Inquisitr—Mystery Deepens Over Why Kremlin Bank CEO’s Plane Remains In Florida, 50 Miles From Donald Trump’s Mar-A-Lago
(1/5/2020) “Almost 24 hours after landing at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) in Florida early on Saturday morning, as The Inquisitr reported, a private jet frequently used by the CEO of Russia’s largest state-owned-bank remained on the ground there—about 50 miles south of Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach where Donald Trump is vacationing until Sunday afternoon.
Whether Sberbank CEO German Gref†
was aboard the plane when it arrived on a 12-hour, 23-minute nonstop flight from Moscow remains unconfirmed. Russian media has reported that the plane, a Gulfstream G650 operated by Jet Air Group with the tail number RA-10204, is used frequently and perhaps exclusively by Gref.
(UPDATE: According to flight records posted by the site FlightAware, the Sberbank jet departed Fort Lauderdale at 12:23 a.m. EST on Sunday morning, just 21 hours and 34 minutes after it arrived from Moscow—where it landed on the return trip at 6:17 p.m. local time, or 10:17 a.m. EST, a nine-hour, 53 minute flight.)
Flight records posted to Twitter show that the plane made the same nonstop flight from Moscow to Fort Lauderdale last year, on the same dates. On January 4, 2019, the plane landed in Fort Lauderdale at 2:49 a.m., according to the records. In 2020, the plane arrived at the same airport on the same date, landing at 2:31 a.m.
Last year, however, Trump did not spend his holiday break at his Mar-a-Lago Club, remaining in the White House during what was then an ongoing government shutdown. On January 4,Trump was indeed present at Mar-a-Lago but left the estate at 9:55 a.m.—six hours and 24 minutes after the Sberbank
jet touched down—to visit Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach. He remained at the golf club until 3:12 p.m., according to a public schedule posted by FactBase. Sberbank
has been under United States economic sanctions since 2014, over its involvement in Russia’s annexation of the territory of Crimea from Ukraine. In November 2013, however, Gref
himself co-hosted a party honoring Trump in Moscow, during Trump’s visit there for the Miss Universe beauty pageant, according to a report by The Daily Beast. Trump was then the owner of the pageant.
Following Trump’s return to the United States following the 2013 event, he received a mysterious ‘gift’ from Russian President Vladimir Putin. The gift was reportedly ‘a black lacquered box’, but the contents of the box have never been publicly revealed.
Like the contents of the ‘gift’ from Putin to Trump, the purpose of the Sberbank
private jet’s trip to Florida from Moscow is also a mystery, even as the plan sits on the tarmac at Fort Lauderdale airport as of 1:30 a.m. EST on Sunday.
According to the online flight records from 2019, the Gulfstream private jet departed from Fort Lauderdale 30 hours and 11 minutes after landing there, making another nonstop flight back to Sheremetyevo Alexander S. Pushkin International Airport (SVO) in Moscow.” http://web.archive.org/web/20200106153745/https://www.inquisitr.com/5821555/kremlin-bank-ceo-jet-florida-donald-trump †Herman (German) Gref:
, headed by Herman Gref
, the other co-chair of Putin’s A.I. board
, is also among the banks providing biometric services that feed into the Digital Profile System.” – Claims Journal (2019)]
•Vedomosti (Russia)—Sberbank Invested in Facial Recognition Technology (11/17/2017) “Sberbank
Recognizes a Customer by Sight: The Bank intends to provide biometric access to any of its services.” http://vedomosti.ru/technology/articles/2017/11/17/742077-raspoznavaniya-lits
•Bloomberg—The Day Trump Came to Moscow: Oligarchs, Miss Universe and Nobu (12/21/2016) “Meeting with top group of Russian financiers, industrialists; They discussed a possible Trump Tower and inspected sites The last time Donald Trump made an appearance in Moscow was November 2013 for the Miss Universe contest he famously owned. It was a glittering event filled with carefully choreographed photographs and parties. Then another, more private, invitation arrived: Come to Nobu to meet more than a dozen of Russia’s top businessmen, including Herman Gref, the chief executive officer of state-controlled Sberbank PJSC, Russia’s biggest bank. Gref, who was President Vladimir Putin’s economy minister from 2000 to 2007, organized the meeting together with Aras Agalarov, the founder of Crocus Group, one of the country’s largest real-estate companies, which was hosting the beauty pageant at one of its concert halls.” http://bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-12-21/the-day-trump-came-to-moscow-oligarchs-miss-universe-and-nobu
•NBC News—Putin Rival Ties Kushner
