On November 24, The Washington Post published a story citing the anonymous group PropOrNot. The story accused the Russians of building a large propaganda operation that worked to defeat Hillary Clinton and elect "insurgent candidate" Donald Trump. It claimed a large number of alternative news websites are acting as Russian agents, dupes, and useful idiots.
Prior to this, in March 2015, the Voice of America insisted Russia has organized "around-the-clock operation in which an army of trolls disseminated pro-Kremlin and anti-Western talking points on blogs and in the comments sections of news websites in Russia and abroad."
Voice of America is a propaganda service created by the CIA during the Cold War.
In January, the Institute of Modern Russia and its Interpreter Mag teamed up with the CIA through Voice of America to combat "Kremlin disinformation and propaganda." The Institute of Modern Russia maintains close relationships with many Russian opposition leaders.
Critics took The Washington Post to task for using PropOrNot as a source. The website and PropOrNot's Facebook and Twitter accounts give no indication who is behind the effort. Despite this, the Post cited the site to make the argument many alternative websites are "fake news" sites working in tandem with the Russians.
PropOrNot has all the hallmarks of an intelligence operation run by the CIA, FBI, or one of a number of other intelligence agencies.
Following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, the official narrative pushed by the government and echoed dutifully by the establishment media claimed Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda masterminded the attack from a cave in Afghanistan. This and other elements of the official narrative were criticized, primarily by the alternative media. The government and its propaganda media dismissed the criticism of the official narrative and began characterizing critics as conspiracy theorists.
In early 2008, Cass Sunstein, a Harvard scholar and later the Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration, wrote a paper with colleague Adrian Vermeule titled simply "Conspiracy Theories." Sunstein and Vermeule argue the existence of conspiracy theories "may create serious risks, including risks of violence, and the existence of such theories raises significant challenges for policy and law."
In addition to proposing outright censorship of information the government considers"extremist theories," Sunstein and his co-author suggest using "cognitive infiltration" of groups and networks.
Instead of a covert operation resembling the FBI's Operation COINTELPRO using physical infiltration to disrupt and discredit political groups, Sunstein proposed attacking targeted groups in cyberspace.
Sunstein and Vermeule write that "whatever the tactical details, there would seem to be ample reason for government efforts to introduce some cognitive diversity into the groups that generate conspiracy theories."
In 2011, The Guardian reported the US military was developing software that would allow it secretly manipulate social media sites by using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda.