The Charge of the Invisible Army of Kremlin Trolls

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There is no holiday truce in the propaganda war. On this Christmas day, The Washington Post offered its readers a scare story entitled “Kremlin trolls burned across the Internet as Washington debated options.”

The article is long – nearly 4000 words. The only part that is sure to be read in these busy times of short attention spans is the headline, whose two themes are rich in subliminal messages.

First, a slash and burn operation by an army of Kremlin trolls is laying waste to the Internet. Second, official Washington in its benevolent innocence is having trouble facing up to this nefarious threat.

Let’s take these two themes one at a time.

Invasion of the Troll Army

The journalistic peg for this story is a phantom freelance journalist named Alice Donovan whose “first email arrived in the inbox of CounterPunch, a left-leaning American news and opinion website, at 3:26 a.m. – the middle of the day in Moscow.” 

Aha!

Drawing on its abundant intelligence community sources, the WaPo article continues: “The FBI was tracking Donovan as part of a months-long counterintelligence operation code-named ‘NorthernNight.’ Internal bureau reports described her as a pseudonymous foot soldier in an army of Kremlin-led trolls seeking to undermine America’s democratic institutions.”

Now, it is interesting to note that the only evidence provided in this article for “Russia’s army of trolls” (the expression pops up again) is the existence of this pseudonymous foot soldier named Alice Donovan. And the only evidence of her existence is numerous articles published on about a dozen websites over the past two years. Because when CounterPunch attempted, alarmed by the FBI, to find out who she is, it was unable to do so.

So, in this account, one ephemeral foot soldier is cited as proof of an “army.”

This should immediately raise questions. Why was the FBI investigating someone whose only trace of existence was authorship of website articles? It couldn’t be investigating “a person,” since apparently no one knows who this person is. So it was investigating a website writer. Why? What was its criterion?

“As the 2016 presidential election heated up,” the article continues, Alice Donovan “seemed to be doing the Kremlin’s bidding by stoking discontent toward Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and touting WikiLeaks, which US officials say was a tool of Russia’s broad influence operation to affect the presidential race.”

In short, “stoking discontent” toward Hillary is the distinguishing sign of being “a tool” of a Russian operation. Incidentally, there are a lot of us who did just that. I am one of them, having written a whole book of discontent toward Hillary. Are we all under FBI investigation?

Is it or is it not the mission of the FBI to run a counterintelligence operation investigating website writers who digress from the official Washington line on Hillary Clinton, Russia and Syria? Alice Donovan did so but her pieces were relatively mild. Why should she be singled out for an FBI counterintelligence operation? 

Why was CounterPunch warned against her and not against all of us who write such articles?

The not so subliminal message was: any article submitted to a website that contradicts the official line may be the work of sinister Kremlin agents. The evidence: they’ve found one! Its name is Alice Donovan. So be very careful what you publish.

Of course, the “evidence” is just as invisible as all the “proof” of Russian subversion produced so far by US security agencies. Nobody has seen Alice Donovan. Nobody has talked with her. So far, there is no proof of her existence. But that has not prevented leading mainstream media from proclaiming her as exhibit A for Alice in the media prosecution of Vladimir Putin for “undermining our democracy.”

“The FBI, in keeping with its standard practice in counterintelligence investigations, has kept a close hold on information about Donovan and other suspected Russian personas peddling messages inside the United States”, according to the WaPo. But not such a close hold that it refrained from unnerving CounterPunch editors with suggestions that it was facilitating Kremlin cyberwar, or from passing along confidential intelligence reports to the most influential newspaper in the Nation’s Capital, whose ties to the CIA are longstanding.

If Alice Donovan is such a threat, why not expose her/his/its identity?

Reacting to FBI warnings, CounterPunch did its own investigation and came up with significant facts.