Meeting to Kremlin Bankers (10/17/2017) “A prominent exiled Russian oligarch said in an exclusive interview with NBC News that he is nearly certain Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to collaborate with the Trump campaign, and that he believes a top Russian banker was not ‘acting on his own behalf’ when he held a controversial meeting with Jared Kushner
last December. The pointed remarks come from a longtime Putin rival, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an oil executive who was Russia's richest man before he was imprisoned and exiled by the Kremlin. ’I am almost convinced that Putin's people have tried to influence the U.S. election in some way’, Khodorkovsky told MSNBC’s Ari Melber in his first U.S. television interview since Trump took office. [...] His former head of human resources, Sergey Gorkov, now runs a Kremlin bank and met with Kushner
in December last year. The U.S. has accused Gorkov's bank of providing cover for Russian spies. Khodorkovsky says Gorkov was a ‘fine employee’ who ‘carries out orders’, suggesting the banker would not have been acting alone in meeting with a senior figure of the incoming Trump administration. ‘I have no doubt that he wouldn’t do anything on his own behalf’, Khodorkovsky said. Khodorkovsky also said he believes Gorkov's orders come from either Andrey Kostin or Herman [German] Gref
, who both run Kremlin-backed banks that were sanctioned by the Obama administration.” http://web.archive.org/web/20190706131958/https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/white-house/putin-rival-ties-kushner-meeting-kremlin-bankers-n811631 [“Hermann Gräf, better known as Herman Gref
*, is a Russian politician and businessman. He was the Minister of Economics and Trade of Russia from May 2000 to September 2007. He is the CEO and chairman of the executive board of Sberbank, the largest Russian bank.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herman_Gref
•Fast Company—Russia’s Largest Bank Just Launched a State-Of-The-Art Coding School to Ease Dependence on Western Tech; Sberbank
, which is currently under U.S. sanctions and whose CEO [Gref] has ties to Trump, launched School 21 in Moscow last week. (11/30/2018) “The biggest bank in Russia, which has been under U.S. sanctions since 2014, just launched a state-of-the-art coding school in Moscow that aims to train thousands of world-class software engineers in the arts of cybersecurity
, gaming, and the latest AI technology for years to come. School 21, which operates under the umbrella of Ecole 42, a global pioneer in IT education backed by French billionaire Xavier Niel, is wholly owned by Sberbank
. It is free, open to aspiring coders from 18 to 30 years old, and has 21 levels of proficiency. The school is highly competitive—its inaugural program has a class of 500 students out of more than 85,000 applicants, and the plan is to scale up to 2,500 a year in the long term, according to Business FM radio station. Sberbank
told Fast Company that it plans to run two more application cycles next year, one in the winter and one in the spring, and that it might open a second office in St. Petersburg. The school’s launch is raising concerns about Russia training thousands of highly skilled cyber specialists
at a time when the United States is expanding its sanctions against Russian entities, including Sberbank
-xbacked properties, and amid heightened tensions in Europe last week over a naval skirmish between Russian and Ukraine in the Kerch Strait. It also comes against the backdrop of the Russian government’s disinformation efforts in elections around the globe, which the Kremlin has vehemently denied. In addition, Sberbank
has been in the spotlight due to the history of high-level connections between the bank’s leadership, the Russian government and Donald Trump’s associates before he became U.S. president. It was bank chairman Herman Gref
who set up Trump’s meeting with Russian businessmen during the Miss Universe pageant in 2013 in Moscow, an event which Sberbank co-sponsored, while Trump was exploring building a Trump Tower in Moscow. Trump’s hotel plans are making headlines again this week due to the plea deal that Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen negotiated with the Mueller probe–Cohen admitted that he lied when he previously claimed that the deal fell through in January 2016, now conceding that talks for a Trump Tower in Moscow continued up until June 2016.’ Russia’s largest bank just launched a state-of-the-art coding school to ease dependence on Western tech; Sberbank, which is currently under U.S. sanctions and whose CEO has ties to Trump, launched School 21 in Moscow last week.” http://web.archive.org/web/20181201002817/https://www.fastcompany.com/90274333/russias-largest-bank-just-launched-a-coding-school-to-ease-dependence-on-western-tech
