FBI Turns to Social Media to Track Traitors

If you’ve logged into social media over the past few months, you might have seen it. A video of the Russian Embassy against the backdrop of passing cars and buses on a gray, overcast day in Washington.

A man’s voice asks in English, “Do you want to change the future?” Russian subtitles appear at the bottom of the screen, and the narrator mentions the one-year anniversary of “Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine.”

As the somber music begins to play, the camera pans left, taking the viewer from Wisconsin Avenue to the Adams Morgan subway station, through Washington, and ending at FBI headquarters, a few blocks from the White House.

“The FBI cares about you. The FBI will help you,” FBI Deputy Director Alan Koehler says at the end of the video, with Russian subtitles still on the screen. “But you are the only one who has the strength to take the first step.”

Released by the FBI Washington field office, the video first appeared on February 24 as a post on the field office’s Twitter account. Another five versions launched on the same day as paid ads on Facebook and Instagram, costing the agency an estimated $5,500 to $6,500.

While that may seem like a pittance for an agency with an annual budget of over $10 billion, it is neither the first nor the last time the FBI has spent money in favor of Russian officials.

The video is from the FBI, which uses social media ads to recruit disgruntled Russian officials stationed in the United States and abroad, in part to sniff out Americans who have betrayed their homeland to help Russia. It is part of a large and long-running campaign.

The FBI paid at least tens of thousands of dollars to multiple platforms for social media ads targeting Russian officials, according to VOA’s analysis, just before and after the Russian government launched its recent invasion of Ukraine. The pace of these ad purchases is increasing.

Several former US counterintelligence officials who spoke to VOA about the FBI’s efforts said the money was well spent on the ad.

The FBI is looking for a senior Russian official “to help identify where American spies are,” said Douglas London, a veteran of the CIA’s Secret Intelligence Service for 30 years.

“We are asking Russian operatives to catch and convict U.S. spies and Russian illegal aliens,” he told VOA, explaining that the mission is part of the agency’s DNA. .

Another veteran CIA official, Jim Olson, agreed, telling VOA that the purpose of the FBI’s outreach to Russian officials is unmistakable.

“I call it hanging in the attic,” said former counterintelligence chief Olson.

“For every American traitor, every American spy, there is a member of the intelligence community who either knows the identity of that American, or knows enough about the work to only give an identifying clue,” Olson said. Told.

“All available tools”

The FBI declined to comment directly on its decision to spend thousands of dollars to post the two-minute video as an ad on Facebook and Instagram, saying only that it “uses a variety of methods” to gather information.

“The FBI will evaluate all available means to defend the national security interests of the United States,” the FBI’s Washington field office told VOA in an email. “And we will use all legal means available to us to find individuals whose information will help protect the United States from threats to national security.”

Some of the FBI’s early forays into social media advertising certainly caught the public’s attention. First in October 2019 and then again in March of last year.

But a review of publicly available data reveals that the agency’s use of social media for counterintelligence purposes is more widespread than previously understood.

The FBI and its field offices have so far spent just under $40,000 on ads targeting Russian speakers, according to data from the Meta Ad Library, which includes information on Facebook and Instagram ads going back to May 2018. It has generated 6.9 million views.

Most of the ads were targeted to specific locations such as Washington and New York, but some were even further away, covering large parts of the United States and even countries such as Spain, Poland, Nigeria, France and Croatia. It was watched though.

The FBI’s paid ads appear to have run on platforms other than Meta.

Last March, Nicholas Murphy, a 20-year-old sophomore at Georgetown University in Washington, was searching his dorm room for news about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine when he saw an ad for video-sharing social media platform YouTube. . by Google.

‘[It was] It’s just text with some kind of weird background…all in Russian,” said Murphy, a Park City, Utah native who doesn’t speak Russian and used a translation app to decipher the ad.

“At the time, I didn’t know if it was from the Russian government or our government or some kind of propaganda or fake,” Murphy told VOA. “It sparked a lot of thoughts about Russia’s influence on Facebook advertising.” [2016 U.S.] selection. ‘

Murphy said he came across the ad two or three more times in the weeks that followed. And, as it turns out, he was not alone. Several other students, including some classmates in the Russian Literature class, had also started seeing parts of the ad.

It’s unclear how many ads the FBI paid to run via YouTube or Google.

A search of Google’s recently launched Advertising Transparency Center revealed that the FBI had paid to air a Russian-language version of a two-minute video as recently as April 28. However, the database only shows information for the last 30 days, and Google says it doesn’t provide the information. Share information about advertiser spending.

