Kremlin’s pro-Trump Facebook buy-ins started in June 2015; DoJ tells RT’s US associates to register as foreign agents
Narrativ‘s Zev Shalev and Tracie McElroy drop a huge story that suggests well over a year of collusion between Team Trump and Team Putin:
The Kremlin began spending money on Facebook in support of Donald Trump as soon as he announced his White House bid in June 2015. Investigators are now probing whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to use Facebook as a propaganda tool.
Brad Parscale picked up the phone on Wednesday June 17, 2015. It was real-estate mogul Donald J. Trump. The San Antonio web designer had built websites for the Trump organization before but this request from his client was far bigger than anything the 39-year old Kansan had ever worked on before.
A day earlier, Trump descended the escalator at his Manhattan Tower to a basement full of supporters and journalists to announce his bid for the White House. Trump told Parscale on the phone he wanted him to build a full presidential campaign website.
Parscale had no political or campaign experience but in the ensuing seventeen months he would build the most aggressive digital media campaign for a president anyone had ever seen. The 6’7″ web designer assembled a team in San Antonio, Texas where he lived. Donald Trump began doing the rounds on cable news fielding questions about Russia. …
At exactly the same time Trump was expressing his openness to dealing with Putin, a Russian company funded by a “close Putin ally with ties to the Russian intelligence” began buying ads on Facebook supporting Trump campaign issues. The social network describes the ads bought by Internet Research Agency as “amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights”
Trump launched his campaign with a tirade against Mexicans immigrants and proposed a border wall. “They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists, and some I assume are good people but I speak to border guards and they tell us what we are getting,.” he told supporters.
On Facebook, a Russian created community called “SecureBorders” with 133,000 followers, began publishing racists ads to amplify Trump’s message, including one of a cartoon Trump dangling a man wearing a T-shirt with a Mexican flag over a wall with the headline “You have to go back pal.”
Facebook claims to have found $150,000 worth of ads from 470 suspicious Russian accounts but this may just be the tip of the iceberg. “This is a very significant set of data points produced by Facebook,” Congressman Adam Schiff told the Washington Post. “Left unanswered in what we received from Facebook — because it is beyond the scope of what they are able to determine — is whether there was any coordination between these social media trolls and the campaign. We have to get to the bottom of that,” Schiff said
Which brings us back to Brad Parscale. In the months after Parscale got the call from Trump to build a campaign website in June 2015, Parscale’s role grew to something akin to that of a campaign manager involved in communicating every message for the Presidential nominee.
His company Giles-Parscale which was accustomed to billing in the double digit thousands received $90 million dollars during the campaign – most of it destined to Facebook, according to the BBC. Theresa Hong worked for Parscale as the Trump campaign’s social media director and says Facebook officials were on-site at the project Alamo headquarters in San Antonio. “They were helping us,” Hong told the BBC. “They were basically our “hands on” partners as far as being able to utilize the platform as effectively as possible.” Hong said.
Facebook worked alongside Cambridge Analytica in San Antonio. CA’s parent company SCL has been accused of stealing 30 million Facebook profiles in through a malicious Facebook app. The social media network would have known about this intrusion because it shut down the app in 2015. Facebook must also have been aware that Cambridge Analytica was profiling users through innocuous looking quizzes on on the social network for use in the campaign.
Keep in mind that the new revelations come on top of Facebook’s own admissions – which create many more questions than they answer, as Think Progress‘s Adam Peck helpfully points out:
[T]he public might never know the true scale of Russia’s efforts, because Facebook refuses to publicly provide any specifics about the ads and their reach. The company says it is “unable” to provide the ads that were found to be linked back to Russia, citing non-existent federal law.
Instead, Facebook says it shared the full findings with special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. But the company’s track record on forthrightness regarding Russia hasn’t been stellar. As recently as July, the company told CNN that it had “seen no evidence that Russian actors bought ads on Facebook in connection with the election.” When outside observers first noted the spread of fake news via social media platforms like Facebook, and argued that it could have had a role in swaying parts of the electorate, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg infamously dismissed the idea as “crazy.”
Meanwhile, Max Kutner has a story at AP that may have slipped under your radar:
The United States Department of Justice has apparently asked people associated with the American arm of RT, formerly Russia Today, to register as foreign agents, the media outlet said on Monday. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.
RT, a news network with ties to the Kremlin, said Monday that a company associated with RT America received a letter from the Justice Department saying “the company is obligated to register” under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. FARA is a statute from 1938 that requires Americans doing political work on behalf of foreign parties to disclose their relationships with those entities. The Justice Department is responsible for enforcing the statute.
The story also contains this friendly reminder from nearly six months ago:
Federal investigators are looking into news websites including RT, Sputnik, Breitbart News and InfoWars, McClatchy reported on March 20, the same day that then-FBI Director James Comey first publicly disclosed the Russia investigation. … [Intelligence pundit Naveed Jamali says the DoJ’s] request suggests “they have evidence that this is not in fact an independent news organization, but essentially an extension of its foreign intelligence and taking direction directly from a foreign state,”
… and that suggests those probes into Russian, racist, and conspiracy web sites reported in March have, as the Brits say, hit the boil.
We’re going to need a whole lot of fresh popcorn.