When Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the studios of state-owned media outlet Russia Today in 2013, he reportedly instructed them to break “the Anglo-Saxon monopoly on global information streams.”
It appears he has not forgotten that goal.
Politico reported on Monday that Russian hackers have been posing as attractive women and friending US troops on Facebook to gather intelligence about the military.
These actions are part of a larger Russian strategy aimed at manipulating and extracting intelligence from the US military.
Russia seems to be infiltrating the social media accounts of US troops for at least two reasons, according to Politico.
One, it allows Russia to better glean the activities of the US military through what its troops post online. “Spies understand that a great deal can be discerned about what militaries are up to based on the unclassified behavior of soldiers,” John Bambenek, of Fidelis Cybersecurity, told Politico.
Two, it gives them the chance to make US troops sympathize with Russia by inserting propaganda into their news feeds.
For example, former military contractor Serena Moring told Politico she noticed US service members sharing a link about a Russian soldier who heroically died while fighting ISIS in Syria.
According to the Pravda report, the Russian soldier supposedly called in an airstrike on himself while surrounded by ISIS militants, telling his command, “I don’t want them to take me and parade me, conduct the airstrike, they will make a mockery of me and this uniform. I want to die with dignity and take all these bastards with me.”
While the veracity of the story is unknown, Moring told Politico that US soldiers were sharing it with admiration.
“All of the response from the military guys was like, ‘That is awesome. That’s an epic way to die,’” she told Politico. “It was a very soldier-to-soldier bond that was created through social media.”
Russia is employing these hybrid warfare tactics against many Baltic states as well.
According to the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, hybrid warfare are “activities conducted to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt, or overthrow a government or occupying power by operating through or with an underground, auxiliary, or guerrilla force in a denied area.”
In fact, Kyiv recently outlawed Russian social media sites, which Ukrainian officials said were being used to spread propaganda. Human Rights Watch, however, accused Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko of trying to curb freedom of expression.