Russia's role in promoting conspiracy theories

Critical Thinker

Senior Member.
Across the World Russia has sought to destabilize non-allied governments by using bots, trolls, misinformation from their state controlled media (RT & Sputnik). One of the primary tools they have used has been propaganda to create division, distrust and smear campaigns. In another thread I sought to explore the question "Are the conspiracy promoters radicalizing people?", based on what has been exposed by investigators and journalists it appears that they are doing so intentionally and methodically.


From NBCNews: Russian troll accounts purged by Twitter pushed Qanon and other conspiracy theories

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A new batch of troll accounts identified by Twitter as having ties to Russia’s propaganda operation revealed an emphasis on promoting far-right conspiracy theories such as Qanon to Americans.
From BBC: Russia trolls 'spreading vaccination misinformation' to create discord

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Social media bots and Russian trolls have been spreading disinformation about vaccines on Twitter to create social discord and distribute malware, US researchers say.

Troll accounts that had attempted to influence the US election had also been tweeting about vaccines, a study says.

Many posted both pro- and anti-vaccination messages to create "false equivalency", the study found.

It examined thousands of tweets sent between 2014 and 2017.

Vaccination was being used by trolls and sophisticated bots as a "wedge issue", said Mark Dredze from Johns Hopkins University.

"By playing both sides, they erode public trust in vaccination, exposing us all to the risk of infectious diseases," he said.
Something I had not come across until now, in hindsight it is not surprising.

From the Sydney Morning Herald: Russia's influence campaigns may be more sophisticated than we thought


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Another campaign was discovered retrospectively in Wisconsin. It used Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. This campaign even reused an undetected Russian accounts from the infamous Jade Helm exercise of 2015.

In this exercise, a routine US military exercise in Texas became the source of online hysteria over fears that it was actually a plot by the Obama Administration to round up political dissidents. Fears prompted the Texas governor to dispatch observers and reassure the public. This was later seen as a test of Russia’s influence capabilities ahead of the 2016 election.
The Texas Tribune: Hysteria over Jade Helm exercise in Texas was fueled by Russians, former CIA director says

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A former director of the CIA and NSA said Wednesday that hysteria in Texas over a 2015 U.S. military training exercise called Jade Helm was fueled by Russians wanting to dominate “the information space,” and that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's decision to send the Texas State Guard to monitor the operation gave them proof of the power of such misinformation campaigns.

Michael Hayden, speaking on MSNBC’s Morning Joe podcast, chalked up peoples’ fear over Jade Helm 15 to “Russian bots and the American alt-right media [that] convinced many Texans [Jade Helm] was an Obama plan to round up political dissidents.”
 
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From The American Council on Science and Health: How Organic Consumers Association Colludes With Russian Trolls

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Far from just meddling in American democracy, Russian trolls are meddling wherever and whenever they can to cause societal strife. Radio Free Europe reports that Russian trolls may have contributed to the massive measles outbreak in Europe in 2018, which sickened 82,000 people and killed 72, by spreading anti-vaccine propaganda.

This is consistent with stories that were reported a few months earlier, which concluded that Russian trolls were promoting pro- and anti-vaccine campaigns. Why both? Because their mission is to sow discord, chaos, and confusion. This strategy even has a name: The Gerasimov Doctrine. It's why the promotion of all sorts of conspiracy theories (including anti-GMO propaganda) on social media can often be traced back to Russia.

Making it all worse is the fact that the Russian trolls have accomplices, "useful idiots" you could call them, willing to help. And they're American.

Like Russian Trolls, the Organic Consumers Association Spreads Anti-Vaccine Propaganda

The Organic Consumers Association is funded by the organic industry, which is built upon a foundation of lies. Evidence shows that organic food isn't healthier for people and that organic farming isn't better for the environment. (Actually, it's worse for the environment.) The only substantial difference between conventional food and organic food is the price.

