Russian operatives with ties to a notorious “troll factory” under indictment by special counsel Robert Mueller may be preparing to launch an influence operation to interfere in the 2018 U.S. midterm elections, McClatchy reports.
Speaking at the end of the Fifth Annual Government Forum on Cyber Threat Intelligence, researchers at the cybersecurity firm FireEye warned of a new effort that mimics the information warfare campaign that U.S. intelligence has concluded Russia conducted to help Donald Trump during his successful 2016 presidential campaign.
FireEye, which was a sponsor of the conference, warned of a new website, usareally.com, that appeared on the internet on May 17. The site has posted an average of nine articles a day, in broken english.
On May 25, the website teased that their “USA Really” campaign would officially launch on June 14.
“June 14th isn’t just Trump’s birthday. It’s not just Flag Day, either,” the post read. “This is the day when we officially launch our project, ‘USA Really’, which is an honest media outlet that tells you what’s really happening in America.”
“Our slogan is ‘The USA As It Really Is!’ We invite everyone who care (sic) about America to come and celebrate with us outside the White House on June 14th at 2pm to congratulate the rest of the country on this triply important day,” the post continued.
“We’re all patriots, and we all want everyone else to finally wake up!” they added.
The researchers at the cybersecurity firm warned the website’s operators once worked out of the same St. Petersburg “troll factory” known as the Internet Research Agency. Special counsel Mueller indicted the company on February 16.
“We’re not saying it (USA Really) is the Internet Research Agency but there are a number of indicators that suggest it is,” said Lee Foster, manager of information operations analysis for FireEye iSIGHT Intelligence.
The Russian operatives behind the website reported work for the Federal News Agency (FAN), whose ownership is unknown.
“There are a bunch of other domains as well that play on USA Really that we are monitoring that haven’t launched,” Foster explained.
“It’s not always easy to change an outcome (of an election) but they can delegitimize the process and create doubt,” said John Hultquist, director of intelligence analysis at FireEye iSIGHT.
Facebook disabled the group’s Facebook page after a McClatchy reporter requested comment. They are still active on Twitter.
A YouTube video says the, “Federal News Agency has plans for a similar English news platform like Sputnik” that is hiring “English speaking journalists.”