First, since it was impossible to trace “Alice Donovan,” the FBI must have been alerted by the writings, not by the person. When and how did the snoopers discover that she was apparently using a pseudonym? Did they know that first, meaning that the FBI equated pen names with Russian subversion? But what counts in an article is above all the content, not the signature. Throughout history, writers have used pen names as protection from potential persecution. The FBI exchange with CounterPunch indicates an intention to warn “left-leaning” websites not to publish anonymous articles, which could be a first step toward excluding persons who have something to say but fear getting in trouble because their views are unorthodox, especially in a period of intensifying witch hunt.

But the most significant fact emerging from CounterPunch’s own investigation is that articles by “Alice Donovan” failed to introduce some new strain of Russian propaganda into American cyberspace. They were not at all original. The phantom commentator picked up pieces of articles found on other left-leaning websites, and pasted them together as her own. The articles were cut and paste – in a word plagiarism.

That is the smoking gun, and the fingerprints are not Russian.

Indeed, inasmuch as there was nothing new, nothing particular sensational, no great “fake news” revelation in the Donovan prose, what could the “Kremlin” hope to gain? Why attempt to “undermine our democracy” with a few shadows of other existing internet articles? 

This simply makes no sense.

There is another hypothesis, however, that does make sense. It is clear from the very creation of Operation NorthernNight that the FBI was charged with the task of producing proof that Internet dissidence has its origins in a Putin plot. But when such evidence turns out to be difficult or impossible to find, it can be manufactured instead – just as a certain number of “terrorist plots” have been manufactured by luring some gullible fool into a sting operation. It could be well worth the trouble of the FBI to entrap leftist publications into publishing articles that could be “exposed” as “Kremlin propaganda”. It is obvious that the Deep State is desperate for “evidence” to back up their Russia-is-destroying-our-democracy fairy tale, and this would fit right in.  The invention of “Alice Donovan” could provide such “evidence”.

If you were an FBI hack, commissioned with writing articles to be signed by “Alice Donovan”, how would you go about it? As an FBI hack, you probably have no idea how to write such an article. The easiest way would be to copy what real “left-leaning” authors had written. The Donovan papers added nothing to what was already in the public domain. They said nothing that other writers had not written, and that might risk further poisoning the minds of gullible Americans. She just cut and pasted. That would be a most convenient way to “invent” a fictional Russian troll - set her loose among the websites and then “discover” the scandal. Just a new twist on the FBI’s perpetual entrapment ploys. A variation on the theme of sting operations. We lure you into doing something we can accuse you of. But it is the “left-leaning” websites that are lured into having published “fake news” by a “Kremlin troll”. This should teach them to be careful!

There is indeed no proof that “Alice Donovan” is a creation of the FBI undercover operation known as NorthernNight, just as there is no proof that “Alice Donovan” was a creation of a Kremlin disinformation campaign. However, there is proof that the FBI undercover operation existed. From its secret sources, The Washington Post reveals that a “previously unreported order – a sweeping presidential finding to combat global cyberthreats – prompted  US spy agencies to plan a half-dozen specific operations to counter the Russian threat.” Why couldn’t “Alice Donovan” have been one of those operations? 

On the other hand, the Kremlin disinformation campaign is still a matter of speculation – despite all the mainstream reports based, like this one claims to be, on “interviews with dozens of current and former senior US officials at the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, and  US and European intelligence services, as well as NATO representatives and top European diplomats.”

Since all those interviews are anonymous, what makes them more credible than an anonymous blogger? Where is the evidence – of anything?

This whole article is built on the a priori assumption of the existence of “an army of Kremlin trolls” out to destroy American democracy. The theme is imaginatively elaborated, but never supported by solid facts.

Saving Trump From the Trolls

If the first theme in the article is designed to intimidate “left-leaning” websites, obliging them to tow the official line, and henceforth threatened with accusations of colluding with “the Kremlin’s army of trolls” if they do not do so, the second theme is indirectly addressed to Trump. The subliminal message: jump onto the anti-Russia bandwagon and you may not be impeached after all.

