Deconstructing Campbell’s Smear Campaign Yields A Blueprint For Propaganda: Part Three
In Part One, we covered the background and construction of a smear campaign built by Duncan Campbell over the past nine months that managed to make its way past editorial oversight at ComputerWeekly, with the story then gaining some coverage at DefenseOne and TechDirt.
In Part Two, we covered the Computer Weekly article itself, highlighting the tricks and techniques used to mislead readers as well as some of the basic misconceptions Campbell created through the consistent use of distortions, omissions and false claims.
Since then, Disobedient Media published an article highlighting Forensicator’s response (“The Campbell Conspiracy“), which debunked the fundamental technical inaccuracies at the core of Campbell’s conspiracy theory.
So far, this writer has shown that Computer Weekly published a deception-riddled hit-piece loaded with wild speculation, promoting multiple flawed theories from an author whose entire approach to constructing his story was questionable from the outset.
The following final part of the series discusses Campbell’s efforts to promote his hit-piece on social media, as well as individuals and groups who promoted Campbell’s smear campaign (in some cases adding their own falsehoods, distortions and spin).
It’s no surprise that Campbell’s social media activity mirrors the smears in his article. However, on social media he really makes an example out of himself.
Let’s start with a lie told while promoting another lie:
In the above-cited Tweet, Campbell uses “Trump Troll” in reference to this author, despite my having never supported Trump (mirroring efforts in his article to portray this author as right-wing). Meanwhile, Campbell promotes a lie by Karl Bode, a writer at TechDirt (who alleges, falsely, that I proclaimed myself to be an “intel expert” – something that Bode cannot hope to demonstrate because it’s something he has simply invented).
Campbell’s tweet not only misleads about his target but also retweets Bode telling a lie about the same target – all the while asserting that Bode is “one of the careful journalists.”
Campbell seems to be a proponent of journalists he dislikes being indicted, extradited and/or punished for trying to “interfere” in the US election too. Apparently, expressing solidarity with disgruntled Bernie Sanders supporters and being a Sanders supporter in spirit in the past (over six months prior to writing my first article) is clearly a criminal act!:
Campbell doesn’t seem to realize that my having only had around five followers on Twitter at the time he’s referring to doesn’t support any premise of a deliberate influence operation. In essence, he gives my social media influence prior to the 2016 election far more credence than it deserved.
Campbell seems incapable of accepting that a British citizen could be angered by the United States’ Democratic Party and mainstream press, after witnessing how far both were willing to go to distort public perception and stifle public opinion. He also seems unable to understand that expressing an opinion about US general election candidates without first declaring your nationality doesn’t actually breach US election laws.
On the positive side of things, at least Campbell hasn’t called for my murder yet, although some have noted his Twitter hyperbole is somewhat questionable: (Of note: unlike other anti-establishment Twitter accounts of late, Campbell has not been banned from the platform in the wake of his thinly veiled death threat)
Unfortunately, it’s Duncan Campbell’s own reputation that’s engulfed in flames at present and it’s all thanks to his actions speaking louder than his words.
When called out on his distortions by others, Campbell continues to ignore the fact that he’s criticizing a separate third-party’s work and continues to fundamentally conflate the Guccifer 2.0 persona and the Forensicator with our separate analyses of the Guccifer 2.0 operation.
It’s very clear in the above and other Tweets that, although he lacks evidence to support it (and syntactical and stylometric analysis would easily demonstrate Forensicator is a third party with their own unique habits and characteristics), Campbell seems almost incapable of mentioning Forensicator’s name on social media without making an effort to include words like “fraud”, “fabrication” and “fake,” much as he smeared Forensicator in his Computer Weekly hit-piece:
Campbell relentlessly pushes a premise he can’t validate because he’s built that premise on flawed assumptions, and hasn’t even got his facts right on how information made it’s way to VIPS members. It was Skip Folden who reached out to this author after several VIPS members had already formed an interest in Forensicator’s work.
Additionally, I can state categorically, having had the benefit of communicating with Folden, that the topic of UFOs has never surfaced whereas he has demonstrated himself to be knowledgeable and acutely aware of detail on the topics of diplomacy, federal law, technology and geopolitics to a degree that makes Campbell’s reference to him shameful.
