Russian Intelligence Services, namely the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), and the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), play critical roles in propagating Russian disinformation online. The FSB, GRU, and SVR operate a network of websites that obscure their Russian origin to appeal to Western audiences. Outlets operated by Russian Intelligence Services focus on divisive issues in the United States, denigrate U.S. political candidates, and disseminate false and misleading information. The GRU and FSB were first designated in 2016.
The FSB directly operates disinformation outlets. SouthFront is an online disinformation site registered in Russia that receives taskings from the FSB. It attempts to appeal to military enthusiasts, veterans, and conspiracy theorists, all while going to great lengths to hide its connections to Russian intelligence. In the aftermath of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, SouthFront sought to promote perceptions of voter fraud by publishing content alleging that such activity took place during the 2020 U.S. presidential election cycle.
NewsFront is a Crimea-based disinformation and propaganda outlet that worked with FSB officers to coordinate a narrative that undermined the credibility of a news website advocating for human rights. Part of NewsFront’s plan was to utilize Alexander Malkevich, who is also being re-designated in today’s action, to further disseminate disinformation. NewsFront was also used to distribute false information about the COVID-19 vaccine, which further demonstrates the irresponsible and reckless conduct of Russian disinformation sites.
The Strategic Culture Foundation (SCF) is an online journal registered in Russia that is directed by the SVR and closely affiliated with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. SCF is controlled by the SVR’s Directorate MS (Active Measures) and created false and unsubstantiated narratives concerning U.S. officials involved in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. It publishes conspiracy theorists, giving them a broader platform to spread disinformation, while trying to obscure the Russian origins of the journal so that readers may be more likely to trust the sourcing.
The GRU operates InfoRos. InfoRos calls itself a news agency but is primarily run by the GRU’s 72nd Main Intelligence Information Center (GRITs). GRITs is a unit within Russia’s Information Operations Troops, which is identified as Russia’s military force for conducting cyber espionage, influence, and offensive cyber operations. InfoRos operates under two organizations, “InfoRos, OOO” and “IA InfoRos.” InfoRos used a network of websites, including nominally independent websites, to spread false conspiracy narratives and disinformation promoted by GRU officials. Denis Tyurin (Tyurin) held a leadership role in InfoRos and had previously served in the GRU.