I’ve been sitting on this one for years now because I did not want to be a vehicle for Russian propaganda.  You often hear about how you have to be careful what you eat; be careful what you put in your body.  Eating fatty foods, using drugs, drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes can all be bad for your health.  When it comes to propaganda, disinformation and influence, the first thing you need to understand is that you also have to be careful what you put in your mind.  In 2015, a Russian disinformation operations targeted my mind, knowing that I was the editor of a military news website and could in turn target your thoughts as well.

An e-mail hit my inbox exactly two years ago.  Her name was Natalie and she claimed to be an Interpol agent.  The e-mail had all the buzzwords and lingo that someone like me looks for.  Talk about Title 50 covert operations, weapons smuggling, former U.S. Special Operations soldiers working as contractors and potential illegal operations.  This is exactly the type of story that investigative journalists keep an eye open for.  The only problem with the story was that it was complete bullshit.

I gave the e-mail a couple of reads and something just didn’t feel right.  The author knew what verbiage to use, but it was all too perfect.  It was as if the entire story was just being handed to me on a silver platter.  That rarely ever happens–usually you have to hustle for a good story.  Check out the e-mail for yourself, and keep in mind that not a word of it is accurate.

Mr. Murphy,
Excuse my direct email.
I am senior investigator with NCB Interpol in Kiev for months participating/supporting investigation on possible illegal U.S. operations directly affecting the war in Ukraine. The specific case was abruptly put to a halt one month ago and the team members, myself included, have been tasked to other assignments. At the point when our investigation was stopped, we had not uncovered illegal action on part of the U.S., but we do believe that further investigation and time would have proved otherwise.
In 2013, we believe that U.S. personnel on behalf of the CIA made continuous trips to Bulgaria with the purpose of buying untraceable weapons as well as armored vehicles in support of their many Title 50 operations. We know these weapons were sent to Africa but we don’t have specific countries. The investigation does not target these U.S. personnel, who we believe were all contractors and not actual employees. But rather the Bulgarian military personnel who were illegally selling them without the consent of the Bulgarian parliament.
These purchases continued until the summer of 2015 but no longer were they being re-purposed to Africa. We believe, but do not have proof that these armaments are one of the many sources fueling war in my country. Based on interviews from Bulgarian military members I am without a doubt positive the U.S. personnel that did travel to Bulgaria were former special operations personnel part of the CIAs GRS program accompanied by a US SOF veteran of Bulgarian descent to serve as a translator (the only non-employee/contractor of CIA). No more than 4 ever made the trip to Bulgaria to meet with active duty Bulgarian officers. We do not have specific identities as we were not seeking legal action against these U.S. citizens.
Tens of millions of dollars made way to the pockets of corrupt Bulgarian officers and now the case has been closed they will remain untouched and will continue these business practices with other countries or individuals. I assume you don’t need explanation why I am reaching out to you and SOFREP anonymously.”

The e-mail attempts to present an orgy of evidence, something that never occurs in my experience, especially not with alleged covert operations.  This was how I knew the so-called Trump Dossier was fake the moment I saw it.  The author was smart and knew what they were doing, but they over played their hand.  So does “Natalie,” the fake Interpol agent.  I asked a friend to run down the information in the e-mail header for me.  As it turns out, the e-mail originated in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The Russian security services targeted me directly with a disinformation operations, hoping that I would run the “story” from “Natalie” which would play right into their agenda of undermining the Ukrainian government and making the CIA look foolish.  Not on my watch, Ivan.

The scary thing is how many other journalists are out there falling for this gag?  The reason why I am publishing this story now is because the American public is finally waking up to foreign disinformation operations that target our country–people are ready to read and digest this story.  Up until very recently, a story like this would have been dismissed by most Americans out of hand.  None would be more dismissive than the American left, who have now gone full tilt against Russia in disbelief over how the 2016 election went.  While it is great that the American public is waking up to Russian propaganda efforts and active measures, there are also those who go too far by making a case for anti-Russian xenophobia.

The world of espionage is a minefield filled with false paths and dead ends.  Discerning what the truth is may be the most important question in any of our lives, and a major philosophical underpinning of western thought going back to ancient times.  Can you tell what is real and what is not?

Why the present focus on Russian disinformation programs?

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This 2015 e-mail from St. Petersberg demonstrates that Russian disinformation operations have been around long before Donald Trump was elected.  The KGB (now FSB) has been running these sorts of efforts since at least the 1950s and will continue to do so long after Trump is out of office.  Whether we accept it or not, the fact is that there is a war on for the thoughts and ideas of the American public and a good portion of that war is fought by foreign adversaries.

(Lead image: your editor a few years ago, pumpkin picking, getting disinfo e-mails from Russian intel cut-outs.  All in a day’s work)