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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Commissars of the Internet: Part II

Today we bring you the fifth installment in the "Commissars of the Internet" series, an original LR translation which exposes how the Kremlin is attempting to take control of the Internet.

Last Monday, we read the authors' introduction to the subject of "Internet Brigades." Then last Tuesday, we learned the details about their organization and activities and on Wednesday we examined their ideology and strategy. Last Thursday, we began reading about the brigades in action against their targets, and today we continue that story. In particular, we learn that Public Enemy #1 for the brigades was . . . Anna Politkovskaya. Next week, the article concludes with illustrations of the nexus between the KGB and the brigades and conclusions about Russia's future. This will be followed by publication of the entire article as its own web page. You can find the entire article to date on the new website LR is constructing to house its major translations, located here. The first major translation, "Spare Organs," is also already there.


Here is Part II, Installment 5: The "Brigade" in Action, continued

Commissars of the Internet
The FSB at the Computer

Anna Polyanskaya, Andrei Krivov & Ivan Lomko
Gulag
September 16, 2006

(continued from Thursday)

Part II. Commissars of the Internet

“Disinformation and Kompromat”

Along with the thief-like techniques described in the first part of this article, used to distract attention and lead political discussions into the wilderness, the Brigade also regularly throws targeted disinformation and kompromat into forums. Refuting such information can be difficult, and the old adage, “Keep lying, and eventually something will stick” works here as well as anywhere.

Clearly, it is important for the Brigade that false claims be a part of every discussion, and that those claims become part of the new myths that influence public opinion. Why in the world does the Brigade so constantly and brazenly repeat lies that have already been refuted? Its members themselves openly admit (and we quote):

“Graffiti is read by many more people than write it. And if I write over and over again that someone is a pig, eventually that someone will oink.”

One might suppose the existence of a certain type of person who is endowed with “the gift of utter shamelessness”, but strangely enough, there are generally at least five participants of this type in any discussion, and on the most popular Russian political forums there may be a dozen. All of their false claims, which identically falsify events and history, are repeated by them every day and sometimes word for word in dozens and hundreds of forums.

Technical Methods of Pressure

One of the most commonly used methods for putting pressure on stubborn opponents (especially those who make note of the possible presence of a tight-knit Brigade on the forum) is to send them junk email containing viruses and Trojan horses. In our archive we have dozens of cases in which people of liberal viewpoints have reported that after posting messages opposing the ideological values of the Putin regime they have suddenly suffered massive virus attacks that practically destroyed their computer programs and blocked their access to the Internet.

Here, for example is a report from one visitor to the forum Civitas.ru:

Immediately after my short participation in a forum on Civitas.ru about the necessity of lustrating the FSB, a series of strong virus attacks penetrated all the defense systems of my computer and kept me from getting on the Internet for several days. Assuming that this was a coincidence, I returned to the same discussion forum on this topic that is so unpleasant for the FSB. That same day the following post appeared on the forum:

“You again! Veronika is back. I would have thought you would understand by now, Nikush. It became clear for everyone else a long time ago -- only for you is it still unclear. Fine. Then we’ll continue working. But one quick question for you, Veronika. You write about the KGB that they are, supposedly, beasts, and then you write that you live in Russia. If all of this is true, and I for example am a major in the FSB, doesn’t this scare you? Wouldn’t you rather be known as a French Jane?”

Immediately after this remark was posted, the massive virus attack on my computer returned. Clearly, this was a continuation of the work of the “FSB major”.

Obsessive stories about themselves

Trying to add credibility to their stories, brigadniki often tell unsolicited stories about themselves, their places of residence and work, their parents, etc, and publicize their work and home phone numbers, which none of the other participants in these forums find appropriate to do. At the same time, members of the Brigade often get mixed up in the details of “their” biographies, and may know very little about their supposed profession or the country where they supposedly live. Very often, they are émigrés in a foreign country, or call themselves émigrés. In recent months, however, this trend has changed, so that many of the brigadniki now claim to be residents of remote and non-fertile areas of Russia or Siberia, where, according to their stories, “a massive economic, social and cultural blossoming is underway, along with an overwhelming improvement in the standard of living, under the wise leadership of the Putin administration.”

Insightfulness of the Brigade

One of the most interesting peculiarities of the brigadniki is their ability to identify and publicize on forums not only their anonymous opponents’ place of residence, but also their full names, biographic details, place of work, and names of their relatives. Of course, they first ask a multitude of questions about their opponent’s country of residence, work, age, education, etc. But even when the personalities asking all these questions do not receive answers from their opponents, they somehow manage to find out this information on their own.