The assertion that Guccifer 2.0 passed anything to this author or to Forensicator or to anyone at Disobedient Media is completely false, and like the rest of Campbell’s easily debunked allegations, there has been no evidence whatsoever shown to support the bogus claim.
It seems Duncan Campbell has really struggled with accuracy and honesty consistently throughout his recent endeavors in constructing his story, parsing information, his presentation of information to the public and his efforts to promote his own deceptions. This is a shame considering that Campbell had a stellar reputation in the past.
There is more evidence that could be published to further demonstrate Campbell’s lack of credibility on this issue but, given the example he has made of himself and the fact his most significant claims have been debunked, it seems redundant and repetitive to delve further into his histrionic hall of distorted mirrors.
Campbell’s claims have been discredited and this has been achieved not by reciprocating with propaganda, but by simply contrasting his assertions with evidence that is on the public record and that can be verified.
Jesselyn Radack & Thomas Drake
In the wake of Campbell’s lie-ridden smear campaign, it’s disconcerting to see whistleblowers and activists like Thomas Drake express such a negative view of fellow VIPS member Ray McGovern in the manner he has (assuming Campbell’s reporting of Drake’s statements is accurate). Likewise, we saw Jesselyn Radack attempt to speak on behalf of Bill Binney in a way that temporarily shielded Campbell from being contradicted.
Thankfully, Binney was interviewed, and expressed a view that ran counter to Radack’s hasty tweet, remaining utterly consistent in his expression of the view that the Guccifer 2.0 persona is a fabrication and a fake. This view had been dishonestly manipulated in Campbell’s report to appear as if Binney espoused the view that the Forensicator’s analysis was fake, and he had changed his mind about Guccifer 2.0 in general.
That Campbell would act so dishonestly is a great shame in itself, but that a respected figure like Radack would then propagate this outright lie while using her status as Binney’s attorney to prop up her misrepresentation of his view (which all involved must have known would have been rapidly debunked), magnifies the appearance of outright dishonesty on her part.
It’s been quite disappointing to see Radack and Drake lend their credibility to Campbell’s flawed conspiracy theories and character assassination efforts, to such an extent that they have laid their credibility on easily debunked manipulation.
This author still expresses appreciation and respect in regards to Radack’s and Drake’s efforts apart from this topic. However, the choices they’ve made and allegiance they appear to have formed with Campbell makes it exceedingly difficult for that respect to be sustained.
Karl Bode / Tech Dirt
About a year ago, journalist Karl Bode jumped on a previous propaganda bandwagon in which there was an effort to try to undermine a story published in The Nation covering the fact that some members of VIPS had noticed Forensicator’s research on the NGP-VAN archive.
It seems Bode didn’t properly understand the strawman attack others were engaging in and instead went off on a tangent trying to argue that giving transfer rates in MB/s instead of mbps somehow invalidated the research.
It was a silly thing to do, and he was called out on his questionable assertions. Unfortunately, it seems that Bode may have held a grudge because of it, as he seems to have unwittingly made yet another ill-conceived contribution to TechDirt and chosen to propagate lies on social media too.
As well as lying about my having professed to be an “intel expert” (as covered earlier in this article), Bode also suggested Bill Binney and others were “running in the opposite direction,” suggesting that analyses had been debunked when they haven’t (essentially echoing Campbell’s spin):
Bode’s assertion that VIPS or the Forensicator’s findings indicated the DNC had “hacked itself” is misleading. What the article in The Nation was actually about was the fact there was virtually no evidence of a hack involved at all when it came to Guccifer 2.0’s activities and acquisition of files. In other words, finding that Guccifer 2.0’s files did not originate from a hack at all, much less a Russian one, does not equate to proving any alternate source for the breach, much less that the DNC “hacked itself,” which is contrary to the finding that the files were not “hacked.”
The claim Bode is attacking as “trash” isn’t really the claim those he’s critical of have made, which is the plain definition of a straw man argument. Due to the lack of technical understanding among the general public, this type of manipulation tactic by the mainstream press is both dubiously cheap and effective in deceiving readers.
Of course, Bode’s new article has flaws, promotes falsehoods and the article itself has been dismantled in a separate article titled “Propagating Campbell’s Conspiracy Theories Doesn’t Bode Well For TechDirt” (published at g-2.space).
