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NYT: Russian disinformation campaign targeting Paris Olympics, experts say

by Nate Ostiller and The Kyiv Independent news desk June 4, 2024 11:43 AM 2 min read
A Ukrainian activist attends a rally against Russian and Belarusian participation in the Paris 2024 Olympic games in Tbilisi on March 26, 2023. (Vano Shlamov/AFP via Getty Images)
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A Russian-linked disinformation campaign is targeting the upcoming Paris Olympics, the New York Times (NYT) reported on June 3, citing Microsoft disinformation experts and U.S. officials.

The Paris Olympics, scheduled to begin in late July, has become embroiled in controversy and the spillover of Russia's full-scale war in Ukraine. While both Belarus and Russia have been barred from officially participating in the games, athletes from the respective countries will be allowed to compete as independent neutral athletes, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced in March.

The IOC's decision prompted criticism from Ukraine and its allies. At the same time, Russia has also accused the IOC of unfairly discriminating against Russian athletes.

The NYT said that a Russian-linked campaign to discredit and disrupt the games "began in earnest" in the summer of 2023, when a "documentary" was released with a doctored IOC logo, along with an AI-powered impersonation of Tom Cruise's voice.

Attacks have continued since then.

"(The hackers) are trying to cultivate an anticipation of violence," said Clint Watts, the head of Microsoft’s Digital Threat Analysis Center, in comments to the NYT.

"They want people to be fearful of going to the Olympics."

The hacker group, known as Storm-1679, makes around three to eight disinformation videos a week, Microsoft told the NYT, many of which appear as if they come from famous media outlets like the BBC or Al Jazeera.

Eliot Higgins, the founder of the Netherlands-based investigative journalism outlet Bellingcat, told the NYT that the extent of direct ties between the disinformation campaign and the Kremlin is unclear.

Previous Russian-linked disinformation campaigns have sought to sow chaos by spreading false messages, such as the fake announcement of a partial military mobilization in Poland through the hacking of a state-run media outlet in May.

There have also been more overt threats to the Olympics.

French authorities arrested a Chechen man in France in May after an investigation revealed he was allegedly plotting a terrorist attack on the games.

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