•Claims Journal—Vladimir Putin Wants Everyone to Love the Way He Watches Them (10/22/2019) “Officials in Moscow have spent the last few years methodically assembling one of the most comprehensive video-surveillance operations in the world. The public-private network of as many as 200,000 cameras records 1.5 billion hours of footage a year that can be accessed by 16,000 government employees, intelligence officers and law-enforcement personnel. Now the entire system is about to be equipped with what City Hall is billing as some of the most advanced facial-recognition software outside of China, claiming it will be more accurate and easier to search than London’s older, bigger network. The upgrade will dramatically expand a pilot program that led to the capture of as many as 10 wanted criminals a month either at major public events or inside the city’s warren of 269 metro stations. Moscow’s embrace of the technology, which the West is increasingly curtailing in response to public pressure, is being challenged in courts on political and legal grounds by opponents of President Vladimir Putin. But the monitoring tool is just one of several Russia is deploying, including mandatory recordings of all cellular calls. Many of the initiatives are based on recent advances in artificial intelligence, a science Putin sees as the ticket to global domination for whichever nation masters it first. Putin and lieutenants led by Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin say measures such as geolocating every active in the country, creating ‘digital profiles’ of each adult and collating online complaints against authorities are all necessary to ensure public safety and improve services. They’re betting most voters will accept further privacy curbs like the facial-recognition rollout in exchange for safer streets and greater convenience in their daily lives. ‘We’re conducting experiments in schools, clinics, hospitals and in transport to introduce this technology, which, of course, will facilitate the work of a huge number of people and make these industries more efficient’, Sobyanin told Putin at a meeting on artificial intelligence earlier this year. While so-called authoritarian tech, from automatic people trackers to online censorship bots, has triggered a worldwide debate about the proper balance between governing and surveilling, Moscow has so far made a better case for Big Brother than most cities. Russia’s capital ranks No. 1 among 40 metropolises in the latest UN survey of ‘e-government effectiveness in the delivery of public services’. London, by comparison, is fourth, Shanghai 11th and New York 14th. [...] Sberbank, headed by Herman Gref
, the other co-chair of Putin’s A.I. board, is also among the banks providing biometric services that feed into the Digital Profile System. The support of Gref is vital to the success of the program because Sberbank serves as a payment agent for most household bills in addition to safeguarding almost half of the country’s savings. Gref is fond of repeating the mantra ‘big data is the new oil’, but privacy experts say the concentration of so much personal information in a single database will make Russia an ideal target for identity thieves, not unlike Equifax Inc. The U.S. consumer-scorer was breached in 2017, exposing the credit histories of more than 145 million people. (Sberbank itself was the victim of a data leak affecting as many as 60 million clients, Kommersant reported this month. The bank said the incident impacted just 5,000 holders of its credit cards.) Potentially more worrisome in a country routinely accused of harassing the political opposition is that the new database could be a precursor of the kind of ‘social credit’ system China is developing. It’s a name-and-shame way to keep tabs on the behavior of the population by issuing grades, with demerits applied for things like smoking or circulating whatever’s deemed fake news. In 2016, the company launched the FindFace website and application. With the help of it, it was possible to find a person’s profile in VKontakte in a few seconds. The launch of the ‘innovation dating service’, as the company initially positioned it, provoked a series of scandals—users deanonimized not only fellow travelers in the subway, but porn actresses and rally participants, the technology was used even by the Bellingcat investigation team. And then they told about the application in the ‘Wait for me’ program on Channel One, and NtechLab, as Kabakov said, began to receive ‘five offers of cooperation per day’. Now the founders explain that FindFace was just a showcase that helped pitch technology. For example, with help from FindFace German [Herman] Gref† deanonimized his secretary within one second after being introduced to the algorithm
