Today’s Russian Diplomacy: Deepfakes and Radioactive PoisonsBecause deepfakes are getting harder to spot, American news platforms waste time and energy trying to root them out
In a recent podcast, Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks hosted Denise Simon, an intelligence analyst, talking about the way hostile foreign powers can use AI to generate false information. Denise Simon discusses both deepfake attacks—and some much more sinister ones.
A partial transcript follows. This portion begins at about 17:50. Show notes and links follow.
Denise Simon: That [the Maskirovka Technique of deception and deepfakes] is another component of how we try to decipher what’s real coming out of the Kremlin and what isn’t real. And even if it isn’t real, what consequences it has on influence and activities.
Robert J. Marks: One of the things that Russia is invested in is artificial intelligence. Vladimir Putin has said that whoever controls artificial intelligence is going to control the world. I think he was referring to both the economic and military aspects of artificial intelligence, but there’s lots of interest there.
Now, according to your recent Mind Matters News article, Vladimir Putin organized engineers, education, science, and commercial developers to develop a plan for AI and big data. This was a couple of years ago. What is he trying to do?
Denise Simon (pictured): He has created a couple of buildings for these activities… the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technologies, which is kind of the center for artificial intelligence. He has gone out to his own population and populations outside his country, mostly China, to find those scientists, cyber scientists or computer engineers, software types, to bring them in and teach so they can expand their talent base to enhance the operations going forward in the hybrid or asymmetric warfare.
We are in conflict with Russia when it comes to the Arctic, for instance, so that is what his ambition is. He’s actually given research grants to companies and entities inside Russia and outside Russia to mobilize these talents. They even have contests for machine learning and speech recognition technologies and facial recognition and all those kinds of things. They were behind the curve and they’re working diligently to not only get up to speed, but to be more advanced by a factor of probably eight or ten years over the United States. They’re not going to get there, but that’s their ambition.
Robert J. Marks: Why the Arctic? Why is anybody interested in the Arctic?
Denise Simon: Energy. Oil.
Robert J. Marks: Ah, okay. Interesting. You also mentioned in your article that you say that audio and video deepfakes are expanding from Russia and they’re targeting places like the Ukraine and the Baltic States and Africa. What’s going on with our deepfakes in both video and audio?
Denise Simon: Some YouTube videos that would be promoted by, say, Russia Today would end up out there in mainstream media platforms where you may have somebody that you created out of whole cloth. You’d put a certain face over the real person and then you’d put a certain voice to it. They come to people’s attention, then they have to go see what’s real about it, so we expend an awful lot of resources and energies to determine those types of fakes.
James Clapper, who was, under the Obama administration, the head of all spies, if you will, wanted to have a center for information technologies. That would be to have experts that could investigate what information is real, possibly real and not real at all. You would grade the things that Russia is doing and they’ve been doing it for decades. His concentration certainly was on Russia.
Robert J. Marks: There used to be detection methods at universities that actually could look at things like photoshopped pictures and doctored videos, but I don’t know how effective those are going to be anymore. I wonder if there’s any detectives out there that can actually do detection of fake video and fake audio.
Robert J. Marks: How are the Russians using robotics and AI today? We know that you mentioned they had a lot of interest in AI research, but have they actually reduced it to practice, are they using it?
Denise Simon: They have teamed with a energy company and I think a power company to create some of these robots that they are in fact testing. And I would say that they’re testing them in the Arctic and you don’t have to deal… When you have robots, you don’t have to deal with human protection or human recovery. You have just this machine out there that is guided remotely so, from a base to investigate patterns where submarines can go, where there may be pockets of oil and/or gas. They’re not only doing it in the Arctic, but if you go up towards the North Atlantic, above Europe, they’re doing it there as well.
It has made some of those countries, the Norways and the Finlands, very suspicious of these activities. And of course, then they’re going to tap the United States on the shoulder and say, “Do you see these things that are going on?” Of course, we say we do, but we have to kind of pick and choose where our own footprint is.
Robert J. Marks: So, Denise, we have the Gerasimov and Primakov doctrines, the application of Russia of artificial intelligence to numerous different places, also the mischief that they do with their misinformation and their cyber fakes. How should we respond? How should the US government respond? Are we doing it the right way? And how should citizens like me respond?
Denise Simon: Well, if nothing else, learn it. Understand what they’re doing, that would be the first thing.
We had a couple of poisoning events in London. You may remember a fellow by the name of Alexander Litvineko. He was poisoned. He used to be, I think, one of the Russian detectives or KGB and he found out that the things that they were doing, he couldn’t do anymore. He had fled to Britain and he eventually got poisoned, successfully so. Russia decided that he needed to be eliminated, and he eventually was eliminated.
Note: Litvineko was apparently poisoned by polonium, a highly volatile radioactive element.
Denise Simon: We had another attempt a couple of years ago in Britain by a former Russian spy also by the name of Sergei Skripal . He had apparently gone to a restaurant and was poisoned there along with his daughter.
Denise Simon: Now, why would the Kremlin want to eliminate Sergei Skripal? Well, Sergei Skripal was essentially hired by Western intelligence to go over and advise poor Eastern Europe, the small, sad little countries over there that are under siege, if you will, by Russia, to teach their intelligence agencies all these things that you and I are speaking about when it comes to active measures and tactics. So poor Skripal, he did survive, but that was the reason that Russia attempted to kill him.
Note: Skripal and his daughter, after the poisoning attempt in 2018, started a new life in New Zealand in 2020.
Robert J. Marks: My goodness. So, what you’re saying is that we can spend our time privately in debunking Russian misleading information, but doing so might be dangerous to our health. Is that right?
Denise Simon: They use a nerve agent called Novichok when they tried to kill Skripal. It’s a military grade nerve toxin.
Here are the earlier installments: Not conspiracy theory: How online trolls can control your news. The way the internet works makes that possible. Internet troll houses, posting fake news, can operate from any location. So when in doubt, doubt.
How Russia uses new tech to create chaos in the United States.
Information warfare is part of the new Russian warfare strategy known as the Gerasimov and Primakov doctrines. Security analyst Denise Simon offers her thoughts on the Mueller Report: Was Donald Trump involved in election tampering in 2016?
- 00:33 | Introducing Denise Simon, Senior Research / Intelligence Analyst for Foreign and Domestic Policy
- 01:22 | AI as part of military drills
- 03:12 | Psychological aspects of war
- 04:17 | The Gerasimov doctrine
- 07:42 | The Internet Research Agency
- 09:23 | Other psychological war tactics
- 10:49 | The Mueller report and election interference
- 12:53 | The effect of misinformation
- 14:17 | The Gerasimov Doctrine
- 16:43 | The Primakov Doctrine
- 17:50 | Maskirovka and deepfakes
- 19:08 | Russian artificial intelligence
- 21:39 | Russian video and audio deepfakes
- 23:33 | Eliot Higgins’ investigations
- 25:43 | Use of robotics and AI by Russia
- 27:08 | Responding to these technological threats
- Denise Simon’s blog, Founder’s Code
- The Denise Simon Experience
- “AI in War Means Deepfakes as Well as Killerbots” by Denise Simon at Mind Matters News
- “Do Bots Spreading False News Really Threaten Democracy?” by Denyse O’Leary at Mind Matters News
- Valery Gerasimov
- Yevgeny Primakov
- Eliot Higgins