On June 5 Corriere della Sera, one of Italy’s oldest and most influential newspapers, splashed the pictures and names of 9 people, including mine, above the headline “Putin’s network in Italy: the influencers and opinion leaders who produce propaganda for Moscow”.
According to the clumsy article that accompanied this sensationalist title a “secret Russian disinformation network” was uncovered by an investigation carried out by “intelligence agencies”. The only source cited by the article is a report by Copasir (Comitato Parlamentare per la Sicurezza della Repubblica), a parliamentary security committee that is tasked with overseeing the activities of intelligence agencies rather than conducting its own intelligence operations. But this is not the only oddity. Though the article is signed by the newspaper’s assistant editor-in-chief and another senior journalist, it contains so many factual errors, wrong attributions and outright fabrications that the informed reader is left with the impression that the authors of this hack job knew very little about the material they were handling and never before had heard the names of the people they accused of being Putin’s disinformation agents in Italy. Ignorance of the matter didn’t stop them from blithely making us the target of a defamation campaign that, given the current Russophobic hysteria, could put our livelihoods and even personal safety at risk.
Although Italian public figures deemed “too friendly to Russia” had already been profiled by obscure foundations and think tanks in the past, this is the first time names, pictures and personal details are splashed on the pages of an Italian newspaper and widely circulated on the Net. By choosing Corriere della Sera as an outlet for the nefarious and reprehensible practice of doxxing, those who commissioned this hit piece may have intended to legitimise intimidation tactics they have long adopted in Ukraine and tried in Hong Kong and Belarus during colour revolution attempts. This is a clear sign that the information war is getting hotter and anyone who dares to question the official narrative spun in NATO circles can end up in the crosshairs of those who police it. Freedom of expression is one of those fabled “European values” that is currently destined for export only.
The authors of the fact-free article published by Corriere della Sera reached a paroxysm of ludicrousness by claiming that Putin (no less!) had quoted Manlio Dinucci’s book during his Victory Day speech in Red Square. Apparently one day we influence the Kremlin, the next we put on our Kremlin agent’s hats and go on a mission to influence Italians. Suspend your disbelief. Such is the power of the mysterious network i am suspected of being part of that we can coordinate our activities without knowing one another, without any interaction and without receiving instructions from any Russian control centre, let alone payment for our tireless “propaganda” efforts. Is Russia relying on telepathy to communicate with her agents abroad? Has a microchip been implanted in our brains to turn us into unwitting propaganda machines? No explanation would be too far-fetched when the aim is to discredit the work of the analysts, journalists, reporters, academics, and even a member of parliament who make up the magical world of Putin’s disinformation agents in Italy.
As expected the publication of that defamatory article by Corriere della Sera immediately conjured up memories of McCarthyism and the newspaper was accused of engaging in a witch hunt. Understandably, it also caused public uproar and indignation.
Adolfo Urso, the senator who heads Copasir, in an official note tried to distance himself and his committee from the scandal by claiming that “Copasir has never conducted its own investigations on alleged influencers and that it has received a specific report only after the publication of the article”.
A few days later, in an attempt to put the matter to rest, the specific report he mentioned was declassified and made available to the public. But the report, oddly titled “Hybrid Bulletin”, contained only two of the names mentioned in the article.
To explain such discrepancy Adolfo Urso added that the missing names might be listed in three “Hybrid Bulletins” that are still classified. Weeks later, on June 17, at a press conference held during his trip to Washington, he denied that any of these reports contained our names.
According to Copasir, the “bulletins” were compiled by DIS, the Department of Information for Security, which coordinates the activities of AISI (focusing on internal security) and AISE (focusing on foreign intelligence), in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and AGCOM, the authority that was originally set up to safeguard pluralism of information and fair competition in the telecommunication market.
Though Copasir tried to reassure the public by insisting that it had launched an internal investigation to find out who leaked classified information to Corriere della Sera, anyone who is even vaguely familiar with the track record of Italian intelligence agencies holds out little hope that such investigation will yield any results. The general consensus is that a cover up is far more likely.
While Copasir denied any responsibility in the matter and its president claimed he had heard about these reports from the press, on May 20, more than two weeks before the infamous article appeared in Corriere della Sera, Politico, a US news outlet that enjoys excellent relations with the US establishment, published a piece titled “Infowars: Putin’s propaganda permeates Italian media” in which it denounced the attitude, described as too soft, of Italian media towards Russia.
From Politico we learn that Copasir had opened “an investigation into a Russian disinformation network in Italy” the previous week, therefore around mid-May.
Why was an American news outlet aware of this investigation before it became newsworthy in Italy?
From Politico we also learn that Andrea Romano, an MP from the ultra-Atlanticist Partito Democratico (PD) had pushed for the Copasir investigation despite it falling outside the remit of this committee. Politico attributes to Romano the following statement: “Disinformation is part of Russia’s military strategy, as investigations by numerous European parliaments have found. Putin’s regime is very effective in its capacity to penetrate democratic debate, to confuse, and create doubts.”