, according to someone familiar with the head of Sberbank. But in 2018 both the site and the FindFace application were unexpectedly closed. This had to be done because of possible complaints, including from VKontakte, says one of the interlocutors of The Bell. Spending time and money on the courts did not make sense; the founders of NtechLab already understood that they would not make money on recognizing pretty girls.” http://web.archive.org/web/20191024034256/https://www.claimsjournal.com/news/international/2019/10/22/293704.htm
•The Moscow Times—Russia To Grant Police Access to Bank Customers’ Biometric Data (12/19/2017) “Russia’s police and intelligence services will gain access to bank customers’ biometric data without their consent under new legislation making its way through the State Duma. Russia’s Communications Ministry and the Central Bank are overseeing a pilot project that will use personal biometric data to remotely verify bank account applications by late 2018. The Rostelecom state telecoms provider will operate the project, despite widespread concerns over state surveillance, data storage and privacy rights. A state deputy co-authoring the bill was cited as saying that ‘law enforcement officers will not have unlimited access to the system’ and that data would only be provided after official requests, the Vedomosti business daily reported Tuesday. According to the draft bill, Rostelecom would be required to share bank customers’ biometric data without their consent with Russia’s Interior Ministry and Federal Security Service (FSB). The data collected will include facial images and voice recordings, and may be expanded to iris recognition, palm and fingerprint scanning, according to Rostelecom. ‘If a person is law abiding then they will have no reason to worry’, Elman Mekhtiev, the vice-president of the Russian Association of Banks, was cited as saying by Vedomosti.” http://web.archive.org/web/20191121205917/https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2017/12/19/russia-to-grant-police-access-to-bank-customers-biometric-data-a59987
•The Moscow Times—Moscow Arrests 42 Suspects Using New Facial Recognition Technology in Metro Stations (5/24/2018) “A pilot project implementing facial recognition technology in Moscow has reportedly led to the arrests of 42 suspects in a month. Moscow has ramped up video surveillance ahead of the FIFA World Cup that kicks off in three weeks, including with facial recognition capabilities at metro stations capable of identifying 20 faces per second. Around 50,000 photographs of wanted suspects have been uploaded into the Moscow metro system, the state-owned Sberbank vice president Stanislav Kuznetsov told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency Thursday. ‘As a result, 42 repeat offenders were detained at four metro stations in a month,’ Kuznetsov was quoted as saying. He said Sberbank CEO German Gref
plans to discuss expanding the facial-recognition system beyond four metro stations with Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin at the annual economic forum underway in St. Petersburg. Sberbank acquired a stake in the VisionLabs facial recognition company last fall to create a ‘unique biometric identifier’ involving face, voice and retina identification.” http://themoscowtimes.com/news/moscow-arrests-42-suspects-using-new-facial-recognition-technology-in-metro-stations-61567
•The Bell (Russia)—The Russian Elite is Jostling to Solve Putin’s “2024 Problem” (7/20/2019) “This week we look at how a senior official wants President Vladimir Putin stay in power after his current term ends in 2024. We also explain why protests over the exclusion of independent candidates from local elections is a sign of a system under strain, and how Moscow is set to roll-out one of the world’s biggest face recognition systems. The Russian elite is jostling to solve Putin’s ‘2024 problem’ The speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, this week publicly offered a solution to Putin’s ‘2024 problem’—what to do about the constitutional limit on two consecutive presidential terms. Volodin, who was previously oversaw domestic politics in the Kremlin, published an article (Rus) in the State Duma’s official magazine laying out his idea for changing the constitution to give parliament more authority. [...] Why the world should care: The Russian elite is increasingly obsessed with the ‘2024 problem’, and jostling within the elite is already well underway. At present, a variation of Volodin’s plan seems the most likely outcome. [...] Protests over Moscow’s local elections highlight cracks in the system: If the Kremlin wants to keep Putin in power beyond 2024, it will have to improve the functioning of its political management machine. Anger this week over local elections in the capital revealed how the system is faltering: the authorities’ ineptitude turned the vote—in which no one was interested—into a trigger for repeated demonstrations† in downtown Moscow. [...] Why the world should care: The Kremlin’s political management machine is coping less well with each passing election, and their failure in Moscow significant—in a crisis, the country’s fate will be decided in the capital. This is a bad sign ahead of the 2021 Duma elections, and a blow to Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, whose name appears in discussions of presidential candidates in 2024. Moscow is set to install a state-of-the-art face recognition system: While paranoid internet users across the world call for a boycott of FaceApp, the Russian app that generates an image of an elderly you, Moscow City Hall is building the world’s largest face recognition system. Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank, will take part in development and has already collected the biometrical data of tens of millions of Russians. - Moscow City Hall announced a tender this year for 105,000 video cameras with face recognition software. As of now, only 1,500 have been installed, but the police have already used them to identify and arrest about 100 criminals. According to The Bell’s calculations, the new system will cost no less than $50 million, a price tag that the city can easily afford. - There are three main bidders: Ntechlab, which was founded by people close to the Presidential Administration
and two companies in which Sberbank
is a shareholder: Speech Technology Center and VisionLabs. - Market sources say that Moscow’s face recognition system, once rolled out, will only be comparable in size with systems already in place in China. - Sberbank looks well placed to provide the raw data to make the system work. Since last year, the bank has been collecting biometric data from its clients (93 million people), and in December, CEO German [Herman] Gref said they already have data from ‘millions of people’.
Why the World Should Care: Concentrating resources could mean Russia becomes the world’s number two player in face recognition systems. Remember this when you visit Moscow, walk the city’s streets and see the mounted cameras on every building.” http://web.archive.org/web/20190801101206/http://thebell.io/en/the-russian-elite-is-jostling-to-solve-putin-s-2024-problem
[“A more advanced operation could use the full suite of services utilized by companies to track political attitudes on social media across all congressional districts, analyze who is most likely to vote and where, and then launch, almost instantly, a customized campaign at a highly localized level to discourage voting in the most vulnerable districts. Such a campaign, due to its highly personalized structure, would likely have significant impact on voting behavior
.” – Brookings Institution (2008)]
•Brookings Institution—Weapons of the Weak: Russia and AI-driven Asymmetric Warfare (2018) “‘Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind. It comes with colossal opportunities, but also threats that are difficult to predict. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.’ – Russian President Vladimir Putin, 2017 Speaking to Russian students on the first day of the school year in September 2017, Putin squarely positioned Russia in the technological arms race for artificial intelligence (AI). Putin’s comment signaled that, like China and the United States, Russia sees itself engaged in direct geopolitical competition with the world’s great powers, and AI is the currency that Russia is betting on. [...] Currently, Moscow is pursuing investments in at least two directions: select conventional military and defense technologies where the Kremlin believes it can still hold comparative advantage over the West and high-impact, low-cost asymmetric warfare to correct the imbalance between Russia and the West in the conventional domain. The former—Russia’s development and use of AI-driven military technologies and weapons—has received significant attention. AI has the potential to hyperpower Russia’s use of disinformation... And unlike in the conventional military space, the United States and Europe are ill-equipped to respond to AI-driven asymmetric warfare in the information space. The latter—the implications of AI for asymmetric political warfare—remains unexplored. Yet, such nonconventional tools—cyber-attacks, disinformation campaigns, political influence, and illicit finance—have become a central tenet of Russia’s strategy toward the West and one with which Russia has been able to project power and influence beyond its immediate neighborhood. In particular, AI has the potential to hyperpower Russia’s use of disinformation—the intentional spread of false and misleading information for the purpose of influencing politics and societies. And unlike in the conventional military space, the United States and Europe are ill-equipped to respond to AI-driven asymmetric warfare (ADAW) in