As is true of ComputerWeekly, it’s disappointing to see a technology publication promote technically flawed claims and fail to check the viability of assertions being made.
It’s also disappointing to see Bode misleading the public in order to try to undermine journalists and whistle-blowers on social media. In doing so, Bode shows his actions may be driven by an agenda rather than merely being the result of incompetence.
Regardless of what anyone wants to make of Bode’s efforts, one thing is for certain: he is not a “careful journalist,” as Campbell suggests. Instead, he is just one of the journalists that Campbell has found that are either gullible or willing to propagate his implausible conspiracy theories.
Raffi Khatchardorian is a journalist who writes with the New Yorker. In August 2017, his article titled “Julian Assange – A Man Without A Country” made some valid observations but also a fair number of highly speculative assertions, some of which related to Guccifer 2.0, others which didn’t really make much sense, and still more that WikiLeaks disputes (such issues were covered by this author in an article titled “Khatchardorian’s Collusion Delusion“).
To be fair to Khatchadorian, suggesting he was a “Writer Without A Conscience” was probably a bit harsh, especially when compared to how some individuals highlighted in this article have behaved.
Khatchardorian has unfortunately placed himself among those spreading Duncan Campbell’s easily debunked hit-piece, and has propagated lies and misconceptions stemming from the article. Khatchardorian’s main aim, based on his social media statements, appears to be to lobby The Nation to retract its 2017 article covering VIPS’s memorandum to President Trump.
Khatchardorian posted numerous tweets between August 1 and August 9 that reinforce Campbellian lies, in response to the growing dispute between Campbell and Campbell’s targets.
While The Nation article had some issues, those issues stemmed from third-party statements rather than Forensicator’s study and some points made in the article that were portrayed as controversial by some journalists (ie. the transfer speeds) were tested independently by VIPS members and associates in 2017. The results showed even at that time (a year later than the alleged DNC hack) they were unable to achieve the apparent transfer rates observed in the NGP-VAN transfer with the same batch of files through transoceanic connections.
[Regarding whether it did or didn’t disprove a hack is something covered by this author in more detail in the article “Hack vs Leak“.]
Regarding Khatchardorian’s assertions that Guccifer 2.0 was part of Russia’s military intelligence service, the GRU: this was assessed as probable at the start of 2017 in the ICA, alleged earlier this year by an unnamed source to the Daily Beast, and again reinforced by the allegations presented in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s recent indictment.
However, there still hasn’t been a single piece of proof published that demonstrates that the GRU was really behind Guccifer 2.0. At this time, only allegations have been made public, and the premise that the GRU would hide behind a commercial VPN service in Russia seems highly questionable on the surface. The idea becomes even more bizarre when Guccifer 2.0’s behavior is objectively considered, especially the deliberate effort to taint his first batch of documents with Russian metadata, Russian error messages and blatantly using a “Russian Smiley” in his first blog post.
Unfortunately, the claim Khatchardourian is making is false (checking archived versions of the g-2.space site shows how things actually evolved).
What was really stated about the ICA being discredited was in relation to discoveries made regarding Guccifer 2.0’s first batch of files (which appear to have been attachments that were later found as files attached to John Podesta’s emails and that had been deliberately tampered with to leave Russian meta-data, stylesheet entries and Russian language errors in them).
The introduction to Forensicator’s discoveries came four months after this author had originally announced that parts of the ICA lacked credibility.
Neither this author nor Forensicator have asserted that there was a hack on July 5 or claimed that the CIA was responsible so there’s no objection to raise to Khatchadourian’s observations on these points.
[This author looked at the premise of the CIA’s tools being used in relation to the DNC hack and found it unlikely that these were used for any of the forms of mimicry and/or potential mimicry that has been documented.]
There’s actually no indication that dates were set arbitrarily or that timestamps were deliberately tampered with.
Duncan Campbell’s effort may have been “methodical”, however, that method seems to have involved cherry-picking for facts that support his theory and then ignoring and omitting every piece of countervailing evidence that exists (of which there is much in the public domain).
The Forensicator challenged Campbell’s speculative theory, presenting technical facts and context which ultimately refuted Campbell’s speculations point-by-point.
