Tuesday

16th Jul 2019

Russia tried to stir up Irish troubles, US think tank says

  • Belfast: Decades of sectarian violence ended with Good Friday Agreement in 1998 (Photo: William Murphy)

"Brazen forgeries" designed to fan sectarian violence in Northern Ireland were sown online by a "Russian operation", a US think tank has said.

One involved a fake tweet by the UK defence minister about the Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA), a militant group.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Another one was a false email by a Northern Irish party leader on Brexit.

And a third one said the RIRA had invited "Muslim extremists" to join them to "fight on the [sic] Irish soil".

The inflammatory content was put online between March 2018 and April 2019, according to Ben Nimmo, a scholar of Russian propaganda at the Atlantic Council, a think tank in Washington.

The "suspected Russian intelligence operation" sought to "fan divisions between, and within, Western countries", he said in a report published on Saturday (22 June).

"The Russian operation launched not one, but at least three separate forgeries, one attributed to a senior minister, another to a party leader. Each time, the apparent purpose was to exacerbate the already raw divides in Ireland and the United Kingdom," he added.

The fake tweet by then British defence minister Gavin Williamson had said RIRA was involved in the attempted murder of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in England.

The false email by Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster said she was "favourable" to an EU deal on Brexit which was a red rag to unionist militants.

A related Russian story warned of "bloody confrontation" in Northern Ireland if the DUP backed the deal.

The purported invitation to jihadists by an RIRA "headhunter" was an untraceable screenshot of an online Muslim discussion board.

Some of the content was posted by "ostensibly Irish personas" on US social media giant Facebook.

Other parts were published on US aggregator website Reddit and American image sharing website Imgur.

The same or similar material was also posted, often simultaneously, in smaller online forums in English, French, German, Spanish, and Ukrainian, the Atlantic Council study showed.

"Each of these stories used the same techniques. They started by posting a forgery online, amplified it with a number of accounts created especially for that purpose, and finally boosted the content on Facebook," the think tank's Nimmo said.

One tell-tale sign of the forgeries was use of "distinctly non-native" syntax and phrases, the expert noted.

The operation tried to cover its tracks by using "burner accounts" - fake online personas which only ever posted one item - he also said.

The one on the British defence minister used a purloined photo of British actor Hugh Laurie as its profile picture, the study showed.

The Good Friday Agreement ended decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland in 1998.

Discussion on Northern Ireland's status after the UK leaves the EU has raised tension, amid the spectre of a return to border security checkpoints.

But "none of the [forged] stories gained any traction" Nimmo said.

"In part, this was likely due to the nature of the content. In part, it was due to the obsessive secrecy with which the operation was conducted," he added.

"The operation never had the chance to build up a following or develop its audience," he said.

For its part, Facebook took down the suspicious accounts in a broader clean-up in May, after the US firm identified what it called "co-ordinated inauthentic behaviour" that was "emanating from Russia".

A spokeswoman for the Russian embassy in Dublin told The Irish Times newspaper that the Atlantic Council study had "nothing to do with reality".

But Nimmo told the newspaper that "the combination of Brexit, a hard border, and all the rest of it is an open wound".

"If you are a hostile foreign actor, why would you not stick your finger in it?," he said.

News in Brief

  1. Ansip's ex-cabinet chief to head EU cybersecurity agency
  2. Malta starts trial of journalist murder suspects
  3. Full text of von der Leyen candidacy speech to MEPs
  4. Von der Leyen open to further Brexit delay
  5. Von der Leyen promises carbon border tax
  6. Brexit: both UK PM candidates say Irish backstop is 'dead'
  7. Mogherini: Iran's nuclear enrichment 'reversible'
  8. Report: Selmayr to leave 'next week'

Analysis

EU should stop an insane US-Iran war

"If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!", US president Donald Trump tweeted on Monday (20 May).

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  5. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  7. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  8. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  9. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  10. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North

Latest News

  1. Son: Malta trial for murdered journalist 'not enough'
  2. Von der Leyen's final appeal to secure top EU post
  3. EU talks tough on Turkey, but arms sales go on
  4. The Abortion Exodus - more Poles and Croats going abroad
  5. Poland's ex-PM loses EU parliament chair again
  6. Von der Leyen reaches out to left and liberal MEPs
  7. Farmers among new MEPs deciding on EU farming money
  8. Von der Leyen's EU vote far from sure

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us