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Russian intelligence controls warlord's disinformation empire with AI

Russian intelligence services subsumed the late Yevgeny Prigozhin's network and Artificial Intelligence is amplifying their reach, sources tell us.
Russian intelligence controls warlord's disinformation empire with AI
Posted at 5:23 PM, Mar 25, 2024

False posts of bed bugs infesting Europe, false reports about abduction and a false investigation into President Joe Biden all bare the trademarks of Russian disinformation.

Disinformation expert Darren Linvill is closely monitoring one Russian operation slyly named FBI. 

"The FBI stands for the Foundation for Battling Injustice," says Linvill, the co-director of the Watt Family Innovation Center Media Forensics Hub at Clemson University. "And it's a front organization operating out of Russia that works to launder stories and launder narratives into Western conversations in France, Germany. And the United States."

Archived pages of the fake Russian site show its founder was Vladimir Putin's so-called chef, Yevgeny Prigozhin. He rose from selling hot dogs to catering for the Kremlin to leading mercenaries around the world with the Wagner Group, before leading a mutiny against Russian authority last year. He died when the plane he was on exploded in mid-air. Putin said fragments of hand grenades were found in the bodies of the dead.

Prigozhin also founded an infamous Russian troll farm that generated fake personas on social media in a mission to influence American elections.

SEE MORE: Suspects charged in Russia concert hall attack that killed over 130

After his death, the U.S. thought his disinformation network was shut down. But Scripps News has learned his sprawling disinformation empire never stopped. Russian intelligence services have taken control, a State Department official told Scripps News. And now, the official says Russians are using Artificial Intelligence to amplify their reach.

"Mostly what this AI is doing is creating camouflage for these operations. It's taking real stories and rewriting them into just a different version of that real story that you didn't know came from Fox News or CNN or any of the pages that they might be stealing from," says Linvill. 

That work is evident through notes left in the text. 

"You'll find these mistakes," Linvill said. "There will be a note. It says, 'Note: This AI has done x, y, and z.' ... They've actually told the AI to be cynical, to be cynical regarding American politics, to undermine U.S. institutions, and to support Putin." 

The Russians have also begun using AI-driven Chat GPT to generate fake reader comments on fake articles in Latin America, a U.S. official tells Scripps News. The goal, in these early stages, has been to amplify content.

Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab researcher Roman Osadchuk has been digging deep into yet another Russian use of AI. 

"What I am seeing is that AI is actually narrating the messages," he told Scripps News. "A regular AI, a robo-voice that allows Russians to avoid detection." 

Recently, mainstream Russian media outlets and social media accounts promoted a false report that King Charles had died including a fake press release from Buckingham Palace. Scripps News has learned the disinformation network founded by the late mercenary Prigozhin has a long-standing fixation with the royal family.

"The Prigozhin network has for years loved to talk about the royal family," Linvill says. "I think that they see the royal family as a tool, a tool to get people's attention, a tool to insert their own ideas into ongoing conversations."

That's how Russian disinformation can continue to sow confusion.


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