Let's say you're Russian intelligence under Putin.
You have a world-class disinformation campaign apparatus inside the American political and media machine. It's good enough to have given you the American president. You know that Robert Mueller has been appointed to investigate. You know the American media has been compromised badly and trust in it was at an all-time low. What's the best way to wreck the Mueller probe? Disinformation of your own, of course.
No surprise then that when the Russians tried to sabotage and discredit the Mueller probe with false and dangerous information, the Russians overplayed their hand and were laughed at by journalists.
Federal prosecutors said on Wednesday that special counsel Robert Mueller’s office was subject to a Russian disinformation campaign that intended to discredit his investigation into the Kremlin’s meddling in the 2016 election.
The Kremlin-backed disinformation campaign that targeted Mueller’s office failed to gain any traction, however, as the contents of a fake trove of the special counsel’s files were immediately dismissed as largely fabricated by the reporter and researcher who received them.
The fake documents were sent to ThinkProgress reporter Casey Michel and independent disinformation researcher Josh Russell in November in direct messages from a Twitter account called @HackingRedstone. The messages’ sender claimed to be “anonymous hackers.”
“We are like hundreds of others, but we are the one and only who got the Special Counsel Mueller database,” @HackingRedstone claimed. “You might wonder why we want to share all this information with you. You are the one who can tell people the truth!”
Both Michel and Russell were immediately skeptical of the documents.
“The DM I got was ridiculous, both in terms of its syntax as well as the types of phrases it used,” Michel told NBC News. “It reminded me of the types of language we saw on some of the fake Russian Facebook pages, like when the Russian trolls claimed they were Texas secessionists who were ‘in love with Texas shape!’”
Mueller’s team confirmed some of the documents were legitimate and obtained through the trial’s discovery process. Other documents included in the fake leak, which included screenshots of websites and memes that were not created by the Internet Research Agency, were not collected by Mueller’s team.
The Internet Research Agency is a St. Petersburg-based firm run by a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin whose key executives have been indicted by Mueller on charges of defrauding the United States.
The fake documents were apparently included in the trove to falsely demonstrate that Mueller’s team had incorrectly characterized some American websites as Russian disinformation operations, Michel said.
“Some of the files they sent along did appear legitimate and were some of the things we'd already seen on those fake Twitter or Facebook pages before,” Michel said. “Some of the things were pretty clearly not from the IRA, or at least weren't anything that any other reporters or analysts had ever claimed to be Russian.”
Just plausible enough false information, close enough that it could be true, mixed in with documents that were legitimate, in an effort to get left-leaning websites to bite. It worked on the right, why not the left, too?
But it didn't. The false information was apparently a deliberate leak to damage Mueller's case against more than a dozen Russian nationals accused of being spied that Mueller indicted last year.
They seem pretty desperate to pull this, yes?
It's almost like he's got them dead to rights.