the information space. Russian Information Warfare at Home and Abroad: Putin came to power in 2000, and since then, information control and manipulation has become a key element of the Kremlin’s domestic and foreign policy. At home, this has meant repression of independent media and civil society, state control of traditional and digital media, and deepening government surveillance. For example, Russia’s surveillance system, SORM (System of Operative-Search Measures) allows the FSB (Federal Security Service) and other government agencies to monitor and remotely access ISP servers and communications without the ISPs’ knowledge. In 2016, a new package of laws, the so-called Yarovaya amendments, required telecom providers, social media platforms, and messaging services to store user data for three years and allow the FSB access to users’ metadata and encrypted communications. While there is little known information on how Russian intelligence agencies are using these data, their very collection suggests that the Kremlin is experimenting with AI-driven analysis to identify potential political dissenters. The government is also experimenting with facial recognition technologies in conjunction with CCTV. Moscow alone has approximately 170,000 cameras, at least 5,000 of which have been outfitted with facial expression recognition technology from NTechLabs
. Still, Moscow’s capacity to control and surveil the digital domain at home remains limited, as exemplified by the battle between the messaging app Telegram and the Russian government in early 2018. Telegram, one of the few homegrown Russian tech companies, refused to hand over its encryption keys to the FSB in early 2018. What followed was a haphazard government attempt to ban Telegram by blocking tens of millions of IP addresses, which led to massive disruptions in unrelated services, such as cloud providers, online games, and mobile banking apps. Unlike Beijing, which has effectively sought to censor and control the internet as new technologies have developed, Moscow has not been able to implement similar controls preemptively. The result is that even a relatively small company like Telegram is able to outmaneuver and embarrass the Russian state. Despite such setbacks, however, Moscow seems set to continue on a path toward ‘digital authoritarianism’—using its increasingly unfettered access to citizens’ personal data to build better microtargeting capabilities that enhance social control, censor behavior and speech, and curtail counter-regime activities. Under Putin, Cold War-era ‘active measures’—overt or covert influence operations aimed at influencing public opinion and politics abroad—have been revived and adapted to the digital age. Externally, Russian information warfare (informatsionaya voyna) has become part and parcel of Russian strategic thinking in foreign policy. Moscow has long seen the West as involved in an information war against it—a notion enshrined in Russia’s 2015 national security strategy, which sees the United States and its allies as seeking to contain Russia by exerting ‘informational pressure…’ in an ‘intensifying confrontation in the global information arena.’ Under Putin, Cold War-era ‘active measures’—overt or covert influence operations aimed at influencing public opinion and politics abroad—have been revived and adapted to the digital age. Information warfare (or information manipulation) has emerged as a core component of a broader influence strategy. At the same time, the line between conventional (or traditional) and nonconventional (or asymmetric) warfare has blurred in Russian military thinking. ‘The erosion of the distinction between war and peace, and the emergence of a grey zone’ has been one of the most striking developments in the Russian approach to warfare, according to Chatham House’s Keir Giles. Warfare, from this perspective, exists on a spectrum in which ‘political, economic, informational, humanitarian, and other nonmilitary measures’ are used to lay the groundwork for last resort military operations. The importance of information warfare on the spectrum of war has increased considerably in 21st century warfare, according to contemporary Russian military thought. Maskirovka, the Soviet/Russian term for the art of deception and concealment in both military and nonmilitary operations, is a key concept that figures prominently into Russian strategic thinking. The theory is broader than the narrow definition of military deception. In the conventional military domain, it includes the deployment of decoys, camouflage, and misleading information to deceive the enemy on the battlefield. The use of ‘little green men,’ or unmarked soldiers and mercenaries, in Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 is one example of maskirovka in military practice. So is the use of fake weapons