Given its shaky relationship with reality, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the Organic Consumers Association peddles other bizarre ideas. If you believe one conspiracy theory (namely, GMOs are poisoning everybody), then it's not too difficult to accept other conspiracy theories. Indeed, OCA's website pushes the sort of nonsense you might hear come from Alex Jones or InfoWars, such as 9/11 trutherism, chemtrails, and FEMA's secret plan to implement martial law.
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The OCA actively colludes with the Russian propaganda machine.

Ronnie Cummins, who heads the OCA, appeared on the propaganda outlet RT (formerly known as Russia Today) to spread misinformation about American agriculture. And Gary Ruskin, who heads the anti-GMO group U.S. Right to Know (which is funded primarily by the Organic Consumers Association), gleefully spreads RT propaganda.

Let's review. The Organic Consumers Association:

  • Promotes 9/11 trutherism
  • Says chemtrails are real
  • Spreads FEMA-martial law conspiracy theory
  • Claims pesticides cause school shootings
  • Promotes anti-vaxxerism
  • Colludes with Russian propagana outlets, like RT
 
colludes?
in the same sense that president Trump colludes with Fox News.
Calling "Getting interviewed by a news station, and sharing some of their news items publicly" collusion has the potential to confuse an audience about what the word "collusion" actually means. There is no conspiracy, just a propaganda war.
 
in the same sense that president Trump colludes with Fox News.
Their motto is (allegedly) "Science. Not hype." :)
rr.JPG
 
A truther friend of mine in the UK recently wrote to me, excitedly quoting an article in an on-line periodical called "The offGuardian". The article was an enthusiastic review of a truther book, "9/11 Unmasked: An International Review Panel Investigation". Here's the article; note that all the points it makes have been convincingly debunked in various Metabunk threads.

https://off-guardian.org/2018/09/10/the-fakest-fake-news-the-u-s-governments-9-11-conspiracy-theory/

Going to the "offGuardian" website, I noticed that it was designed to resemble the website for "The Guardian", a reputable UK newspaper popular with liberals. For example, it uses the same distinctive typeface. In its "About Us" section, it claims to have been founded by liberals and socialists who became disillusioned with the Guardian.

Reading a few of the offGuardian's other pieces, it consistently takes a pro-Russia stance. This is particularly noticeable in its coverage of Syria, Libya and Ukraine. This rather suggests that it is a Russian mouthpiece.

The striking thing is that, as Critical Thinker observed in his initial post, the offGuardian's writers do not limit themselves to advocating pro-Russia political positions, but promote truther and anti-vaccination viewpoints.
 
Their motto is (allegedly) "Science. Not hype." :)
View attachment 36096

That's funny. ACSH is one of those industry front groups that borrows from the tobacco industry's playbook. They used to yell "junk science" and "chemophobia", and now they're yelling "Russian collusion," or at least their blogger Alex Berezow is. I'm guessing that he hates Russia because he's Polish, but I wonder how it'll play out with his libertarian and right-wing readers.
 
Russian's weaponization of conspiracy theories for consumption in the US is not a new phenomenon.

From The NYTimes:Fingerprints of Russian Disinformation: From AIDS to Fake News

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“Whether it is ‘Brexit’ or the American election, Russian propaganda still infects U.S. social media networks,” Dr. Jacobson said. “And we see the same sort of divisive propaganda that we saw during the Cold War.”

Called Operation Infektion by the East German foreign intelligence service, the 1980s disinformation campaign seeded a conspiracy theory that the virus that causes AIDS was the product of biological weapons experiments conducted by the United States. The disease disproportionately impacts gay men, and the Reagan administration’s slow response had escalated into suspicions in the gay community that the United States government was responsible for its origins.

“The K.G.B. picked up on that, and added a new twist with a specific location: Fort Detrick, Md.,” where military scientists conducted biological weapons experiments in the 1950s and 1960s, said Douglas Selvage, the project director at the Office of the Federal Commissioner for Stasi Records in Berlin.

The K.G.B. campaign began with an anonymous letter in Patriot, a small newspaper published in New Delhi that was later revealed to have received Soviet funding. It ran in July 1983, under the headline “AIDS May Invade India: Mystery Disease Caused by U.S. Experiments” and pinned the origin of the disease to Fort Detrick.

who traced how the campaign unfolded. “It had no explicit links to the Soviets and was an English-language newspaper easily accessible to a global audience.

