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Politics Pentagon claims 2,000% increase in Russian trolls after Syria strikes. What does that mean?

22:30  15 april  2018
22:30  15 april  2018 Source:   usatoday.com

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a group of people sitting in front of a crowd: Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White, left, and Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. participate in a news briefing at the Pentagon April 14, 2018 in Arlington, Virginia. The Pentagon held a briefing on the latest development of the strike in Syria. © Alex Wong, Getty Images Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White, left, and Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. participate in a news briefing at the Pentagon April 14, 2018 in Arlington, Virginia. The Pentagon held a briefing on the latest development of the strike in Syria.

SAN FRANCISCO — The Pentagon claimed a 2,000% increase in Russian troll activity on social media following the U.S.-led missile strikes against Syria Friday night.

Spokeswoman Dana White said in Saturday's Pentagon briefing that the activity escalated during the 24 hours following the strike. "The Russian disinformation campaign has already begun," White said.

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White did not detail how the Defense Department calculated that figure, but said the Pentagon would supply "the facts, moving forward."

Questions about the alleged 2,000% increase and how it was measured swirled on social media. The Pentagon did not respond to a request for comment Sunday.

U.S. forces launched targeted missile strikes Friday at military outposts in Syria where the government was believed to have stored chemical weapons that killed dozens of civilians last weekend. Syria has denied the use of chemical weapons on its people. 

Laura Rosenberger, director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy and a senior fellow at The German Marshall Fund of the United States, says her organization's Hamilton 68 dashboard has tracked "a concerted campaign to present alternative narratives to sow doubt about the evidence that Assad was responsible for the chemical attack."

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"It is good that the Pentagon is tracking this and raising awareness about it, a key step in raising our defenses," she said in an email. "But it remains unclear what the U.S. is doing to combat Russia’s disinformation efforts, which continue unabated in am effort to shape American's (and European's) debates on a wide range of issues." 

A Russian troll army deployed by the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency has been accused of hijacking social media conversations to sow political division on social media, particularly during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. 

The Pentagon has identified such efforts as a modern form of state-sponsored warfare. Last year, a Defense Intelligence report on Russian military capabilities included a section on the "weaponization" of information. 

"Americans need to understand that the wars of the future will look more like this: Russia is investing significant resources to create propaganda and disinformation," Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said in a statement Saturday. "The fog of war will not be limited to our situation rooms and battlefields. Our enemies will work to create confusion and distrust among Americans here at home."

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Seven of top 10 URLs being shared by accounts tracked by Hamilton 68 were toeing the Kremlin line on Syria strikes as of Saturday morning, according to Rosenberger. As of Sunday morning, Russian-linked accounts were pushing a mix of "disinformation narratives" about the chemical attack and the poisoning of a Russian former spy in England, she said. The common link: sowing doubt about the conclusions reached by Washington and its allies about responsibility for these attacks.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis said Saturday's press briefing would combat false information coming from Russia, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.

"We can all see that a Russia disinformation campaign is in full force this morning," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said at a U.N. Security Council meeting Saturday. "But Russia’s desperate attempts at deflection cannot change the facts."

Mattis disputes report he wanted Congress to approve Syria strike .
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Wednesday pushed back against a report saying he had unsuccessfully urged President Donald Trump to seek congressional approval ahead of last week's air strikes in Syria.Citing anonymous military and administration officials, the New York Times said Mattis had recommended Trump get a green light from lawmakers before launching Friday's cruise missile barrage against three targets the Pentagon said were tied to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons program.

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