New “Secondary Infektion” Report Traces Large-Scale Russian Information Operations Campaign Aimed at Sowing Global Tensions

A new report by research firm Graphika reveals a Russian information campaign dubbed “Secondary Infektion,” that used forgeries, interference, and attacks on Kremlin critics across six years and 300 online sites and social media platforms to provoke tensions between Russia’s perceived enemies and target presidential candidates in multiple countries. While the report uncovers much about the actors’ motivations and priorities since 2014, the investigative team was unable to identify the central entity behind the operations. The term “Secondary Infektion” refers to the Soviet era “Operation Infektion,” which spread the false claim that the United States created the virus that causes AIDS.

Some of the report’s findings:

  • Used fake accounts and forged documents to sow conflict between Western countries
  • Most often targeted Ukraine
  • Was active on campaigns including the U.S. election of 2016, the French election of 2017, and the Russian attempt to discredit the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)
  • Consistently used sophisticated techniques to cover its tracks but struggled to achieve any measurable engagement
  • As yet unattributed to a specific actor

The information campaign focused on nine primary topics:

  • Ukraine as a failed or unreliable state
  • U.S. and NATO aggression or interference in other countries
  • European divisions and weakness
  • Elections
  • Migration and Islam
  • Russia’s doping scandals in sporting competitions
  • Turkey as an aggressive, destabilizing force
  • Defending Russia and its government
  • Insulting Kremlin critics including Alexei Navalny and the Bellingcat Investigative group

A June 16 article in The Washington Post noted that Secondary Infektion’s effectiveness and audience engagement is “dismal.”

This is a reminder, the researchers said, “that not all influence operations go viral” and that Internet users on fringe forums are not as easy a target as might be thought. Graphika repeatedly came across comments below Secondary Infektion stories that ridiculed them or called them out as “Russian trolls.”

Read and dowload the full Secondary Infektion report from Graphika here.