For years, Russia has been targeting American service members and veterans with disinformation. Now Newsy has learned that includes a nearly 20-year-old website currently promoting COVID vaccine skepticism.
A senior government official tells Newsy Veterans Today is one of 26 identified websites secretly directed by Russia’s security services.
A look at its headlines on the pandemic: Claims that Russian vaccine Sputnik V “should be the platform for a Russian-American detente” because “it’s the only way of bailing America out” -- and “flaws” in Pfizer’s vaccine.
The site also promotes other government-labeled Russian fronts and Iran’s PressTV.
"The Russians are pushing vaccine skepticism into the veterans community, especially for Black veterans and veterans of color. If a veteran is fooled by Russians into thinking that the vaccine isn't safe, they're more likely to die," says Kristofer Goldsmith, founder and president of High Ground Veterans Advocacy.
An Iraq war veteran, Goldsmith previously investigated Russian influence operations on armed forces and vets, finding pervasive targeting -- and scant protection.
"I lived in an infantry world holding a gun on the streets of Baghdad. I was never taught how to expect and defend myself against attacks from foreign adversaries online," he said.
Veterans Today explicitly states it has "NO RUSSIAN SPONSORS." When Newsy contacted senior editor Gordon Duff, he suggested Newsy was under the influence of foreign intelligence and denied an official link to Moscow.
A 2013 guest appearance on Russian state-back RT: "I’m joined by Gordon Duff, a Marine Corps veteran and editor of the independent news website Veterans Today."
Duff declined an on-camera interview but did tell us the site is “currently under federal investigation” and that he’s suspected of being a Russian agent. The FBI declined to comment.
"So why would a website that is known to be run by Russia’s security service be left online?" Newsy national security reporter Sasha Ingber asked former FBI Special Agent Kenneth Gray.
"Sometimes when you have an intelligence operation identified, it's useful to let that intelligence operation run for a while to see exactly what they're up to, who is going there and who they are potentially trying to recruit," says Gray. "It's a trade-off."
A Pentagon official testified this week that the Defense Department is developing a digital literacy initiative for service members.
"Our soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, guardian civilians and their family are part of the American public directly targeted by malign actors, disinformation, misinformation and propaganda. DOD views this as a critical force protection issue," testified Christopher Maier, acting assistant Secretary for Special Operations and Low-intensity Conflict.
Veterans Today doesn’t have a large following, despite a nearly two-decade existence. But it saw a significant rise in visitors in January, around the time of the Capitol insurrection.