UPDATED: FBI probes Russia’s Sputnik News Agency for ☭Trump campaign agitprop☭
“Spikey” Isikoff scores with a major, though not surprising, Monday morning scoop.
The FBI recently questioned a former White House correspondent for Sputnik, the Russian-government-funded news agency, as part of an investigation into whether it is acting as an undeclared propaganda arm of the Kremlin in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
As part of the probe, Yahoo News has learned, the bureau has obtained a thumb drive containing thousands of internal Sputnik emails and documents — material that could potentially help prosecutors build a case that the news agency played a role in the Russian government “influence campaign” that was waged during last year’s presidential election and, in the view of U.S. intelligence officials, is still ongoing.
The emails were turned over by Andrew Feinberg, the news agency’s former White House correspondent, who had downloaded the material onto his laptop before he was fired in May. He confirmed to Yahoo News that he was questioned for more than two hours on Sept. 1 by an FBI agent and a Justice Department national security lawyer at the bureau’s Washington field office.
It is not clear whether the agent and prosecutor who questioned Feinberg were acting as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s broader investigation into Russian efforts to disrupt the 2016 election and possible links to the Trump campaign. “We are not confirming whether specific matters are or are not part of our ongoing investigation,” a spokesman for Mueller emailed. A spokesman for the Justice Department declined to comment, and the FBI did not respond to questions.
But the inquiry comes at a time when members of Congress and others have pushed the Justice Department to strengthen its enforcement of the FARA, especially as it relates to the operations in Washington of two Russian news organizations, Sputnik and RT (formerly known as Russia Today).
“This is incredibly significant,” said Asha Rangappa, a former FBI counterintelligence agent and now an associate dean of Yale Law School, about the bureau’s questioning of the former Sputnik reporter. “The FBI has since the 1970s taken pains not to be perceived in any way as infringing on First Amendment activity. But this tells me they have good information and intelligence that these organizations have been acting on behalf of the Kremlin and that there’s a direct line between them and the [Russian influence operations] that are a significant threat to our democracy.”
Sputnik reacted as if they weren’t a media tool of Vladimir Putin:
— Sputnik (@SputnikInt) September 11, 2017
Reactions in the reality-based world were – well, divergent from Sputnik’s tweet:
Between social media and Russian media and US alt-right media we are going to learn how our election was thrown.https://t.co/pdNby23e3s
— Amy Siskind (@Amy_Siskind) September 11, 2017
— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) September 11, 2017
We know from ex-Sputnik reporters there are no innocent, independent minds. Literally the job is to publish what the Kremlin orders. pic.twitter.com/hqwoaxRIcA
— TLeaf (@GezetteThee) September 11, 2017
One of Spunik’s American apparatchiks… er, reporters, Cassandra Fairbanks, has decided to to sue Twitter superstar Claude Taylor, who has (among other things) rightfully called her out for using what (due to the unintentional clumsiness of propagandists Jack Posobiec and notorious bigot Chuck Johnson) has become a de facto white power hand sign. It is not going well:
LOL. Like I said, Cassandra doesn’t want to be deposed under oath. She doesn’t have a FARA reg for her Sputnik work. Too bad for her now.
— Counterchekist (@counterchekist) September 11, 2017
Karma’s a bitch!
UPDATE: Yahoo News adds:
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Sputnik is owned by Rossiya Segodnya, a Russian government media operation headed by Dmitri Kiselyov, a belligerent television broadcaster who is known as Putin’s “personal propagandist” and has been sanctioned by the European Union in response to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. On its website, Sputnik describes itself as a “modern news agency” that “covers global political and economic news targeting an international audience.”
Contacted by Yahoo News, Sputnik’s U.S. editor in chief, Mindia Gavasheli, said, “Any assertion that we are not a news organization is simply false.” He also said he was unaware of the FBI probe. “This is the first time I’m hearing about it, and I don’t think anyone at Sputnik was contacted, so thank you for letting us know,” Gavasheli said.
Gavasheli attributed the push to have Sputnik register through FARA to paranoia surrounding Russia. “I think it tells about the atmosphere of hysteria that we are witnessing now,” Gavasheli said. “Anything being related to Russia right now is being considered a spycraft of some sort.”
Shortly after this story was published on Monday, a Sputnik spokeswoman released a statement saying the company reached out to the Justice Department after being alerted to the investigation by Yahoo News.
“Unfortunately our requests to the Justice Department for information has not been answered to date,” the statement said. ” We are more than happy to answer any questions the DOJ or the FBI might have.”
The statement also defended Sputnik as “a news organization dedicated to accurate news reporting.”
“Our journalists have won multiple media awards throughout the world. Any assertion that Sputnik is anything but a credible news outlet is false,” the statement said.
Both Sputnik and RT were identified in a U.S. intelligence report in January as being arms of Russia’s “state-run propaganda machine” that served as a “platform for Kremlin messaging to Russian and international audiences.”
Copyright 2017 News Behaving Badly