While Khatchadourian cites “disinfo”, he may want to take note that disinformation is knowingly misinforming. This is something that cannot be demonstrated with regards to the targets of Campbell’s efforts, however, as this article makes clear, those aligning with Campbell seem willing to spread misconceptions even when evidence in the public domain contradicts them.
Damage control, cry-bullying, trying to delegitimize sources that contacted Binney directly to get clarification (and that found Binney hadn’t changed his position in the way being suggested by some) reveals an eagerness to control the narrative.
Guccifer 2.0 did play with metadata (this was apparent with his first batch of files released), however, there were no actual indicators of date tampering in the NGP-VAN archive (which is what Campbell has tried to assert and that is ultimately based on assumption).
The Nation article may have had issues, however, these were responded to by The Nation giving different parties the opportunity to debate them and then calling in an independent expert to provide their perspective (which resulted in a debunking of an attempted debunking by that expert).
There is no need to retract the article. It was largely factual and The Nation published a challenge to it but it seems Khatchadourian and a few others are eager to see that it gets scrubbed completely.
Khatchadorian struggles to differentiate between misreporting and disinformation and has propagated false claims and promoted misconceptions. As such, his insistence on retraction seems somewhat hypocritical.
Charles Arthur is a journalist, serving as The Guardian’s technology editor between 2009 and 2014. Unfortunately, as is true with others highlighted in this article, Arthur is among those that promoted Campbell’s now-debunked conspiracy theories.
He’s also not a big fan of this author, whom he likes to characterize as a fantasist:
It is odd to see professional journalists act in such a trollish manner while insisting other people are “trolls” and “shitposters.” It seems incredibly hypocritical.
RELATED FACT: The real identity of this author was volunteered to the US Department of Justice at the end of 2017 in relation to efforts to collate evidence for a report that had been sent to the Office of the Special Counsel, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and several other parties. As my identity was known to authorities already, Duncan Campbell’s efforts in relation to unmasking identities has, in this instance, only really served the purpose of public doxxing. This type of attack is not an example of journalism, but instead represents an attempt at what can only be called revenge for having debunked the establishment’s sacred golden calf: the Guccifer 2.0-as-Russian-hacker narrative.
Patrick Tucker / Defense One
Patrick Tucker is a journalist for Defense One. While this writer has not had any interactions with Tucker, nor found him to be going to the sorts of trouble others have on social media in order to smear myself, VIPS members or the Forensicator, the article he penned for Defense One does push many misconceptions and misleading claims arising from Campbell’s spin-attempts.
This author’s separate article, titled “By Propagating Campbell’s Conspiracy Theories Defense One Becomes Debunked One” (published at g-2.space) breaks down and debunks Tucker’s article in considerable detail.
Paid Influence Ops: Atlantic Council and ShareBlue
Laura Rozen, Interpreter Magazine’s “PropOrNot” persona (suspected to be Michael Weiss, Daily Beast Editor), Elliot Higgins/Bellingcat and others tied to DFRLab and Atlantic Council have predictably tried to promote Campbell’s efforts. In previous articles, Disobedient Media and other independent journalists have discussed DFRLab and the Atlantic Council’s role in supporting domestic propagandizing, as well as their disconcerting control over Facebook’s censorship policy.
Likewise, it will come as no surprise that Caroline Orr (aka RVAWonk), Patrick (aka Trickfreee) and others associated with ShareBlue’s paid propaganda operations have done the same.
Many of the individuals associated with interest groups like Share Blue and the Atlantic Council have tried to undermine the discoveries that have been made over the past 20 months. Despite their sustained efforts, they’ve been unable to technically debunk findings published by myself, the Forensicator, VIPS, Steve McIntyre, David Blake and others. Instead, they have been forced to resort to trying to cause confusion, distorting and relying on straw man arguments and other logical fallacies as tools against the research and reporting of the discoveries made about Guccifer 2.0.
In light of all this, concluding that individuals associated with such interests have been dishonest in pushing a propaganda-laden false narrative is inherently redundant, as, for many of them, this is exactly what they are paid to do. Given the Atlantic Council’s ties to NATO and ShareBlue’s nature as a pro-Clinton Super PAC, the incentive for propping up the Guccifer 2.0-as-Russian-hacker narrative is self evident.