This message is delivered by innuendo. Whereas the whole “Russian fake news” campaign got off the ground as a way to explain the preposterous election of Donald Trump, and also as a way to discredit the despised president and prepare his destitution, the tone has changed. Now, the WaPo reports, Trump is not a beneficiary but a target of Russian disinformation:

“After Trump took office, Russia’s army of trolls began to shift their focus within the United States, according to  US intelligence reports. Instead of spreading messages to bolster Trump, they returned to their long-held objective of sowing discord in US society and undermining American global influence. Trump’s presidency and policies became a Russian disinformation target.”

“Donovan and other Kremlin-backed personas” began attacking the Trump administration for, among other things, supporting “terrorists” and authorizing military strikes that killed children in Syria.

“ ‘They are all about disruption,’ said a former official briefed on the intelligence. ‘They want a distracted United States that can’t counter Vladimir Putin’s ambitions’.”

What ambitions are those? According to Washington informants, this was because Putin wanted to “make up for its diminished military” by seizing on “influence campaigns and cyberwarfare as equalizers.”

Now, one might think that if all Russia can muster to “equalize” the United States’ unprecedented military machine is an army of Alice Donovans, all those security experts in Washington should relax and stop worrying.

According to this tale, that is just what they did, convinced that “it was all over and we’d won the propaganda war”. Then came – horrors! – RT, a Russian sponsored American television channel than offers viewers a vision of the news that strikes the Washington Post like an exorcism chant.

Poor, Fragile America

So now US security officials run whimpering to The Washington Post claiming that top policy-makers were misled by “a misguided belief in the resilience of American society and its democratic institutions.” Miscalculations and “bureaucratic inertia” left the United States “vulnerable to Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election”… The world’s greatest democracy turns out to be a house of cards.

What a confession! It turns out that if the Russians huff and puff, they can blow the house down.

“I thought our ground was not as fertile,” said Antony J. Blinken, President Barack Obama’s deputy secretary of state. “We believed that the truth shall set you free, that the truth would prevail. That proved a bit naive.”

Gee whiz, the guys in Washington are just too honest to dream of the nasty things those mean Russians can do. But now The Washington Post is there, hand in hand with “the intelligence community”, to warn us, and to warn you, Mr. Trump, that the Russians are the bad guys out to destroy America and you must do everything to stop them.

These complaints have a familiar ring. Whenever the Pentagon is gearing up to bomb some hapless country into regime change, we hear the same chorus from the mainstream media, from intelligence experts and high officials “on conditions of anonymity,” as well as from assorted semi-governmental “non-governmental” human rights organizations, proclaiming that American leaders must be awakened from their idealistic dreams in order to stop the latest Hitler from doing whatever it is such villains do. Of course, America’s naive leaders are just too kind and innocent to take this latest terrible threat seriously - until alerted by diligent spooks and their mainstream media collaborators. We’ve heard this again and again. Remember how human rights advocates had to nag and nag the gentle US war machine to get it to bomb Serbia, to bomb Libya, to arm “good” Syrian rebels. Official America is so good and trusting that it has to be forced to take necessary defensive action.

So come on, Trump, just wake up to the Putin cyberthreat, and all will be forgiven.

The Cygnus and the Rebel

The cygnus flies over terrible seas of amber and peat,

out of which giant mutineers leap,

grasping the cauldrons of light.

Under, under the roots of rebellion

the ossified life is stilled.

The cygnus, the outlander

to the lower spheres,

scorns this ambit of pain.

The rebel, who scorns it too,

is rooted in it.

He deepens these roots

for to help the entombed to rise.