“The Soviets intuitively understood how the human psyche works,” Dr. Boghardt said. He said the playbook was simple but effective: Identify internal strife, point to inconsistencies and ambiguities in the news, fill them with meaning and “repeat, repeat, repeat.”

 
This thread reads like a "Before it's News" homepage.

I'm not familiar with Before it's News, but at first glance it looks like one of those fake news sites that helps Russia spread conspiracy theories.

You deleted my main point that conspiracy theories can be weaponized. Skeptics like Mick West and Michael Shermer talk about the psychology of conspiracy theories, like paranoia and "agenticity", but this doesn't explain why many conspiracy theorists promote anti-America/anti-West conspiracy theories but deny anti-Russia ones.
 
Russian's weaponization of conspiracy theories for consumption in the US is not a new phenomenon.

That's right, and even before the Soviet Union existed, the Russian Empire's secret police, the Okhrana, fabricated The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and a "White Russian" monarchist immigrant brought it to the U.S.
External Quote:
At the turn of the century, the Russian Czar’s secret police forged a document, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which purported to outline a plan for Jewish world domination… Publication of the Protocols sparked anti-Jewish pogroms in Kiev and Kishineff… A Russian monarchist émigré, Boris Brasol, translated the Protocols into English and passed a copy to the State Department… Brasol sent a copy of the Protocols to automobile manufacturer Henry Ford, who was convinced that they were authentic. For the next two years, Ford gave the Protocols wide circulation in his newspaper, the Dearborn Independent. Nothing did more to poison the atmosphere against American Jewry in the years between 1920 and 1922 than Ford’s publication of the Protocols… Nazi Germany adopted the Protocols as a pretext for its war to exterminate European Jewry. The Protocols still circulate in print and on the Internet, inspiring radical fringe groups in their deranged beliefs in Jewish conspiracies. Sadly, each generation must relearn that the Protocols are one of the grossest and most damaging libels in history.
https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-ldquo-protocols-rdquo-come-to-america
But that's not all. The KGB distributed The Protocols of the Elders of Zion around the Muslim world, according to a Romanian defector.
External Quote:
In his new book Disinformation, Lt. Gen. Ion Pacepa, once the deputy chief of the Romanian intelligence service and one of the highest-ranking Soviet officials to defect to the West, describes a KGB disinformation campaign focused on the Protocols. Code-named Operation SIG—an acronym for Sionistskiye Gosudarstva, or Zionist governments—it was designed to seed anti-Semitic antagonism to the United States throughout the Muslim world… Pacepa’s intelligence service, known as the D.I.E., received an Arabic-language translation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, along with “documentary” material “proving that the United States was a Zionist country whose aim was to transform the Islamic world into a Jewish fiefdom.”… The KGB, he writes, distributed several hundred thousand copies of the Protocols in Arabic."
https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/140328/timmerman-disinformation
 
I'm not familiar with Before it's News, but at first glance it looks like one of those fake news sites that helps Russia spread conspiracy theories.
Exactly. This thread and the quotes being used make this thread sound like a CIA propaganda campaign against Russia. Or at least it sounds like Metabunk is a "useful idiot" in the disinformation campaign.


For example an above blurb says:
“The K.G.B. picked up on that, and added a new twist with a specific location: Fort Detrick, Md.,” where military scientists conducted biological weapons experiments in the 1950s and 1960s, said Douglas Selvage, the project director at the Office of the Federal Commissioner for Stasi Records in Berlin.

But the Baltimore Sun in 1992 says
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German scientist couple presses theory that AIDS was created at Fort Detrick

....
Documents obtained by The Sun show that the East German secret service, the Stasi, and Soviet Union's KGB did use Mr. Segal's theories between 1985 and 1988 in an attempt to discredit the United States. But he and his wife, Lilli, seemed to have developed the idea in the honest conviction that the disease's true origin would provide a clue to its elusive medical treatment.