ComputerWeekly / TechTarget / Bryan Glick
It’s only fair to give the publication most responsible for propagating Campbell’s efforts some attention, especially as ComputerWeekly has been shown to have spoon-fed lies and distortions to their readers. It has also stubbornly refused to correct or retract the article and the only updates it has provided to its readers are those that have served to reinforce misconceptions (even after being notified of the many factual errors in Campbell’s article).
ComputerWeekly promoting debunked conspiracy theories and an array of misleading character attacks is not something that should be taken lightly. Bryan Glick, ComputerWeekly’s editor in chief, has, through his handling and disregard of this matter, made himself and his publication somewhat complicit in the sustained dissemination of baseless smears and debunked conspiracy theories.
Glick was advised, prior to publication of Duncan Campbell’s hit-piece, that the article had substantial flaws and that those cited for the purpose of testimonial would likely disagree with how Campbell had characterised them and their positions. He decided to disregard this, didn’t check with third parties, failed to spot any of the problems in what is a blatant effort to propagandize readers and just went ahead with publishing the hit-piece anyway.
Going further, Glick was also advised last month of more than 40 errors and/or false claims present in the article, with links to some of the supporting evidence demonstrating these. To date, he has made zero corrections. He has failed to acknowledge the communications sent to him and done absolutely nothing to correct the misconceptions his publication has spread and continues to spread.
Glick was contacted again recently and informed that Forensicator had debunked several of Campbell’s theories and was asked whether Computer Weekly had a statement in response to this. No statement was provided.
Ultimately, Glick has betrayed the trust of his publication’s readers, fed them nonsense conspiracy theories, refused to make appropriate corrections and made it clear that Computer Weekly does not care about the accuracy of what it publishes at all.
Glick has disgraced himself, disgraced Computer Weekly and continues to do so with every day that he continues to propagate these lies and debunked conspiracy theories.
We’ve seen supposedly professional and credible journalists behave extremely immaturely, throwing labels and ad hominems around as they fail to actually tackle any of the studies or evidence stemming from the numerous investigations of Guccifer 2.0 conducted during 2017-2018. Instead, these so-called-journalists have documented their use of illegitimate arguments and false claims to undermine those who made these discoveries and to peddle factless propaganda.
We’ve witnessed technical publications have a complete breakdown on the issue of editorial oversight, betraying the trust of their readers by letting easily debunked conspiracy theories and efforts to mislead the public be presented to readers as fact and evidence.
All Duncan Campbell has really achieved is publicly doxxing a writer whose real identity was provided to US officials over nine months ago, the production of a smear campaign aimed at myself, VIPS members, the Forensicator, Disobedient Media and others, deeming anyone who challenges the RussiaGate conspiracy theories he seems to have become emotionally invested in “pro-Kremlin” or as proponents of Donald Trump. Campbell’s emotional investment in the maintaining this narrative remains the most logical explanation for the bizarre and unprofessional behavior this author has observed; the other reasonable explanation being that Campbell has held a persistent grudge following my criticism of the article he and James Risen wrote for the Intercept in November 2017.
What Campbell has engaged in and subsequently produced is ultimately inexcusable.
In contrast, the response to Campbell’s smear campaign has involved the disclosure of communications showing the fraudulent construction effort behind his campaign, the rebuttal of false accusations and insinuations by presenting the evidence Campbell has disregarded (and strategically omitted in order to push misconceptions) and demonstrating the technical implausibility of his claims, debunking his conspiracy theories in the process.
Those who were originally throwing around accusations of “disinformation” have now been shown to have been wrong and in some cases have even been shown to have engaged in pushing disinformation of their own.
Campbell and those jumping on his smear campaign bandwagon have disgraced themselves and their respective publications. Their lack of credibility on this particular topic has been demonstrated by evidence.
TechDirt and DefenseOne were provided links to preview the articles tackling what they had published (that are linked to from this article) and were asked for feedback. They did not respond.
ComputerWeekly was advised that this final part of the series was due to be published and asked to give a statement in response to the fact they had propagated debunked conspiracy theories. There has been no response.
Duncan Campbell was advised that his efforts had been challenged by Forensicator and myself and has been asked for a statement in response directly and by third parties on Twitter. He has not responded.