Focus, Discipline, Craft

Some days, you nail it hard and true
to the waiting page…
almost taking off your own fingers
with the force of the mental hammer-swing.
On other occasions,
it’s like wresting an inner snake,
who’s fighting with all of its might
from inching out slowly
into the revealing outside light.
The best times, it’s as easy
as drinking down a cold glass of beer
on a warm, Summer afternoon.
Words don’t just flow…
but are swifts and swallows,
swooping and dipping at impossible angles.
Snatching up ‘Imagery’ and ‘Meaning’
like mayflies
from the waters edge of your subconscious.
There is a furnace inside your heart,
and the filing cabinets
within the memory archives of your mind
fly open at a disorientating speed…
until… BANG!
You step into the centre
of the ‘Calm Within Your Storm’
where you bank and photograph
another unique image of your complicated soul.

Aliud actatis annum iam sole

tonight
the sun
cannot be worshipped
can take no grief
can hear no prayers
it really neither sets
nor rises
nor does it come
in different sizes
waking we
to meet its gaze
sometimes we
in drunken haze
err to think
for us it shines
blessing all
that we define
for our grace
mere kings
are crowned
it spies disgrace
where we abound
three hundred days
and nights we measure
omitting fights
for stolen treasure
when our souls
it warms we please
exclusive rights
to life with ease
When fifty more
expire well
we mix that grace
with dreams of hell.
Before our birth
it deigned to shine
to lend life worth
both mine and thine.

Lovely War

I promise to never leave you
and I know you’ll do the same,
I feel as though I need you,
my strange pleasure, my lovely pain.
I was a teen when you came into my life,
uninvited like a lunging pike.
Yet somehow you gave me something real,
something tangible,
something eternal in this life.

We were made for each other
like souls are made to live forever,
since the age of thirteen intertwined
as winter climbed into spring,
I was an empty canteen
waiting to be filled by the world
shaping me with opinion and perception.
Then you came like a barrel blast
giving me feelings of rejection.
The feeling of hospital sheets
scratching my skin.
Dwindling in a world alone
like a boy lost a thousand miles from home.
Woven into my being, becoming
who I thought I was at a time when
my self-concept was just a seed.

Your invasion hit me
like starving canons,
Blasting my fingertips
with finger pricks,
Quaking my body
into its worst shape,
Pale complexion, chest burned,
Feasting on my stomach
ambushing self-love
until I fell head first.

I thought I was an Ironclad,
Indestructible, unshakable, built to last,
But somehow you breached my surface
and now I’m the hunted.
My heartbeat erratic, for this war
that grows shows no end,
I’m but a war worn soldier
in dire need of drink and bread,
Yet here we are you and me
destined to be, the two of us
will never change.
You came looking for me,
But all you found was resistance,
And I shunned you for years
not acknowledging your existence.
Stubbornness on both sides
of the battlefield
showering the land
with deafening battle cries.
Until time wore out my strength
and you lunged at me
splitting my insides
with your bayonet blade.

Gloaming Lilies

Ginger root lying on a brown paper sack
Can liberty and justice win our country back?
Praying for my life not to be
As useless as a plastic bag tangled a stream.
As a walk through the woods
Or as a ship on the sea
Visions fearful but beautiful
Speak comfort to me.
Grappling not to topple on a ship listing to starboard,
wondering if the storm will sink us where we’re harbored,
I see lightning rending the inky night in twain,
and there a vision flashes between the sheets of rain.
Bank of tiger lilies, orange fire in the gloaming.
Cease my wearied mind your roaming.
I see the beauty we must save, the love we must defend,
I see evil men will fall, their power at an end.
Rose petals drop from a fading bouquet
like harsh words dissolve at end of day.

Good Grace Watchmen

Frost, dawn, I walked alone with the devil
Through the morning, while you
Slept

I hear your school, as I walk

You come to me like the wind
As I see your proudest achievement
A place where you can lack all shame
This is the message she sends

Coffee, music, for hours
Then pray alone with Mary

‘But when a man
speeds toward his own ruin,
a god gives him help’

My ruin has been my achievement
And I see that as we talk now

A friend’s sadness I hear now on my way
But the rain is too much to stop
Through summer you had to keep it

If true love is not of the mundane
What does this say about the
Sanctity of life?
The fact I can only feel it when
I think of your name

I long to speak the language of the angels
Again
I need to understand sanctity again

Do we only know it in childhood, or
Do we not see it on the
Nightly news?

