The Hague

‘Kremlin trolling monitor’ a scam says Dutch expert

Sybrand Buma, the chairman of the CDA in the Lower House, told Dutch news service WNL in January that "Russian trolls" want to cause unrest in the Netherlands via Twitter. Buma claimed they did so during a debate in the House of Representatives. His claim turned out to be rubbish.

Published: February 23, 2018, 7:31 am

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    “This has been investigated in the United States. Not in the Netherlands. There is a club that is investigating the 600 senders from Russia and their Twitter behavior. And they have revealed that they are affiliated with the Russian government. And every time something happens in the West that causes movement, unrest, destabilization, a #hashtag with that topic comes out of that 600.”

    But Buma did not tell in the broadcaster who this club was. Dutch IT expert and blogger Marcel van den Berg called the spokesperson of the CDA, Bart Elsman, to ask which club was meant. Elsman told him about Hamilton 68.

    Hamilton 68 monitor is an initiative of Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD). One of ASD’s objectives is to “to publicly document and expose Vladimir Putin’s ongoing efforts to subvert democracy in the United States and Europe”.

    Van den Berg’s research showed that there was absolutely no use of a hashtag during the Dutch debate by Russian trolls, and neither were there tweets from a suspicious Russian troll.

    On 4 December NRC published exactly the same fake news. The title used by NRC reads: “Six hundred Russian accounts twittered #hennisdebat”.

    Van den Berg has been keeping a close eye on Hamilton 68. Every time a Dutch hashtag was shown on the website, he made a screenshot and watched the tweets associated with this hashtag. No tweets were from so-called “Russian trolls”.

    In each case, the hashtags that Hamilton 68 reported were trending topics in the Netherlands because Dutch users retweeted these events, and because many people were angry or shared their opinion on the subject on Twitter.

    “And even if there were a few tweets with Russian connections between them, the effect has been zero,” Van den Berg says, “because they do not stand out among the many other, authentic Tweets.”

    About 8 percent of tweets came from Russia and were written in the Russian language concerning #Releasethememo around January 19, 2018, for example.

    #Releasethememo was trending on Twitter, about a memo given to the members of the US Congress. It was information about the FBI listening in on Trump supporters without the permission of judges at the time that Obama was president.

    This hashtag was shared so much that the mainstream media accused “Russian trolls” of being behind it. And these far-fetched claims were made because Hamilton 68 had asserted as much.

    However, the following week, the Daily Beast came up with reports that it was not the case at all. A knowledgeable source pointed out that Twitter’s internal analysis had found authentic American accounts, and not Russian imposters or automated bots, that were driving #ReleaseTheMemo.

    There were no preliminary indications that the activity was predominantly Russian. In short, the retweets were coming from inside the United States.

    “This is a club that is part of the American foundation The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF). The GMF aims to promote transatlantic cooperation. A sort of NATO think tank with offices in places such as Washington, Berlin and Brussels.

    “There is a saying ‘follow the money’. By following the track of money you know the agenda of people, companies and organisations,” Van den Berg says.

    “Important donors of GMF are the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the NATO, the EU and the Open Society Foundation. The Open Society Foundation was founded by the current chairman George Soros. This man is wealthy, hates Putin, and is an important donor for Democrats in the United States.”

    A number of journalists approached the Alliance for Securing Democracy with questions but did not receive any response to their emails. ASD refuses to release names of the Twitter accounts that they monitor.

    When Van den Berg asked the director of the ASD, Laura Rosenberger, three times via Twitter, why the names of the “troll” accounts were not released, he received no response. Incidentally, nowhere on the site of ASD an email address, or telephone number to contact, appears. Searching for the names of employees did not yield anything either. Again no transparency at all.

    The fraudsters who created the Hamilton 68 monitor seem to have filled their database with ordinary people from all over the world who’s opinions they personally dislike. Those then are then the “Russian bots” who spread “Russian influence” and “divisiveness”.

    The ASD, which according to a GMF spokesperson is “funded by a group of American private individuals and small family foundations,” is, in reality, an alliance between Neocons and Democratic war hawks, Hillary Clinton foreign-policy adviser Jake Sullivan and former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul.

    Hamilton 68, was named after Federalist Paper 68 which had warned on the danger of foreign influence on American democracy. The Nation however called the monitor “an evolving assault on political discourse” adding: “The import of GMF’s project is clear: Reporting on anything that might put the US in a bad light is now tantamount to spreading Russian propaganda.”

    As noted cyber-security expert Jeffrey Carr observed with regard to Russia’s two main intelligence agencies “meddling” in the West: “Raise your hand if you think that a GRU or FSB officer would add Iron Felix’s [Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Soviet secret police] name to the metadata of a stolen document before he released it to the world while pretending to be a Romanian hacker.”

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