Others also supported the theory, but Mr. and Mrs. Segal made the suspicions of U.S. responsibility much more believable by giving them a seemingly scientific founding. Mr. Segal, 82, is the former director of microbiology at East Germany's prestigious Humboldt University. His wife, 81, was an assistant professor of biology at the university and a researcher in immunology.
https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/bs-xpm-1992-02-21-1992052036-story.html


And this paper
"Disinformation squared: Was the HIV-from-Fort-Detrick myth a Stasi success?"
says
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Findings

The HIV-from-Fort-Detrick myth had debuted in print in India in 1983 and had been described in publications worldwide prior to 1986, the earliest year for which we found any Stasi document mentioning the myth in any context. Many of the myth's exponents were seemingly independent conspiracy theorists. Its single most creative exponent was Jakob Segal, an idiosyncratic Soviet biologist long resident in, and long retired in, the GDR. Segal applied to the myth a thin but tenacious layer of plausibility. We could not exclude a direct KGB influence on him but found no evidence demonstrating it.
https://www.cambridge.org/core/jour...2F6B8FA780208DFAC39DC57A03E#fndtn-information


Now, obviously i'm not saying Russia hasn't partaken in disinformation campaigns. That would be as illogical as saying the United States has never partaken in disinformation campaigns. But this thread isn't offering any proofs, other than some blurbs from very possibly biased sources. That was my point.
 
From Politifact: How Russian trolls exploited Parkland mass shooting on social media

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Russian-linked social media accounts exploited the tragedy at a Parkland, Fla., high school to sow discord and deepen divisions in America.

Russian bots and trolls pushed conspiracy theories about survivors and amplified Second Amendment messaging in an apparent effort to undermine gun control advocacy.

While many Americans are familiar with Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, perhaps less well known is Russia’s use of social media to destabilize American society.

"Their playbook is to basically to pit Americans against each other," Jamie Fly, a senior fellow at the foreign policy think tank the German Marshall Fund previously told PolitiFact.
 
From Yahoo News: Exclusive: The true origins of the Seth Rich conspiracy theory. A Yahoo News investigation.

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Michael Isikoff
Chief Investigative Correspondent Yahoo News July 9, 2019

WASHINGTON — In the summer of 2016, Russian intelligence agents secretly planted a fake report claiming that Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was gunned down by a squad of assassins working for Hillary Clinton, giving rise to a notorious conspiracy theory that captivated conservative activists and was later promoted from inside President Trump’s White House, a Yahoo News investigation has found.

Russia’s foreign intelligence service, known as the SVR, first circulated a phony “bulletin” — disguised to read as a real intelligence report —about the alleged murder of the former DNC staffer on July 13, 2016, according to the U.S. federal prosecutor who was in charge of the Rich case.
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The purported details in the SVR account seemed improbable on their face: that Rich, a data director in the DNC’s voter protection division, was on his way to alert the FBI to corrupt dealings by Clinton when he was slain in the early hours of a Sunday morning by the former secretary of state’s hit squad.

Yet in a graphic example of how fake news infects the internet, those precise details popped up the same day on an obscure website, whatdoesitmean.com, that is a frequent vehicle for Russian propaganda. The website’s article, which attributed its claims to “Russian intelligence,” was the first known instance of Rich’s murder being publicly linked to a political conspiracy.

“To me, having a foreign intelligence agency set up one of my decedents with lies and planting false stories, to me that’s pretty outrageous,” said Deborah Sines, the former assistant U.S. attorney in charge of the Rich case until her retirement last year. “Maybe other people don’t think it’s that outrageous. I did ... once it became clear to me that this was coming from the SVR, then that triggers a lot of very serious [questions about] ‘What do I do with this?’”

The previously unreported role of Russian intelligence in creating and fostering one of the most insidious conspiracy theories to arise out of the 2016 election is disclosed in “Yahoo News presents: Conspiracyland,” a six-part series by the news organization’s podcast “Skullduggery” that debuts this week on the third anniversary of Rich’s murder.
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The Russian effort to exploit Rich’s tragic death didn’t stop with the fake SVR bulletin. Over the course of the next two and a half years, the Russian government-owned media organizations RT and Sputnik repeatedly played up stories that baselessly alleged that Rich, a relatively junior-level staffer, was the source of Democratic Party emails that had been leaked to WikiLeaks. It was an idea first floated by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who on Aug. 9, 2016, announced a $20,000 reward for information about Rich’s murder, saying — somewhat cryptically — that “our sources take risks.”

