Iran's Press TV, Russian outlets paid US partners who also operate Gray Zone.

WhatsApp Group Join Now
Telegram Group Join Now
Instagram Group Join Now

Recently unearthed documents show that leaders of an online news site targeting Americans have received money from Russian and Iranian state media outlets, showing how geopolitical alliances Increasingly, foreign influence operations are becoming increasingly difficult to identify and track.

Hacked emails and other documents from Iranian government-funded Press TV show payments of thousands of dollars to a writer who is now the editor of Gray Zone in Washington, whose founder appeared regularly on Russian television. and once accepted a visit to Moscow. of the Russian state-controlled video network RT, which included Vladimir Putin.

Disinformation experts say the overlap in funding signals concern that the online spread of lies and propaganda is entering a more sophisticated phase as the November election approaches.

“What you're reporting is, I think, the most practical example of this collusion that we've seen, where you have someone who has deep ties to Iranian state media for an organization that are operating what we also know is a destination for money laundering, said Emerson Brooking, co-director of the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensics Research Lab.

The Press TV files, most of them in Farsi, were released on Telegram in 2022 by a self-proclaimed hacktivist group called Black Reward, but the files received little attention at the time. Neil Rohauser, an active disinformation researcher, converted them into a searchable format and provided them to The Washington Post.

get caught

Summary of stories for quick tracking

The Iranian broadcaster paid a Washington-based reporter for occasional contributions to its programming in 2020 and 2021 while working as a correspondent for Russia's Sputnik news outlet, the files show.

That reporter, White Reed, had nine bylines in the online publication Gray Zone in 2019 and 2020, followed by a 2½-year hiatus. He has had 24 more Gray Zone bylines since mid-2023, when he was named managing editor.

Grayzone posts content on the Web, X, and YouTube, and has been highly critical of Iran's regional foe, Israel, and its supporters in the United States. Reid did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Gray Zone's top editor, Max Blumenthal, did not respond to emails seeking comment.

The First Amendment also guarantees free speech rights to Americans who spread foreign propaganda. But current and former intelligence officials also say that Americans' tolerance for information paid by foreign actors has made disinformation one of the most significant threats to American democracy. Foreign support for ostensibly independent publications protects other countries from disinformation, as well as labeling the output of Internet platforms as coming from state-sponsored outlets.

Reed is not the only Gray Zone writer to have worked for Russian outlets. Gray Zone contributor and London-based journalist Mohammad al-Mazi wrote full-time for Sputnik between 2019 and 2021, he says on his LinkedIn profile. According to his LinkedIn, regular Gray Zone freelancer Jeremy Loffredo was full-time at RT during those same years. Neither responded to requests for comment.

The payments to Reed, recorded in hacked Press TV documents, came to light earlier last year, when the Iranian outlet was targeted for US sanctions imposed by a 1995 presidential executive order banning imports and exports from Iran. had gone beyond Press TV's parent, state-owned Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, was granted special approval in 2013, which its lawyer said automatically barred transactions with subsidiaries without special permission.

Lawyers who regularly deal with Iran sanctions cases said American journalists who are paid by Iranian media sanctions could be in legal jeopardy unless they are exempted by the U.S. Treasury Department. The United States has made some limited concessions for state media employees sent to cover events in the country.

“If you're exporting your services to an Iranian company, the answer is yes,” sanctions lawyer Ali Harishi said when asked about potential liability. “Every Iranian entity has restrictions, and if there are specific restrictions, you definitely need a license.”

Working for Sputnik could theoretically fall under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, which generally requires any person acting as an “agent” of a “foreign principal” to register with the Department of Justice. required to do so if they seek to influence officials or “the American public with respect to American domestic or foreign policy or the political or public interests of a foreign government or foreign political party.”

But the law's application to people working as journalists is unclear, with rare examples of enforcement efforts. Since 2017, the Department of Justice has required RT to register itself and some of its US business partners. Some top editors have also registered under FARA.

In addition to writing hundreds of articles for Sputnik, Reid went to occupied Ukraine as an international observer for the widely condemned, post-invasion referendum on whether residents wanted their territories to be annexed by Russia. Be affiliated to. Russian state news service Tass quoted him as saying: “Everything I've seen so far is very transparent, very open.”

While there is no evidence that Iran and Russia discussed their payments to Reid or others, the combination makes it difficult to say which country is pushing a particular narrative or rewarding it. Giving.

