When Kremlin Trolls Attack

The issue of online trolls doing the bidding of Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin has been getting some mainstream media attention, finally. The reality that Russia buys, or at least rents, trolls by the battalion to harass, intimidate and make life unpleasant for anybody who opposes Moscow policy, while employing aggressive agitprop to further Putinist propaganda, isn’t exactly news, but it’s nevertheless welcome to see mainstream outlets doing some digging into what’s going on.

I’ve dealt with more than my share of Kremlin trolls ever since the Edward Snowden story broke in June 2013. As a major spokesman for the anti-Snowden viewpoint, as well as the only former NSA counterintelligence officer who’s talked publicly about this case at length, I’ve gotten my share of grief and then some from online Pals of Putin, with their usual modus operandi: smears, lies, slurs, and threats.

Some of these Kremlin clowns played a role in trying to get me fired from the Naval War College last summer and, more seriously, they issued threats of violence against me and my family, even posting my home address online. This is what the block function on Twitter is for and they haven’t silenced me yet, nor are they going to.

Of course, their antics continue. Over at Kremlin Trolls blog, authored by the estimable Andrew Weisburd — you should be following both — there was a revealing takedown of a recent online smear of me by someone who pretends to be an American and fanatical supporter of Ukraine…who s/he actually is, however, is an interesting question. Disinformation takes many forms in the Internet age.

Similarly, Russian Insider blog, which purports to be run by “a group of expats living in Russia who felt that coverage of Russia is biased and inaccurate,” but which faithfully follows the Kremlin line, in vehement form, on all issues, has deemed me worthy of smearing on a regular basis. Their latest active measure against The XX Committee is its usual mix of lies and hysteria. That a mere blogger is worthy of this much Kremlin attention says something about Putin’s Russia.

For all their nastiness, most Kremlin trolls are not especially competent, and some seem to be less than wholly literate. A recent example was provided by John Helmer, an Australian who blogs prolifically at Dances With Bears. Helmer worked for several governments, including the Carter administration, but is best known for his writings on Russia, where he has lived for years. He is reliably pro-Putin — this may have something to do with the fact that KGB officers have named him as one of their agents going back to the 1980’s — and has been involved in smears against other Americans who are public critics of Putin.

However, Helmer, who is not a young man, is not an especially competent disinformateur, as demonstrated by his recent effort to smear me. His jumping off point is my recent expose of Brenda Connors, the hilarious inept Naval War College professor who got her fifteen minutes of fame for being the lead on the Pentagon’s effort to assess Putin as autistic based on…well, nothing actually.

Before delving into pages of CIA-oriented conspiracy theorizing that would strain the brain of even a hardened Chekist, Helmer cites my piece on Connors:

A faculty member at the US Naval War College until last year reported anonymously in a US intelligence community website on February 6…

What part of this blog, where my name and bio are prominently posted, is “anonymous”? Moreover, this blog is mine and mine alone, and I can assure you that prominent people in the U.S. Intelligence Community have been, ahem, less than pleased about some of my criticisms of how they do business, particularly regarding the Snowden debacle.

It’s perhaps a positive sign that Kremlin trolls can’t be bothered to master even basic facts about their targets. But their smears do matter, they have the ability to silence voices that need to be heard as the West confronts Russia in, at best, Cold War 2.0, and perhaps something much worse, soon. Don’t let Putin’s trolls win, there’s a lot at stake here.