With just a few scant months to go before the 2020 presidential election, it seems Russia has, once again, reached into its bag of tricks to sow chaos and distrust throughout the American political system.
According to a new report from The New York Times this week, Russia's Internet Research Agency — of Mueller report fame — has been propping up a disinformation laundering website designed to mimic a progressive news outlet, going so far as to hire American freelance writers to help populate the publication with content to give it the appearance of legitimacy.
"The Russians are trying harder to hide; they are increasingly putting up more and more layers of obfuscation," Ben Nimmo, a social network analyst who worked with Facebook to assess the sock-puppet outlet, told the Times. "But they are still getting caught."
In a statement to the Times, Joe Biden's campaign described this latest instance of social media manipulation as "proof of two immutable facts: Russia is attempting to interfere in our elections on behalf of Donald Trump, and Facebook’s platform is a key vector for these efforts."
“President Trump’s refusal to speak out against Russian interference makes it all the more important that Facebook does more to enforce their rules and ensure their platform cannot be used to corrode the foundation of our democracy," the campaign added.
Indeed, inaction on the part of the Trump administration is the focus of a separate report from ABC News, published Wednesday, which details how a Department of Homeland Security report on Russian efforts to circulate disinformation about Biden's "poor mental health" was suddenly buried at the last minute in early July.
"Russian malign influence actors are likely to continue denigrating presidential candidates through allegations of poor mental or physical health to influence the outcome of the 2020 election," the report allegedly stated. And while the report was intended for state officials and law enforcement agencies — not the public at large — it was held back by DHS Chief of Staff John Gountanis, who directed his staff that it should remain unpublished "until you have a chance to speak to [acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf]."
Incidentally, attacks on Biden's mental acuity have become a mainstay of the Trump campaign itself, with the president pushing the narrative of Biden's cognitive decline as recently as Wednesday morning.
In a statement to ABC, a DHS spokesperson defended holding the report back, saying it had not met the standards required for publication. The Trump campaign, meanwhile, rejected the notion that it was repeating its 2016 tactic of leaning on Russian disinformation — as described in detail last month in a Republican Senate-led report on the last presidential election — telling ABC News that "we don't need or want any foreign interference."
Russia, evidently, feels differently.