and heavy machinery: one Russian company is producing an army of inflatable missiles, tanks, and jets that appear real in satellite imagery. Maskirovka, as a theory and operational practice, also applies to nonmilitary asymmetric operations. Modern Russian disinformation and cyber attacks against the West rely on obfuscation and deception in line with the guiding principles of maskirovka. During the 2016 U.S. Presidential elections, for example, Russian citizens working in a troll factory in St. Petersburg, known as the Internet Research Agency (IRA), set up fake social media accounts pretending to be real Americans. These personas then spread conspiracy theories, disinformation, and divisive content meant to amplify societal polarization by pitting opposing groups against each other. The IRA troll factory itself, while operating with the knowledge and support of the Kremlin and the Russian intelligence services, was founded and managed by proxy: a Russian oligarch known as ‘Putin’s chef,’ Yevgeny Prigozhin. Concord, a catering company controlled by Prigozhin, was the main funder and manager of the IRA, and it went to great lengths to conceal the company’s involvement, including the setting up a web of fourteen bank accounts to transfer funding to the IRA. Such obfuscation tactics were designed to conceal the true source and goals of the influence operations in the United Stated while allowing the Kremlin to retain plausible deniability if the operations were uncovered—nonconventional maskirovka in practice. On the whole, Russia’s limited financial resources, the shift in strategic thinking toward information warfare, and the continued prevalence of maskirovka as a guiding principle of engagement, strongly suggest that in the near term, Moscow will ramp up the development of AI-enabled information warfare. Russia will not be the driver or innovator of these new technologies due its financial and human capital constraints. But, as it has already done in its attacks against the West, it will continue to co-opt existing commercially available technologies to serve as weapons of asymmetric warfare. AI-driven Asymmetric Warfare: The Kremlin’s greatest innovation in its information operations against the West has not been technical. Rather, Moscow’s savviness has been to recognize that: (1) ready-made commercial tools and digital platforms can be easily weaponized; and (2) digital information warfare is cost-effective and high-impact, making it the perfect weapon of a technologically and economically weak power. AI-driven asymmetric warfare (ADAW) capabilities could provide Russia with additional comparative advantage. Digital information warfare is cost-effective and high-impact, making it the perfect weapon of a technologically and economically weak power. U.S. government and independent investigations into Russia’s influence campaign against the United States during the 2016 elections reveal the low cost of that effort. Based on publicly available information, we know that the Russian effort included: the purchase of ads on Facebook (estimated cost $100,000)27 and Google (approximate cost $4,700), set up of approximately 36,000 automated bot accounts on Twitter, operation of the IRA troll farm (estimated cost $240,000 over the course of two years), an intelligence gathering trip carried out by two Russian agents posing as tourists in 2014 (estimated cost $50,000), production of misleading or divisive content (pictures, memes, etc.), plus additional costs related to the cyber attacks on the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign. In sum, the total known cost of the most high-profile influence operation against the United States is likely around one million dollars. The relatively low level of investment produced high returns. On Facebook alone, Russian linked content from the IRA reached 125 million Americans. This is because the Russian strategy relied on ready-made tools designed for commercial online marketing and advertising: the Kremlin simply used the same online advertising tools that companies would use to sell and promote its products and adapted them to spread disinformation. Since the U.S. operation, these tools and others have evolved and present new opportunities for far more damaging but increasingly low-cost and difficult-to-attribute ADAW operations. Three threat vectors in particular require immediate attention. First, advances in deep learning are making synthetic media content quick, cheap, and easy to produce. AI-enabled audio and video manipulation, so-called ‘deep fakes,’ is already available through easy-to-use apps such as Face2Face, which allows for one person’s expressions to be mapped onto another face in a target video. Video to Video Synthesis can synthesize realistic video based a baseline of inputs. Other tools can synthesize realistic