The Russian Federation’s intelligence entities are creative, imaginative, and wily when it comes to manipulating perception on social networks like LinkedIn and beyond. The Russians roll out this capability when they wish to shape perspective and or silence someone who has become a thorn in their side.

LinkedIn silences a former CIA officer

Such was the case of Charles Leven, a former CIA executive, who found himself bounced from LinkedIn because of the active measures of Russia’s SVR in manipulating perception and LinkedIn. How they accomplished this is demonstrative of the level of effort they are willing to go to silence a critic.

The Russian’s created multiple faux personalities within the LinkedIn network from which to engage and enrage readers on various topics to include the annexation of Crimea. Leven, a seasoned Russia hand who devoted most of his intelligence career to Russian operations, saw this for what it was, an “active measure” operation and shined the light on the faux personas and the disinformation they were peddling. But unlike the cockroach, the faux personas did not scurry for the darkness when the light was shined upon them, they instead doubled-down.

Amazingly, after being informed by Leven and others of the faux personas, the “adjudicators” at LinkedIn went passive. The Russian intelligence entities linked their faux personas, and created an avalanche of complaints against the individual holding the light on the Russian’s efforts. Their goal was to besmirch Leven’s name and to get him excluded from the LinkedIn network. One would think that a highly decorated CIA officer’s credibility and knowledge of Russia active measures would have held water with LinkedIn, but such was not the case and LinkedIn booted Leven from their network.

Counterintelligence Import

National Security journalist Jeff Stein, writing within Newsweek documented the above activity back in 2017 in his piece on “How Russia is Using LinkedIn as a Tool of War Against its U.S. Enemies.” Within this piece, Stein clearly defines the threat.

LinkedIn provides a rich hunting ground for Russian agents. Unlike Twitter and Facebook, most of its estimated 500 million, predominantly white-collar subscribers use it to advertise their expertise, seek employment or engage with peers in expert-based discussion groups. To bolster their credentials, most—even current and former U.S. national security officials—post detailed résumés and recommendations from their colleagues. That provides fodder for Russian intelligence to gather detailed information on its most formidable critics and cast doubt on the truth of those accomplishments.

“The Russian special services are for sure exploiting LinkedIn to gather personal information on certain targets and possibly recruit and blackmail them,” says a close Kremlin watcher at a university in a former Soviet satellite state, asking for anonymity to protect himself. “They operate under fabricated identities and credentials, while the Russian propaganda and trolling campaigns are widely applied on the platform.

The other side of the sword’s blade, the targeting side, is alive and well.

And while the case of the Russian operatives targeting Leven may have us nodding our head thinking, “well he did work pretty close to the flame (Russia) all his life, and perhaps this is just Russia leveling old scores, after all he was with the CIA” such thinking plays directly into the hands of the Russian intelligence apparatus.

In the world of counterintelligence operations, the Russian’s are either trying to recruit you or they are trying to neutralize you. Leven was not alone in being targeted. In a piece crafted in 2016 by Russian exiled journalist, Kseniya Kirillova, “Russian trolls attack Americans” she highlights the efforts against Leven, but also notes others who were similarly targeted by the Russians and ejected from the LinkedIn platform and their voices silenced. These included a U.S. Department of Commerce officer, an Army veteran, a New York attorney, a foreign policy expert in France. If the individual was pointing out Russian disinformation it would appear, they were placed on the Russian targeting list.

Forewarned is forearmed

Realize when using open social networks that your information is being harvested and will be used in a way you may not have intended. To be more blunt – the information may not be used for your benefit, rather, it may be used to your detriment.

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Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008).