LR: As many LR readers may know, the eXile has decided that La Russophobe should be the recipient of exactly this type of treatment, and the eXile's publisher Mark Ames is an employee of state-owned Russian television. If the eXile is not acting directly on behalf of the Kremlin, they are giving wonderful impersonation of doing so. Remember, the Russian government has shown itself more than willing to prosecute bloggers for attacking the Kremlin, as was the case for instance with Vladimir Rakhmankov. Is the eXile a member of "the Brigades?" Perhaps LR should sponsor a contest to find out . . . . On the other hand, senior Russia blogger Andy Young of Siberian Light has called the eXile's antics simply "demented" so perhaps it merely hopes to be like the Brigades some day.

We once saw how, in the online remarks section of the magazine “Moskovskiye Novosti”, one member of a Brigade, supposedly using only the email address and neutral nickname “Kutyur”, determined and publicized the full name and place of work of one of the regular members of the discussion, a fierce supporter of Gaidar, Chubays and the SPS party. This was a couple of years ago, when the SPS was sharply criticizing Putin and his policies with respect to NTV and the war in Chechnya. The publication on the forum of the SPS supporter’s personal information was accompanied by threats against him and his family, which forced him to quit the web forum and for a long time refrain from any sort of discussion.

Finding and publicizing an opponent’s personal information with the intention of adding credibility to threats against him was made the more surprising by the fact that the “exposed” reader had given practically no details about himself on the site, and the site did not show his IP address. We observed similar, if somewhat less characteristic incidents more than once on the forum for the site “Lenta.ru”, in which supporters of Putin suddenly called by their true first names opponents they had just met, and whose nicknames consisted only of numbers or punctuation marks. Not long ago we learned of a case in which a person from North America writing under a pseudonym on the political forum “Russia Today” suddenly had published on the forum by his opponents in the Brigade a detailed document with his entire biography, including medical diagnoses. This brings to mind the Russian joke about an Internet briefing by President Putin:

“Putin On-Line”

Here we have a question from an anonymous user:

- Vova, aren’t you ashamed to answer questions prepared in advance?

- No, Nikolai Petrovich Sidrov of Yaroslav, resident of Lenin Street, building 16, apartment 2, IP number (such-and-such), ISP (such-and-such), I’m not at all embarrassed to answer questions prepared in advance.

Politkovskaya – Object of Special Attention by the Brigade

Brigadniki are almost always present, and especially active and aggressive, at discussions of certain publications, authors and topics. Among Russian publications and authors, the leader in all categories would be articles on Chechnya by Anna Politkovskaya in the journal “Novaya Gazeta”.

LR: Keep in mind, much of this was written in 2003, three years before Politkovskaya was murdered, a year before she blamed Putin for Beslan in the Guardian, and before Putin called her a journalist who was practically unknown in Russia whose "political influence inside the country was of little significance." In other words, of course, the "president" of Russia was lying.

What happens during discussions of these articles simply defies description. It is an absolute orgy of animal hatred toward both Politkovskaya and every Chechen on the planet. Curiously, these remarks have been word-for-word identical with those posted since 2000, putting forward exactly the same “arguments”, accusations and insults, using exactly the same phrasing and sentence constructions. One gets the feeling that they are being written by exactly the same people with the same impoverished imagination and vocabulary. And once again we see here the same psychological puzzle: Is it really plausible that common readers, so fiercely hating this journalist and her viewpoints, would constantly, regularly, in every edition, read her every article and write exactly the same remarks, over and over again, never lacking the time or money to pay for the expensive Internet access one finds in Russia?

In this atmosphere so thick with insults, lies and xenophobia, normal discussion becomes impossible, and people with viewpoints other than those of the “iron clutch” are pushed out of the forums. It is entirely possible that this is one of the objectives of the Brigade, with its unified, propaganda-like ideology.

Administrative Resources

At the end of Jaunary 2003, on one of the more popular sites on the RuNet – the electronic version of the liberal magazine “Moskovskiye Novosti” – a fairly unusual event occurred. The Brigade on this forum unexpectedly began receiving active assistance from the new administrator of the MN site. The new administrator, a person of clearly limited intellect and ethics, suddenly, in spite of the site rules, categorically refused to remove from the site multiple anti-Semitic “flood” postings and obscene abuse written by members of the pro-Putin Brigade. Moreover, when many readers requested that the magazine take measures against the foul-mouthed anti-Semites from the forum’s Brigade, the administrator publicly answered: “You make me sick.” Then, without explaining his reasons, the administrator banned from the forum all members of the discussion who had been so presumptuous as to criticize Putin and the FSB.

