign influence operations to this day.”

But the officials and social media company executives say the ongoing misinformation campaign does not reach the unprecedented levels seen during the 2016 election.

Hickey, of the Justice Department’s national security division, said that the agency doesn’t often “expose and attribute” ongoing foreign influence operations partly to protect the investigations, methods and sources, and partly “to avoid even the appearance of partiality.”

The logo for Twitter is displayed above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. VOA
The logo for Twitter is displayed above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. VOA

Social media, technology companies

Social media and technology companies, widely criticized for their role in allowing Russian operatives to use their platforms during the 2016 election, have taken steps over the past year to crack down on misinformation.

In June, Twitter announced new measures to fight abuse and trolls, saying it is focused on “developing machine learning tools that identify and take action on networks of spammy or automated accounts automatically.”

In April, Facebook announced that it had taken down 135 Facebook and Instagram accounts and 138 Facebook pages linked to the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm indicted in February for orchestrating Russia’s social media operations in 2016.

The company did not say whether it had removed the pages and accounts based on information provided by the FBI.

Monika Bickert, head of Facebook’s product policy and counterterrorism, told an audience at the Aspen Security Forum last month that the social network has moved to shield its users against fake information by deploying artificial intelligence tools that detect fake accounts and instituting transparency in advertising requirements.

Tom Burt, vice president for customer security and trust at Microsoft, speaking at the same event, disclosed that the company had worked with law enforcement earlier this year to foil a Russian attempt to hack the campaigns of three candidates running for office in the midterm elections.

He did not identify the candidates by name but said they “were all people who, because of their positions, might have been interesting targets from an espionage standpoint, as well as an election disruption standpoint.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., asks a question during a Senate Finance Committee hearing in Washington. VOA

Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri confirmed late last month that Russian hackers tried unsuccessfully to infiltrate her Senate computer network, raising questions about the extent to which Russia will try to interfere in the 2018 elections.

Wray stressed that the influence operations are not “an election cycle threat.”

Also Read: Home Router Devices Were Compromised By Foreign Hackers Says FBI

“Our adversaries are trying to undermine our country on a persistent and regular basis, whether it’s election season or not,” he said. (VOA)

Next Story

U.S. and Russia To Come Up With An Agreement On How To Resolve Venezuela Crisis

Moscow strongly warned the United States “against any temptation to resort to military power” in Venezuela. Russian state news agency TASS quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying. “We assume that Washington treats our priorities seriously, our approach and warnings.”

0
U.S.
Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams speaks at the State Department in Washington, March 15, 2019. VOA

U.S. Special envoy for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams says Russia and the United States have failed to come to an agreement on how to resolve the crisis in Venezuela following talks in Rome. He did not rule out a future meeting between both sides and said the talks helped both sides gain a better understanding of each other’s views.

The United States Special envoy for Venezuela, Elliot Abrams, described the Rome talks with Russian officials on the crisis in Venezuela as “useful, substantial and serious.” He said the conversations allowed the United States to understand that “Russia sees the crisis in Venezuela as very serious, unlike President Maduro,” mainly, Abrams said, in regard to the economic and humanitarian aspects.

Following a meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, Abrams said, “We did not come to a meeting of the minds, but the talks were positive in the sense that I think both sides emerged with a better understanding of the other’s views.” The two sides remain at odds over the legitimacy of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

The United States has recognized self-declared President Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, while Russia continues to recognize Mr. Maduro. Italy also has not given Mr. Guaido recognition.

FILE - Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who many nations have recognized as the country's rightful interim ruler, takes part in a rally against President Nicolas Maduro's government in Valencia, Venezuela, March 16, 2019.
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who many nations have recognized as the country’s rightful interim ruler, takes part in a rally against President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Valencia, Venezuela, March 16, 2019. VOA

Abrams met with the Pietro Benassi, the diplomatic adviser of Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Abrams said the United States is not applying pressure on the Italian government to recognize Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate president.

The meetings in the Italian capital took place as the United States imposed fresh sanctions on Venezuela, this time targeting the state-run gold mining company Minerven and its president.

President Donald Trump and visiting Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro speak during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House, March 19, 2019.

But at the White House, President Donald Trump on Tuesday reiterated that “all options are open” on the future of Venezuela.

“We are not looking for anything other than taking care of a lot of people that are starving and dying in the streets. What’s happening there is a disgrace,” he said.

Abrams stressed that negotiations are not underway because “We do not negotiate the future of Venezuela with Russia or others because the future of Venezuela will be chosen by the Venezuelans.”

Also Read: Know The Venezuelans Ways to Cope with Inflation and Hunger

Moscow strongly warned the United States “against any temptation to resort to military power” in Venezuela. Russian state news agency TASS quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying. “We assume that Washington treats our priorities seriously, our approach and warnings.”

Abrams did not exclude a future meeting with Russia on the Venezuela crisis but said no date had been set. The White House said President Trump will also discuss the Venezuela crisis with Caribbean leaders on Friday. (VOA)