Russia is looking to exploit America’s struggle to contain the Covid-19 virus ahead of the US presidential election in November, said US officials on Tuesday.
Two Russians who held senior roles in the GRU have been identified in the disinformation scheme.
The GRU is Moscow’s military intelligence service.
The effort to spread false information about the coronavirus pandemic is meant to reach American and Western audiences, as shared by US government officials.
They spoke on condition of anonymity to the Associated Press because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
The information had previously been classified, but officials said it had been downgraded so they could more freely discuss it.
Officials said they were doing so now to sound the alarm about the particular websites and to expose what they say is a clear link between the sites and Russian intelligence.
Between late May and early July, one of the officials said, the websites singled out Tuesday published about 150 articles about the pandemic response.
This included coverage aimed either at propping up Russia or denigrating the US.
Among the headlines that caught the attention of US officials were “Russia’s Counter Covid-19 Aid to America Advances Case for Détente,” which suggested that Russia had given urgent and substantial aid to the US to fight the pandemic.
Another headline was “Beijing Believes Covid-19 is a Biological Weapon," which amplified statements by the Chinese.
The disclosure comes as the spread of disinformation, including by Russia, is an urgent concern heading into November’s presidential election as US officials look to avoid a repeat of the 2016 contest.