The MN site administrator then took the unprecedented step (even for the RuNet) of purging the archives of the forum for the past two years. The MN site administrator was so energetic he carefully deleted only the several tens of thousands of readers’ postings that were directed against Putin and the policies of the FSB. Once again many regular contributors to the site expressed their annoyance to the administrator. In response the administrator advised that a number of the participants in previous discussions (all of them people of liberal and democratic viewpoints, who had never broken the rules of the forum) had been banned from the site on the personal instructions of the magazine’s editor in chief, V. Loshak.

One of the readers banned from the site had to use another computer to post his protest, having vowed to bring to light the fact of political censorship at MN. Eventually, his access to the site was reopened, but the site editor then took the unprecedented step of publicizing the IP codes of both of this person’s computers. The publication of a user’s IP code is quite undesirable for the user, since it makes it easier for hackers to break in, and the administrator’s doing this represented an absolutely amoral breech of the most basic standards of professional ethics. Ironically, exactly this same administrator had only a few months before publicly explained the undesirability and danger of publicizing IP codes.

After this reader’s departure from the forums being censored by the Brigade, the Brigade continued “in hot pursuit”, locating his U.S.-based ISPs using the IP-codes of his Internet addresses, and transparently hinting they might tell his employer about his pastime of participating in discussion forums during working hours.

The site administrator’s referring to the order of the chief editor -- to ban from the site all “anti-Putin” readers and delete all their postings for the past year and a half from the archives -- speaks for itself. We will note only that the “censored” readers never once broke the rules of the site, never used obscene language, etc. Moreover, the editor left in the archives all of the obscene abuse, indecencies and personal threats directed at these readers by members of the Brigade, while every last one of these reader’s postings that were directed against Putin or the FSB were carefully deleted.

It seems completely ridiculous that the editors of MN to this day openly help drive from the site people of liberal viewpoints, most of whom defend the positions of the authors and journalists of this still fairly liberal publication, to the benefit of those participants of discussions who absolutely trash these authors, showering them with every possible insult and obscene abuse.

Impressions of a first-time visitor to a RuNet forum

“When I first came to one of the forums of the magazine Moskovskiye Novosti, I saw a “discussion” taking place which consisted of a dialogue between a person with a female nickname and a tight-knit group of comrades who were cursing this woman in a chorus of foul abuse. The woman was writing in correct and carefully-argued postings on a wide range of issues about Islam and the historic connections of the KGB with near east Arab dictatorships. In response flew a stream of obscene abuse and indecencies from several male-nicknamed personalities, who praised the KGB.

“I was disturbed by this horrible scene of hounding and posted a remark about the unacceptability of such methods of argument and the use of foul language against a woman. Shortly after this I received emails from two participants in the forum, one a pianist in New York and the other a middle-aged woman from Florida. In their unsolicited emails my correspondents wrote that the woman whom I had defended was supposedly a vicious provocateur who hounded honest, decent people in every way. They presented a picture of events which in every way contradicted what I had seen with my own eyes. The elderly lady attached a picture of herself and invited me to visit her. The musician offered to meet me in a Russian restaurant in New York.

“As it later turned out, these two personalities were among he most active on the MN forums and several other liberal forums. They always worked in tandem, and were online for many hours every day (under a variety of nicknames, of course). If initially I had some doubts about the existence of a Brigade, the methods of the brigadniki themselves have quickly enlightened me otherwise. What struck me especially was the participation of the editor of the magazine himself in the expulsion of dissenting voices from the site, in favor of those who systematically terrorized and cursed them.”

After the site administrator and Brigade had chased from the MN forum every intelligent reader, commentaries on the forum came to consist of nothing but filthy abuse directed at people who had already been driven out, jumbled in with anti-Semitic “floods”, praises for Putin and more curses directed at Jews, the U.S. and President Bush. The MN site administrator has not objected. He has finished his work, having driven from the forum all those who disturbed the Brigade’s peace, and left the forum to its fate.

COMING NEXT WEEK: PART III, THE BRIGADE’S “GIFT OF PROPHECY”

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