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State Dept.: Russia spreads disinformation through 'a propaganda ecosystem'

Aug. 6 (UPI) -- Russia is spreading disinformation and propaganda through the use of official, proxy and unattributed communications channels, the State Department said in a new report while offering a $10 million reward for information concerning those working to interfere in U.S. elections.

The report titled "Pillars of Russia's Disinformation and Propaganda Ecosystem" published Wednesday accuses the Kremlin of creating a "propaganda ecosystem" through government communications, state-funded global messaging, proxy sources, weaponized social media and cyber-enabled disinformation to propagandize to the United States and other Western nations.

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Lea Gabrielle, the head of the State Department's Global Engagement Center, which produced the extensive 77-page report, told reporters that these five pillars of the ecosystem reinforce one another and their interactions create "a media multiplier effect that amplifies false narratives."

"The Kremlin bears direct responsibility for cultivating these tactics and platforms as part of its approach to using information and disinformation as a weapon," she said.

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Gabrielle explained that while the Kremlin invests heavily in propaganda channels, proxy websites "serve as critical connective tissue" to promote its disinformation narratives.

The report mentions seven such sites the Kremlin uses to create audiences for its messages while appearing independent.

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"Russia tries to hide its affiliation with these different proxy sites, and that's what makes them effective is that it's difficult for just an average person who is online to look at these sites and know that it's actually Russian disinformation," she said.

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The Kremlin is not only pushing its own propaganda, she said, but also that of China with the goal of undermining democratic norms and institutions.

"The threat of both China's and Russia's disinformation is real and it's dangerous," Gabrielle said. "Authoritarian governments seek to manipulate open and free information environments."

The Kremlin's general aims with this disinformation ecosystem is to undermine democratic institutions and weaken the international credibility of the United States and its allies and partners, the report said.

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Russia balked at the report Wednesday, saying it is an attempt to silence Russian official proposals to resume cooperation in key security areas.

"The United States is not very fond of the existence of alternative sources of information," the embassy said in a Facebook post. "Serious resources are employed to discredit them. Any voice that contradicts Washington is dubbed 'disinformation' in the service of the 'Kremlin' and Russian intelligence."

While the report does not mention Russian interference in U.S. elections, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a $10 million reward Wednesday for information leading to the identification or location of anyone who works for a foreign government with the intent to meddle in the democratic institution.

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Gabrielle told reporters that while their report wasn't focused on elections but on Russia's overall disinformation campaign, the Kremlin's goal is to undermine such democratic practices.

"Russia typically looks to undermine democratic institutions and democratic norms and to spread fear and confusion as well as trying to create doubts about democratic norms," she said. "They also look for diverse issues to focus on."

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