A week before Christmas, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report accusing Russia of depressing Democrat voter turnout by targeting African-Americans on social media. Its authors, New Knowledge, quickly became a household name.
Described by the New York Times as a group of “tech specialists who lean Democratic,” New Knowledge has ties to both the US military and intelligence agencies. Its CEO and co-founder Jonathon Morgan previously worked for DARPA, the US military’s advanced research agency. His partner, Ryan Fox, is a 15-year veteran of the National Security Agency who also worked as a computer analyst for the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Their unique skill sets have managed to attract the eye of investors, who pumped $11 million into the company in 2018 alone.
Morgan and Fox have struck gold in the “Russiagate” racket, which sprung into being after Hillary Clinton blamed Moscow for Donald Trump’s presidential victory in 2016. Morgan, for example, is one of the developers of the Hamilton 68 Dashboard, the online tool that purports to monitor and expose narratives being pushed by the Kremlin on Twitter. The dashboard is bankrolled by the German Marshall Fund’s Alliance for Securing Democracy – a collection of Democrats and neoconservatives funded in part by NATO and USAID.
It is worth noting that the 600 “Russia-linked” Twitter accounts monitored by the dashboard are not disclosed to the public, making it impossible to verify its claims. This inconvenience has not stopped Hamilton 68 from becoming a go-to source for hysteria-hungry journalists, however.
From the way it was formed to the secrecy of its “methods” to the blatantly false assumptions on which its claims rest, “Hamilton68” is probably the single most successful media fraud & US propaganda campaign I’ve seen since I’ve been writing about politics. It’s truly shocking.
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) 22 February 2018
Troll hunters or bot farm?
New Knowledge’s victory lap was short-lived. On December 19, a New York Times story revealed that Morgan and his crew had created a fake army of Russian bots, as well as fake Facebook groups, in order to discredit Republican candidate Roy Moore in Alabama’s 2017 special election for the US Senate.
Working on behalf of the Democrats, Morgan and his crew created an estimated 1,000 fake Twitter accounts with Russian names, and had them follow Moore. They also operated several Facebook pages where they posed as Alabama conservatives who wanted like-minded voters to support a write-in candidate instead.
In an internal memo, New Knowledge boasted that it had “orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet.”
It worked. The botnet claim made a splash on social media and was further amplified by Mother Jones, which based its story on expert opinion from Morgan’s other dubious creation, Hamilton 68.
— Jonathon Morgan (@jonathonmorgan) 10 November 2017
Ultimately, Moore ended up losing the race by a miniscule 1.5 percentage points – making his opponent Doug Jones the first Democrat to represent Alabama in the US Senate in over 25 years.
Money trail and weak apologies
Things got even weirder when it turned out that Scott Shane, the author of the Times piece, had known about the meddling for months, because he spoke at an event where the organizers boasted about it!
Shane was one of the speakers at a meeting in September, organized by American Engagement Technologies, a group run by Mikey Dickerson, President Barack Obama’s former tech czar. Dickerson explained how AET spent $100,000 on New Knowledge’s campaign to suppress Republican votes, “enrage” Democrats to boost turnout, and execute a “false flag” to hurt Moore. He dubbed it “Project Birmingham.”