It is also unclear whether the FBI paid for any advertising on Twitter in addition to disseminating information through its own Twitter account. Twitter responded to a request for information from VOA with the now-standard poop emoji.

The FBI itself declined to provide details about the extent of its social media advertising activities, but its Washington field office confirmed to VOA in an email that it uses “various social media platforms.”

The Washington field office also defended the use of social media advertising, despite allegations that advertisements themselves, such as those seen by Georgetown University student Nicholas Murphy, do not always reach their intended audience.

“The FBI considers these efforts to be productive and cost-effective,” the FBI’s Washington field office told VOA. The agency declined to be more specific about whether spies were identified as a result of the advertisement.

“Russia has long been a counterintelligence threat to the United States, and the FBI will continue to adapt its investigative and assistance techniques to counter that threat and others,” the report said. “We will use all legal means available to us to locate individuals with information that will help protect the United States from threats to national security.”

The Russian embassy in Washington did not respond to calls or emails from VOA seeking comment about the FBI’s use of social media ads targeting Russian officials in the United States, but Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov responded to a March 2022 article in The Washington Post about the FBI’s efforts. Sending ads to mobile phones outside the Russian Embassy in Washington.

According to the embassy’s Twitter account, Mr. Antonov was quoted as tweeting, “Attempting to cause chaos and organize a breakout among @RusEmbUSA officials is ridiculous.”

But some former US counterintelligence officials argue that Russia has reason to be concerned.

“I think people will come out from within,” said former CIA counterintelligence director Olson.

The FBI agent said, “I understand what we’re all seeing. It must be some Russian agents, SVR agents, GRU agents who are disillusioned with what’s going on.” That’s it,” he told VOA.

“I think some good Russians are embarrassed, shocked and ashamed of what President Putin is doing in Ukraine, killing his Slavic brothers and sisters. And they want to fight back.” I think there will be people who think so.”

London, a longtime CIA Secret Service agent and author of Recruiter: Spies and the Lost American Intelligence Technology, likewise witnessed the FBI’s tenacious effort to reach out to disgruntled Russians on social media. believe that will be rewarded.

“In general, the Russians who have worked with us did so out of patriotism…they were angry with the government,” he said.

And any Russian official the FBI wants to contact needs a little more effort.

“They’re targeting Russians who are already there in spirit but haven’t crossed the border yet,” London said, adding that many of the FBI’s ads were directed to Russians, either via encrypted communication apps or not. Like Signal, which added that it’s no coincidence that it shows exactly how to get in touch, whether or not you walk to the station’s front door.

“They’re not playing metaphors here,” he said. “They don’t want anything subject to interpretation.”

Even the language the FBI uses seems designed to build trust.

“It’s not native,” says Bradley Gorsky of Georgetown University’s Slavic Linguistics Department.

But Gorsky said it’s entirely possible that it’s all intentional, given the overall quality of the language in the ad.

“It could be their clever strategy,” he said of the FBI. “If they’re contacting Russian-speaking people and want to communicate with them, but it’s not the Russian-speaking people they’re communicating with, they’re hard-working Americans. This kind of outreach takes a bit of ingenuity if you want them to know that.” Although stiff, Russian may actually come across better than a perfectly native fluent speaker. ”

It is difficult to assess whether the FBI’s spending on social media advertising is achieving the desired results. Public metrics provided by social media companies like Meta can give you an idea of ​​how many people are watching your ad and where they are, but ultimately who is interacting with your ad and responding to it. I won’t reveal too much about what

FBI officials, when pursued, told VOA only that the agency believed the advertising campaign was productive.

Others agree.

“This is a small change compared to the strong military aid provided by the United States,” said Jason Brazakis, a senior researcher at the Sufan Center, a global intelligence firm.

Brazakis, who also heads the Center for Terrorism, Extremism and Counter-Terrorism at the Middlebury Institute for International Affairs, said the FBI’s social media ads had an impact, even though few Russian officials came forward with the information. I think it is possible.

“Part of that is also a message to the broader Russian public,” he told VOA, pointing to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. “Part of this PR has an impacting operational component” [public relations] Combat taking place on the fringes of a conflict. ”

http://www.unitedkingdomnews.net/news/273885128/fbi-turning-to-social-media-to-track-traitors FBI Turns to Social Media to Track Traitors

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