- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Russia’s SVR intelligence service, successor to the KGB, is behind a coordinated Moscow campaign to exploit the case of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden by fueling anti-U.S. sentiment in Russia, according to U.S. officials.

State-controlled Russian media in recent days actively promoted an online White House petition urging a presidential pardon for Mr. Snowden. Several news websites posted links to the petition.

The media’s reporting and promoting of the petition were assessed by U.S. officials to be part of a Russian government effort against the United States, said officials familiar with intelligence reports.

The covert campaign is part of a major anti-U.S. propaganda and influence program that has been largely ignored by the Obama administration. Instead, the administration has sought to pretend that Russia and the United States are on a path of greater cooperation and harmony under the administration’s so-called reset policy.

State-run media in the past have used the White House petition site to promote Kremlin policies by telling Russians it is a way to influence U.S. policies, the officials said.

Links to the Russian intelligence effort were traced to a pro-Kremlin activist identified by the officials as Nikolai Starikov, a leading anti-U.S. advocate who writes frequently for Russian news media and other government-controlled outlets.

A U.S. official said that since late 2012, Mr. Starikov’s website (ipolk.ru) has linked to White House petitions more than 50 times.

“Starikov is among the most industrious producers of anti-U.S. messaging in Russia, and he is likely associated with the Russian intelligence services,” the official said.

Mr. Starikov is frequently featured in films made by the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, which has ties to the SVR, the officials said. He also has written several conspiracy-laden books that seek to demonize the United States.

Mr. Starikov told Inside the Ring in an email: “I do not have anything to do with intelligence agencies of Russia, and I am very pleased that my modest contribution to the Russian public awareness about what is happening in the world is estimated [by the] staff of Western intelligence agencies.”

ROCKET CYBERATTACK?

Russia’s space program suffered another spectacular and costly failure on Tuesday, when a Proton-M rocket booster exploded shortly after launch, a disaster that is likely to trigger new Russian claims of sabotage.

According to state-run television Roskosmos, the Russian space agency, determined the launch failure was caused by “an emergency shutdown of the engines” some 16 seconds after liftoff.

Said Roskosmos’ spokesman Aleksey Kuznetsov: “An emergency situation occurred when [the] Proton-M launch vehicle was launched from Baikonour space launch site on 2 July. At the stage of the ascent of the launch vehicle, 16 seconds into its flight, there was an emergency shutdown of the engines and the vehicle fell back into the space center compound.”

The rocket landed about a mile and a half from the launch pad, and did not damage the pad or launch crew, he said. Toxic gas from the fuel was reported in the area.

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