photographs of AI-rendered faces, reproduce videos and audio of any world leader, and synthesize street scenes to appear in a different season. Using these tools, China recently unveiled an AI made news anchor. As the barriers of entry for accessing such tools continue to decrease, their appeal to low-resource actors will increase. Whereas most Russian disinformation content has been static (e.g., false news stories, memes, graphically designed ads), advances in learning AI will turn disinformation dynamic (e.g. video, audio). Because audio and video can easily be shared on smart phones and do not require literacy, dynamic disinformation content will be able to reach a broader audience in more countries. For example, in India, false videos shared through Whatsapp incited riots and murders. Unlike Facebook or Twitter, Whatsapp (owned by Facebook) is an end-to-end encrypted messaging platform, which means that content shared via the platform is basically unmonitored and untraceable. The ‘democratization of disinformation’ will make it difficult for governments to counter AI-driven disinformation. Advances in machine learning are producing algorithms that ‘continuously learn how to more effectively replicate the appearance of reality,’ which means that ‘deep fakes cannot easily be detected by other algorithms.’ Russia, China, and others could harness these new publicly available technologies to undermine Western soft power or public diplomacy efforts around the world. Debunking or attributing such content will require far more resources than the cost of production, and it will be difficult if not impossible to do so in real time. Second, advances in affective computing and natural language processing will make it easier to manipulate human emotions and extract sensitive information without ever hacking an email account. In 2017, Chinese researchers created an ‘emotional chatting machine’ based on data users shared on Weibo, the Chinese social media site. As AI gains access to more personal data, it will become increasingly customized and personalized to appeal to and manipulate specific users. Coupled with advances in natural learning processing, such as voice recognition, this means that affective systems will be able to mimic, respond to, and predict human emotions expressed through text, voice, or facial expressions. Some evidence suggests that humans are quite willing to form personal relationships, share deeply personal information, and interact for long periods of time with AI designed to form relationships. These systems could be used to gather information from high value targets—such as intelligence officers or political figures—by exploiting their vices and patterns of behavior. Advances in affective computing and natural language processing will make it easier to manipulate human emotions and extract sensitive information without ever hacking an email account. Third, deep fakes and emotionally manipulative content will be able to reach the intended audience with a high degree of precision due to advances in content distribution networks. ‘Precision propaganda’ is the set of interconnected tools that comprise an ‘ecosystem of services that enable highly targeted political communications that reach millions of people with customized messages.’ The full scope of this ecosystem, which includes data collection, advertising platforms, and search engine optimization, aims to parse out audiences in granular detail and identify new receptive audiences will be ‘supercharged’ by advances in AI. The content that users see online is the end product of an underlying multi-billion dollar industry that involves thousands of companies that work together to assess individuals’ preferences, attitudes, and tastes to ensure maximum efficiency, profitability, and real-time responsiveness of content delivery. Russian operations (as far as we know), relied on the most basic of these tools. But, as Ghosh and Scott suggest, a more advanced operation could use the full suite of services utilized by companies to track political attitudes on social media across all congressional districts, analyze who is most likely to vote and where, and then launch, almost instantly, a customized campaign at a highly localized level to discourage voting in the most vulnerable districts. Such a campaign, due to its highly personalized structure, would likely have significant impact on voting behavior
. Once the precision of this distribution ecosystem is paired with emotionally manipulative deep fake content delivered by online entities that appear to be human, the line between fact and fiction will cease to exist. And Hannah Arendt’s prediction of a world in which there is no truth and no trust may still come to pass.“ http://www.brookings.edu/research/weapons-of-the-weak-russia-and-ai-driven-asymmetric-warfare