At the same time, online trolls working in St. Petersburg, Russia, for the Internet Research Agency (IRA) — the same shadowy outfit that conducted the Russian social media operation during the 2016 election — aggressively boosted the conspiracy theories. IRA-created fake accounts, masquerading as those of American citizens or political groups, tweeted and retweeted more than 2,000 times about Rich, helping to keep the bogus claims about his death in the social media bloodstream, according to an analysis of a database of Russia troll accounts by Yahoo News.
 
Yet in a graphic example of how fake news infects the internet, those precise details popped up the same day on an obscure website, whatdoesitmean.com, that is a frequent vehicle for Russian propaganda. The website’s article, which attributed its claims to “Russian intelligence,” was the first known instance of Rich’s murder being publicly linked to a political conspiracy.

I was looking at that website, and indeed their articles start with, "A truly mind-blowing new Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) report circulating in the Kremlin today..." and, "A heavily redacted highly classified “Of Special Importance” new Ministry of Defense (MoD) report circulating in the Kremlin today..."

Here's the one about Seth Rich
http://archive.is/RxXMb
External Quote:
A somber Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) report circulating in the Kremlin today says that a top American Democratic Party staffer preparing to testify against Hillary Clinton was assassinated this past Sunday during a secret meeting in Washington D.C. he believed he was having with Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents, but who turned out, instead, to be a “hit team”—and who, in turn, were captured yesterday after a running gun battle with US federal police forces just blocks from the White House.


Clinton “hit team” captured by US federal police forces on 12 July 2016
About the site's operator
https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Sorcha_Faal
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Sorcha Faal is the alleged author of an ongoing series of "reports" published at WhatDoesItMean.com, whose work is of such quality that even other conspiracy nutters don't think much of it. There is a high chance that "Sorcha Faal" is actually David Booth, the owner/operator of the website, or someone collaborating with him.
About David Booth
https://www.coasttocoastam.com/guest/booth-david/6298
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David Booth remains to this day the only person in the world to have had a pre-cognitive experience fully documented prior to the event by a government agency.
 
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I was looking at that website, and indeed their articles start with, "A truly mind-blowing new Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) report circulating in the Kremlin today..." and, "A heavily redacted highly classified “Of Special Importance” new Ministry of Defense (MoD) report circulating in the Kremlin today..."

This whatdoesitmean.com website is not just doing the typical conspiracy theorist anomaly hunting, connecting the dots, or "just asking questions," but it's reporting fabricated events that didn't happen, fake news sourced to SVR reports. It's quite a revelation that their bogus "somber SVR report" about Seth Rich really did come from SVR.
 
With another election on the horizon (when isn't one on the horizon?) and after the Mueller report's findings on the Russian propaganda efforts and citing that this is a continuing effort, I think it is worthwhile to keep an eye out for disinformation and contrived conspiracy theories aimed to advance a political agenda. This paper provides extensive references supporting its' findings that:

External Quote:
the Russian website uses conspiracy frames in stories about the United States and Britain, both strategically and tactically, to promote skepticism towards western public institutions beyond the conspiracist community. I argue that its conspiracist propaganda is effective in generating anti-establishment narratives on the internet, potentially giving rise to the advancement of populist parties in the West

Link to full paper

External Quote:
Conspiracist propaganda: How Russia promotes anti-establishment sentiment online?

Kohei Watanabe1 Waseda University Paper presented at ECPR General Conference 2018, Hamburg

It is widely recognized that the Russian government has been involved in international propaganda to influence foreign publics as part of its “active measures” against the West, but experts still disagree on the nature of its propaganda messages. To understand how Russia is attempting to achieve that goal, I have collected and analyzed Sputnik News articles and Twitter posts linked to them over the course of a year in terms of conspiracy framing of social and political events. The result of quantitative text analysis shows that the Russian website uses conspiracy frames in stories about the United States and Britain, both strategically and tactically, to promote skepticism towards western public institutions beyond the conspiracist community. I argue that its conspiracist propaganda is effective in generating anti-establishment narratives on the internet, potentially giving rise to the advancement of populist parties in the West.
 
