The Russian ICC (XII): The intelligence ecosystem. Web brigades

The known Web Brigades (or G-team) are groups theoretically linked to the Russian government which participate in forums, social networks, blogs, information websites … to generate a positive image of Russia (and Putin in particular) in digital media. As rumors suggest, these groups are controlled by the FSB itself, although this is difficult to prove [1]. One of the most well-known cases of the use of web brigades to disseminate this information is the Olgino Trolls, a fairly large group of paid people – always theoretically – to promote Russian positions on national or international political issues.

The members of the web brigades even have defined guidelines to elaborate their comments and opinions ([4]), that mark for example the minimum number of words of each entry or the guidelines so as to go unnoticed in social networks, combining political opinions with other inconsequential ones about hobbies or travel; something that seems perfectly studied and orchestrated and in what will probably be invested large amounts of money, that perhaps comes from government-aligned groups… or the government itself.

These propaganda activities, in line with the broad Russian concept of information warfare, are perfectly coordinated and addressed by fictional digital identities (sockpuppets); The aim of these groups is not only to create positive comments, but to introduce noise, aggressive environments in discussion forums and, ultimately, an ecosystem that on the one hand avoids criticism of the Russian government and on the other, supports its internal or international positions on politically delicate issues. And this is addressed both inside and outside the Russian media; even in bad terms, in Spanish media there are profiles that always participate in news related to Russia or its interests and that, in a poor Spanish, they defend the Russian positions at all costs, just as in that poor Spanish they participate sporadically in other irrelevant subjects… Notice the forums :) (beware, surely there will also be profiles that attack or defend others, but of course the pro-Russians attract my attention).

The existence of web brigades is hypothetical, as it usually is in this world of intelligence and information warfare, and in fact there are efforts both to demonstrate their activity and to attribute it to conspiracy theories ([2]). However, different leaks and investigations seem (N.B.: seem) to confirm not only the existence of these groups but also their linkage to the government. Its activity can be considered a sample of the putinism that sometimes the Russian services are accused of: they do not elaborate intelligence, but the intelligence that justifies their government and supports its actions (something of which other countries’ services have also recently been accused of). But especially, the activities of the web brigades are an excellent example of the inclusion of psychological operations or disinformation in the Russian information war, which we have already discussed and which characterizes the strategies of this country, differentiating them largely from occidental ones (although other actors, such as those associated with the DAESH, do have a global information war strategy). The excellent Russian management of information for certain purposes and its use in certain operations can be expanded in [3]; a more global reference, not focused exclusively on Russia, is [1].

[1] Ulrik Franke. Information operations on the Internet. A catalog of modi operandi. FOI. March, 2013.
[2] Alexander Yusupovskiy. Conspiracy theory. Russian Journal. April, 2003.
[3] Peter Pomerantsev and Michael Weiss. The menace of unreality: how the Kremlin Weaponizes Information, Culture and Money. Institute of Modern Russia. November, 2014.
[4] Anna Polyanskaya, Andrei Krivov, Ivan Lomko. Virtual eye of the Big Brother. Vestnik online. April, 2003.

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