Politico also mentions Adolfo Urso, the president of the parliamentary security committee who publicly denied any knowledge of the report. According to Urso, Russia has deliberately targeted Italy in a hybrid war fought with fake news and disinformation that pollutes public opinion. Since 2016, at least 13,000 instances of fake news have been documented by the EU’s task force, he said. “The aim is not just to confuse but to condition choices”.
The impression, after reading Politico’s article, is that both the “Hybrid Bulletins” and the hit piece published by Corriere della Sera are the product of a joint effort between Copasir, EU-NATO think tanks, media/academia/intelligence outfits and the “fact-checking” organizations they control.
The fact-checkers aka “disinformation experts” embedded in both mainstream media and social media companies often have a military and/or intelligence background, which reflects the importance NATO assigns not only to policing and weaponizing the narrative, but also gathering information on those who question it. The current witch hunt indicates that after banning all Russian media from the Western infosphere they have now moved on to the next target, Western independent thinkers and reporters whose influence on public opinion they fear even more.
At a time when doublespeak has become the rule, it is hardly surprising that one of the latest reports containing a black list was compiled by the Italian Federation for Human Rights (FIDU) together with Open Dialogue Foundation, the Polish-Ukrainian NGO linked to Soros’ Open Society and International Renaissance Foundation. Silencing dissidents in the West while championing and funding them in countries the US has labelled “authoritarian” is clearly their idea of human rights and open dialogue. The report was proudly presented by Andrea Romano at the Italian Parliament’s press room on June 28. Romano is the same Democratic Party MP who had solicited the Copasir investigation.
Since smear campaigns targeting independent media and journalists were launched at around the same time in several NATO countries, and nearly identical accusations were made against us, the hypothesis that these attacks were coordinated is not so far-fetched.
In Anglophone countries hit pieces such as the one published by NBC news on June 8 “Russian propaganda efforts aided by pro-Kremlin content creators” cited the Institute for Strategic Dialogue as a source. Another hack job published by The Guardian on June 19, “Russia-backed network of Syria conspiracy theorists identified”, also mentioned the same Institute funded by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, UK, US, several EU countries and NGOs.
If during the Cold War, at a time when European countries still enjoyed a modicum of sovereignty, NATO resorted to clandestine stay-behind networks such as Gladio in Italy, today these networks operate in full view, though they are less structured: in keeping with RAND doctrine they resemble swarming pods and clusters that influence every aspect of civil, political, economic, cultural life in NATOstan.
Back in 2015 the European Council had already asked the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (Federica Mogherini) to address “Russia’s disinformation campaigns”. It led to the creation of the East Stratcom Task Force. In addition, the Joint Communication on Countering Hybrid Threats set up the Hybrid Fusion Cell within the European External Action Service to act as a single focus for the analysis of hybrid threats. In 2017 the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, which supports the activities of NATO in this field, was launched in Helsinki.
NATO built an EU-wide pipeline of researchers, university centers, journalists, fact-checkers and NGOs with the necessary technical, linguistic and subject-matter knowledge to give a veneer of credibility to propaganda stories by creating an array of seemingly scientific tools and methods. It also provided them with additional specialised staff, such as experts in data mining and analysis to organise, aggregate and process vast amounts of digital data. On 1 June 2020 the European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO) project started its activities. The EDMO consortium includes the Athens Technology Center (Greece), Aarhus University (Denmark), and the fact-checking organisation Pagella Politica/Facta (Italy).
A second phase of the project saw the establishment of national/regional digital media observatories across Europe, IDMO being the Italian one. IDMO was set up in 2021 with the participation of Luiss University, RAI, TIM, Gruppo GEDI La Repubblica, Tor Vergata University, T6 Ecosystems, NewsGuard (linked to NeoCons and US government officials, including former CIA director Michael Hayden), Pagella Politica/Facta, Alliance of Democracies Foundation (the brainchild of NATO ex-Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen), Corriere della Sera, Fondazione Enel, Reporters Sans Frontieres, The European House Ambrosetti.
The swarm of fact-checking/disinformation outfits that have jumped on the EU gravy train of transmedia surveillance and narrative management is constantly expanding and is intertwined with US military and intelligence structures, operations, and goals. So much so that NATO StratCom CoE and the European CoE for Countering Hybrid Threats are virtually interchangeable.
The information gathering capability of this swarm far exceeds that of STASI, as the GDR security agency had to rely on informers and listening devices planted in apartments. In today’s Europe anyone using an electronic device is automatically under surveillance and those who express dissenting opinions are a prime target for harassment, intimidation and smear tactics aimed at discrediting them and their work.
2. A study published by Columbia University Press, “Russian Active Measures: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow”, contains the Italian dossier “Russian influence on culture, the academic world and Italian Think Tanks” authored by Fondazione Gino Germani.