From the BBC: Coronavirus: Russian media hint at US conspiracy


The coronavirus outbreak in China has provided fertile ground for conspiracy theories and misinformation on the web everywhere, but in Russia they are being spread on primetime news programmes.

Russian TV is also unique in having a consistent overall thrust: that shadowy Western elites and especially the US are somehow ultimately to blame.

One of main national TV networks, Channel One, has even launched a regular slot devoted to coronavirus conspiracy theories on its main evening news programme, Vremya ("Time").

Coronavirus conspiracy theories have also featured heavily on Channel One's main political talk show, Vremya Pokazhet (Time Will Tell), only more openly than on news programmes.

The gist is to suggest that various Western actors - pharmaceutical companies, the US or its agencies - are somehow involved in helping to create or spread the virus, or at least in spreading panic about it.

The aim is variously said to be - in the case of "Big Pharma" - to profit from creating a vaccine against the coronavirus or, in the case of the US, to hit the Chinese economy in order to weaken a geopolitical competitor.
 
That's right, and even before the Soviet Union existed, the Russian Empire's secret police, the Okhrana, fabricated The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and a "White Russian" monarchist immigrant brought it to the U.S.
External Quote:
At the turn of the century, the Russian Czar’s secret police forged a document, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which purported to outline a plan for Jewish world domination… Publication of the Protocols sparked anti-Jewish pogroms in Kiev and Kishineff… A Russian monarchist émigré, Boris Brasol, translated the Protocols into English and passed a copy to the State Department… Brasol sent a copy of the Protocols to automobile manufacturer Henry Ford, who was convinced that they were authentic. For the next two years, Ford gave the Protocols wide circulation in his newspaper, the Dearborn Independent. Nothing did more to poison the atmosphere against American Jewry in the years between 1920 and 1922 than Ford’s publication of the Protocols… Nazi Germany adopted the Protocols as a pretext for its war to exterminate European Jewry. The Protocols still circulate in print and on the Internet, inspiring radical fringe groups in their deranged beliefs in Jewish conspiracies. Sadly, each generation must relearn that the Protocols are one of the grossest and most damaging libels in history.
https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-ldquo-protocols-rdquo-come-to-america
But that's not all. The KGB distributed The Protocols of the Elders of Zion around the Muslim world, according to a Romanian defector.
External Quote:
In his new book Disinformation, Lt. Gen. Ion Pacepa, once the deputy chief of the Romanian intelligence service and one of the highest-ranking Soviet officials to defect to the West, describes a KGB disinformation campaign focused on the Protocols. Code-named Operation SIG—an acronym for Sionistskiye Gosudarstva, or Zionist governments—it was designed to seed anti-Semitic antagonism to the United States throughout the Muslim world… Pacepa’s intelligence service, known as the D.I.E., received an Arabic-language translation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, along with “documentary” material “proving that the United States was a Zionist country whose aim was to transform the Islamic world into a Jewish fiefdom.”… The KGB, he writes, distributed several hundred thousand copies of the Protocols in Arabic."
https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/140328/timmerman-disinformation

The protocols of the learned elders of Zion is a rehash of "The Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu" by Maurice Joly. The book itself is a valid criticism with regards to Napolean III.

Here's the source as requested.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dialogue_in_Hell_Between_Machiavelli_and_Montesquieu

External Quote:
The Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu [1] (in the original French Dialogue aux enfers entre Machiavel et Montesquieu ou la politique de Machiavel au XIXe siècle) is a political satire written by French attorney Maurice Joly in protest against the regime of Napoleon III, a.k.a. Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte who ruled France from 1848-1870. It was translated into English in 2002. Small portions were translated in 1967 as an appendix to Norman Cohn's Warrant for Genocide, which identifies it as the main source of the later Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
 
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