Now I think of war
The place for order in this scheme
The shadow of nuclear death is ever present

I, and my great wise friends propose
That the solution is in community
This is a modern adaptation of Aristotle’s politics
Applied to the wider arena

It invokes trust law and the consumable
And recognises no quarter
In its search for soul

These clocks, it is winter;
That was theirs,
This is ours

I walk with you, and we walk alone
The walk is to find friends
In this uncertain arena

Product Placement

Place your tax break
near my lower bracket
and then brace
for balance
upon impact
as I send you swirling
toward the higher class
of holy angels
that walk amongst us
here on earth.

Place your precious lips
around the swollen ego
of my liver
and then start to suck
twenty years of wine
from the organ
one glass at a time;
red or white,
the story remains
ever the same.

Place your nuclear warhead
on the tip of my tongue
and then dance a jig
as the fireworks ignite
in an electric symphony
of infinite explosions
while I tap and tease
every triggered red button
I can find
for my greedy little fingers.

Place your hopes and dreams
close to my weathered ears
with a wanton whisper
until the winds of change
begin blowing hard
across the wonderland of winter
and the scales
of the seasons shift
as the righteous gavel
falls hard and splinters.

Place your lucky penny
between the copper folds
of my blistered palm
and squeeze my hand
with primal passion
until the fist
is red and screaming
as a thousand coins
like grains of sand
slip sadly through the sieve.

Product Placement” via YouTube

Cost of War

Penny for you thought
Nickel for your soul
The band is tuning the instruments
Bass drum banging, boom boom boom
Our saxophonist refuses to repent
For touching the violinist
When alone in the practice room
They are practicing patriotic melodies
Star Spangle Banner
America the Beautiful
God Save the Queen?
Such madness this must be a dream
Or to the aware
A nightmare
At half time the band marches forth
As one we rise to stand
To salute Old Glory for all it’s worth
The land of the free!
Remember the Maine and all that pain
But forget Wounded Knee
To Hell with Nat Turner and don’t examine slavery
Don’t dare whisper out the Liberty
Damn the British!
Damn the Spanish!
Damn the Mexicans!
Damn the Indians!
Damn the Kaiser!
Damn the Japs!
Dams those Nazis
Damn them Reds (of Russian, Cuban, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese variety)
Damn the Arabs!
Damn the entire world except for me!
They just hate our liberty
Damn supposed to forget that ship
And I let it slip
All the same
Ask Mister Palmer
Ask Mister McGovern
Ask Mister Hoover

Well half time is done
We’ll continue the game
We’re never to blame
We deserve no shame
That’s the story
Ain’t no mystery
Winner writes the history
And takes the glory

Penny for your thought
Nickel for your soul
A rat’s ass for a poor boy’s life
It’s his patriotic duty to kill and die
And for the sake of your defense
They require silence
And never, never ask why

collective neurosis

sometimes i wonder if all the effects from wars, pain, and horrible deaths in the twentieth century
did not find their way into the human psyche and then into the culture somehow blinding us to realities…
somehow strengthening superstitions, myths, and beliefs…
somehow making us drones of a very powerful minority of billionaires who pay homage to no one…
who salute no flag…
who live wonderfully narcissistic lives on their private aircraft and yachts…

sometimes i wonder and the thoughts are lost amid a longing for peace, for justice and equality for all who inhabit this pale blue orb…
homes for the homeless
food for the hungry
clothes for the naked
medicine for the sick
comfort for the dying
care for “for all creatures great and small”

sometimes i wonder and i grow tired, weary…tears precede sleep and dreams provide a brief comfort…
when i awake
i begin to wonder