Twitter Files: Uncovering the truth behind the Hamilton 68 Russian disinfo scam

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In a new instalment of the Twitter Files, an investigative project from journalist Matt Taibbi, evidence has come to light suggesting media outlets, academics and policymakers have been duped by a fake initiative to track supposed Russian disinformation.

Taibbi discovered that the computerized dashboard “Hamilton 68”, which was meant to monitor accounts linked to “Russian influence activities online,” was composed of 644 accounts, only 36 of which were registered in Russia.

The vast majority of accounts tracked by the dashboard belonged to regular Americans, Canadians and British citizens — including notable figures like David Horowitz and Dennis Michael Lynch, according to files reviewed by Taibbi.

Taibbi found that many of the accounts listed by Hamilton 68 were “unsuspecting everyday Americans,” and “a range of political dissidents, including leftists, anarchists, and humorists.”

Data based on the list, which was then used to track popular Twitter hashtags, was used to discredit Trump supporters, conservatives, and figures like Tulsi Gabbard and Justice Brett Kavanaugh as Russian assets or sources and propagators of “Russian disinformation” by linking them to supposed foreign interference operations.

The Hamilton 68 project is the brainchild of former FBI agent Clint Watts with direct backing from the German Marshall Fund and the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a think tank with an advocacy panel that includes former CIA Director Michael Morell, former American ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, current Biden administration senior adviser John Podesta, and Bulwark editor Bill Kristol.

Company emails revealed that the accounts were “neither strongly Russian nor strongly bots,” and concluded there was “no evidence to support the statement that the dashboard is a finger on the pulse of Russian information.”

Yoel Roth, the social media company’s former Trust and Safety lead, characterized the project as “bulls***,” adding that it falsely accuses “a bunch of legitimate right-leaning accounts of being Russian bots” and generates “traction around partisan trends” to assert that “any right-leaning content is propagated by Russian bots.”

The New York Times, NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS, CNN, MSNBC, Mother Jones, Harvard University, Princeton University, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Senator James Lankford (R-OK), and Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) have all cited data from Hamilton 68 “hundreds if not thousands” of times.

Organizations and individuals citing the data used it to call for added “safeguards”, surveillance and monitoring of social media and ultimately the suppression of free speech — to protect democracy, of course.

The report casts doubt on the Mueller investigation’s findings that the Trump campaign illegally coordinated with Russian agents to influence the 2016 election. It also raises questions about the organized effort by representatives of the intelligence community to control content on the platform, as previously reported in the Twitter Files.

“What makes this an important story is the sheer scale of the news footprint left by Hamilton 68’s digital McCarthyism. The quantity of headlines and TV segments dwarfs the impact of individual fabulists like Jayson Blair or Stephen Glass,” wrote Taibbi in his findings.

“Hamilton 68 was used as a source to assert Russian influence in an astonishing array of news stories: support for Brett Kavanaugh or the Devin Nunes memo, the Parkland shooting, manipulation of black voters, ‘attacks’ on the Mueller investigation…” wrote Taibbi.

“These stories raised fears in the population, and most insidious of all, were used to smear people like Tulsi Gabbard as foreign ‘assets,’ and drum up sympathy for political causes like Joe Biden’s campaign by describing critics as Russian-aligned,” he added.

Elon Musk described the Hamilton 68 project as “an American group made false claims about Russian election interference to interfere with American elections.”

“Well, [Mother Jones], are you going to retract your fake stories or simply hope that people forget about them?” Musk added, referring to a left-wing publication that published numerous stories sourced to Hamilton 68.

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