Friday, March 31, 2023

Why US Has 30 Biolabs Inside Ukraine Controlled By US Department Of Defense?

WaPo  |  The Kremlin’s disinformation casts the United States — and Ukraine — as villains for creating germ warfare laboratories, giving Mr. Putin another pretext for a war that lacks all justification. The disinformation undermines the biological weapons treaty, showing that Mr. Putin has little regard for maintaining the integrity of this international agreement. The disinformation attempts to divert attention from Russia’s barbaric onslaught against civilians in Ukraine. In 2018, the Kremlin may have been seeking to shift attention from the attempted assassination of former double agent Sergei Skripal in Britain, or from the Robert S. Mueller III investigation that year of Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential campaign.

The biological laboratories are just one example of Russia’s wider disinformation campaigns. Data shared by Facebook shows Russians “built manipulative Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter pages, created pro-Muslim and pro-Christian groups, and let them expand via growth from real users,” says author Samuel Woolley in “The Reality Game.” He adds, “The goal was to divide and conquer as much as it was to dupe and convince.” During the pandemic, Russia similarly attempted to aggravate existing tensions over public health measures in the United States and Europe. It has also spread lies about the use of chemical weapons, undermining the treaty that prohibits them and the organization that enforces it. In the Ukraine war, Russia has fired off broadsides of disinformation, such as claiming the victims of the Mariupol massacre were “crisis actors.” Russia used disinformation to mask its responsibility for the shoot-down of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH-17 over Ukraine in 2014.

The disinformation over Ukraine, repeated widely in the Russian media, plays well with social groups that support Putin: the poor, those living in rural areas and small towns, and those being asked to send young men to the front. Mr. Putin so tightly controls the news media that it is difficult for alternative news and messages to break through.

Disinformation is a venom. It does not need to flip everyone’s, or even most people’s, views. Its methods are to creep into the lifeblood, create uncertainty, enhance established fears and sow confusion.

The best way to strike back is with the facts, and fast. Thomas Kent, the former president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, has pointed out that the first hours are critical in such an asymmetrical conflict: Spreaders of disinformation push out lies without worrying about their integrity, while governments and the news media try to verify everything, and take more time to do so. Mr. Kent suggests speeding the release of information that is highly likely to be true, rather than waiting. For example, it took 13 days for the British government to reach a formal conclusion that Russia was behind the poisoning of Mr. Skripal, but within 48 hours of the attack, then-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told Parliament that it appeared to be Russia, which helped tip the balance in the press and public opinion.

In Ukraine, when Russia was on the threshold of invasion, government and civil society organizations rapidly coordinated an informal “early warning system” to detect and identify Russia’s false claims and narratives. It was successful when the war began, especially with use of the Telegram app. In a short time, Telegram use leapt from 12 percent adoption to 65 percent, according to those involved in the effort

Also in Ukraine, more than 20 organizations, along with the National Democratic Institute in Washington, had created a disinformation debunking hub in 2019 that has played a key role in the battle against the onslaught of lies. A recent report from the International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy identified three major efforts that paid off for Ukraine in the fight against Russian disinformation as war began. One was “deep preparation” (since Russia was recycling old claims from 2014, they were ready); active and rapid cooperation of civil society groups; and use of technology, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, to help sift through the torrents of Russian disinformation and rapidly spot malign narratives.

Governments can’t do this on their own. Free societies have an advantage that autocrats don’t: authentic civil society that can be agile and innovative. In the run-up to the Ukraine war, all across Central and Eastern Europe, civil society groups were sharpening techniques for spotting and countering Russian disinformation.

Plain old media literacy among readers and viewers — knowing how to discriminate among sources, for example — is also essential.

Open societies are vulnerable because they are open. The asymmetries in favor of malign use of information are sizable. Democracies must find a way to adapt. The dark actors morph constantly, so the response needs to be systematic and resilient.

 

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