Russia has in the past paid freelancers who did not know where their salary was coming from. It is becoming common for social media influencers to promote government-sponsored themes and content, as well as promote themselves for doing so.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute recently said that Russia and China may have coordinated ahead of March elections in the Solomon Islands to cover a non-existent US plot for regime change in their official social accounts. Spread disinformation about and in 2021, Russian and Chinese officials agreed to cooperate. 2022 on multiple media projects, according to hacked emails from a Russian broadcaster. The initiative was led by Russia's Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media and China's National Radio and Television Administration.

Since then, Chinese channels have quoted Russian officials and often adopted Russia's perspective on the Ukraine war. Chinese accounts also spread false claims about US bioweapons research in Ukraine, helping China point to a possible US source of Covid-19.

“Many foreign governments collectively view the West, and the United States in particular, as a common adversary,” said Darren Linwell, a disinformation scholar at Clemson University. “They share not only goals but also strategies. The parallel agendas shared by some non-Western governments make attribution of responsibility for some misinformation more difficult than it would otherwise be.

Gray Zone does not disclose its financial support. Little known to much of the population, he has millions of followers on both YouTube and X, and his stories sometimes ricochet between both the far left and the far right. Elon Musk, the owner of X, has helped with this, having corresponded with Gray Zone personality Aaron Matt on his platform last year after Matt accused the investigative website BellingCat of being a NATO front, saying The White House has blocked talk of a negotiated settlement in Ukraine.

Gray Zone founder and editor Blumenthal appeared on RT and attended the same 2015 Moscow gala dinner for it that Michael Flynn famously attended. More recently, he promoted the false theory that Russia's bombing of a theater full of refugees in Mariupol in 2022 was carried out by Ukrainian forces.

Billing itself as an independent investigative news site, Gray Zone has endured in part because it defies easy categorization. Many of its articles have a left-wing tone, and its coverage has been positive for Russia, Syria and other authoritarian states.

Like many dubious sources of misinformation and propaganda, the gray zone mixes lies and misleading information with the truth. But it is unusual in that some of its leaders have worked in traditional journalism and that some produce content that includes substantive research.

One such story devoted thousands of words to blaming the massive Israeli attacks on its own citizens on October 7, saying that Hamas treated the hostages well and used “clever” tactics. Blumenthal's article misrepresented the source, the Israelis complained, by conflating separate incidents that appeared to show soldiers repeatedly firing indiscriminately at Israelis near Hamas targets.

Blumenthal previously contributed articles to The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. He is the son of Sidney Blumenthal, a journalist who became an adviser to Bill and Hillary Clinton. Maté previously worked at Al Jazeera.

Reed's LinkedIn page says he served as Sputnik's correspondent in Washington from 2019 to June 2023, with no other journalism experience listed. He has been identified as managing editor on the Gray Zone website since July.

Press TV was added to the U.S. Treasury's list of specially designated nationals in September, after officials said the state-run outlet had “broadcast expletive-laden and derogatory programs about Iranian activists, many of whom Press TV has also been used by Iranian intelligence services to recruit sensitive assets, including American ones.

The hacked emails show that Reid's money had to be transferred through a third party even before the Press TV sanctions because banking restrictions on transactions with Iran were already in place.

In several exchanges during 2021, Reed asked Press TV's finance department to send his payments through another man, Jamal Hassanin, even though he provided his account number at a bank in Rother Glen, Va. and 210 euros, which now costs about $225. Hasnain did not respond to an email from The Post.

PressTV's website identified Reid as its “correspondent in the U.S.,” in his contributions to Donald Trump's false claims of massive election fraud in December 2020, to police brutality in April 2021. An interview with a press TV anchor about the counter-protests, and a two-minute video segment about past US support for the Mujahideen Khalq, an Iranian opposition group. In July 2021.

Reed recently reported from Russian-held Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, where he said “poor Zelinsky” was worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Variations of this claim have been repeated by Russia-aligned media over the years, but the yachts and mansions allegedly attributed to Zelensky belong to other people.

In The Gray Zone, Reid's work includes a March story involving Blumenthal attacking celebrity chef José Andrés for trying to feed Palestinians in Gaza via a jetty made of rubble. The authors said that the “biometer of genocide” would be included.

WhatsApp Group Join Now
Telegram Group Join Now
Instagram Group Join Now

Leave a Comment