It is hard to imagine that just 10 years ago the word disinformation wasn’t part of the everyday vernacular in the United States. Yet today, we see it used daily across many social spectrums. Disinformation has been a mainstay of Russian efforts to shape perception and understanding both domestically and in the West. We’ve seen warning each election cycle, and we have seen it in copious quantities across the western social networks, most especially “X” (formerly Twitter).

John Dougan: Resident Moscow

Most recently, we witnessed Russia’s success in having U.S. citizens carry their skewed message. A prime example is that of former U.S. Marine and Palm Beach County deputy sheriff, John Dougan, who fled to Moscow. According to Palm Beach County prosecutors, Dougen has been charged with felony wiretapping and extortion. In addition, he created a “Russian Hacker” persona and proceeded to dox 14,000 law enforcement personnel, judges, and other officials under the guise of a Russian operation.

The program BBC Trending (audio 18 mins) on June 29 produced an expose on Dougan’s efforts and those of numerous fake news sites which share what appears to be legitimate news stories. Their modus operandi is to take legitimate news stories, spin it through an artificial intelligence tool, to rewrite and insert false narratives and then publish them on sites that have an air of legitimacy – “DC Weekly” (not a weekly, not based in Washington D.C. and the journalists mentioned don’t exist) or “ChicagoChron” for example.

Dougan was interviewed by BBC Trends and asked why he was involved in the Russian efforts and setting up fake sites, peddling fake narratives, his answer was telling. “For me it’s a game and a little payback.”

Dougan’s disinformation efforts are prolific

Newsguard crafted an expose on Dougan and his efforts to project Russia’s disinformation  and their research showed that Dougan’s efforts “include 167 Russian disinformation websites, all masquerading as independent local news publishers in the U.S.”Newsguard has identified over a 170 sites which publish “concocted stories” that “have been amplified on social media accounts to reach a broad global audience of more than 37 million views, including 1,300,000 on just the narrative about Zelensky buying the (British) king’s estate.”

Newsguard also identified the efforts of Russian propaganda outlet “RT” who published more than 50 fake documentary films chock-a-block full of “disinformation which were then amplified across 100 YouTube channels about Ukraine and the war.”

How invested is Dougan in Russia’s efforts, he called the co-CEO of Newsguard, on his unlisted phone at 0700 hours. He identified himself as from “the Washington bureau of the FBI, we’re investigating reports of Russian videos on YouTube, and we would like to come see you.” He was asked to put the request in writing and then Dougan demonstrated knowledge of the personal life of the co-CEO by talking about the man’s wife and daughter. Some days later, Dougan left a voicemail on the co-CEOs home answering machine leaving a death threat.

The BBC Trends highlights how the Russian disinformation machine’s efforts are focused on efforts to “influence American public opinion in advance of November’s presidential election. All will be well served to keep on board the efforts of the Russian disinformation machine in the coming months to sway public opinion.

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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). He is the founder of