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Russians used ‘Bernie Bros’ as ‘unwitting agents’ in disinformation campaign: Senate Intel witness

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At Thursday afternoon’s meeting of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Retired Gen. Keith Alexander — former director of the National Security Agency — said that Russian operatives targeted both liberal and conservative voters in its disinformation campaigns during the 2016 election.

Dr. Thomas Rid of Kings College London’s Department of War Studies explained that polarization makes societies vulnerable to manipulation by disinformation campaigns.

Russia, Rid explained, according to CBS News, likes to use “unwitting agents” to carry out its work. WikiLeaks, Twitter and “overeager journalists” all contributed to Russia’s efforts to destabilize the U.S. by disrupting its 2016 election.

Democratic committee co-chair Sen. Mark Warner (VA) asked the panel if they had any doubt that Russia had attempted to interfere in some aspects of the 2016 election. Alexander said not only did he have no doubt, he could get very specific.

“Senator, I think what they were trying to do was drive a wedge within the Democratic Party between the Clinton group and the Sanders group,” said Alexander. “And then in our nation between Republicans and Democrats.”

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Supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) reported earlier this month that during the 2016 election, their social media feeds and pro-Sanders Facebook groups were inundated with what they now believe were Russian bots spewing anti-Hillary memes including fake news stories about Clinton using a body double and murdering her ideological opponents. Over time the anti-Clinton online faction became known by the nickname “Bernie Bros.”

On Thursday morning, counterterrorism expert Clinton Watts told the Senate Committee that Russia is still carrying out cyber-operations against the country. Russia, he said, floods Twitter with bots linking to conspiracy theories that will appeal to Trump at times when the president is likely to be online.

The Russians target Trump, Watts said, because they know he is a reliable spreader of fake news.

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