Recent comments on Twitter and on SOFREP.com’s Facebook page have spurred some of us here at the site to wonder if we are experiencing first-hand a Russian covert action program to counter-message what the Russian government sees as articles and opinions hostile to Russian interests. Recent SOFREP articles by Brandon Webb and Eric Jones, for example, on Ukrainian “Joan of Arc” Nadiya Savchenko and another possible Georgian war on the horizon, respectively, elicited pretty fierce pushback from voices highly sympathetic to Russian interests, on two separate platforms.
This counter-messaging on Facebook was, in fact, so clumsy in some cases that various commenters were administratively banned from making further comments on the SOFREP Facebook page; they appeared to be spouting pure—and not very sophisticated—Russian propaganda. We let them get their point of view across, of course, as we believe in free speech here in America, but straight-up Russian “propa-trolling” cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged.
To understand what is (probably) going on here, one first needs to understand the working definition of covert action in intelligence operations. A good place to find a definition is in the U.S. legal code, in which Title 50 defines covert action as (paraphrased, to make it apply in general terms to any government):
An activity or activities to influence political, economic, or military conditions abroad, where it is intended that the role of the government will not be apparent or acknowledged publicly, but does not include—