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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios


A new Russian disinformation campaign targeting Americans on social media operated through satellite outfits in Ghana and Nigeria, according to new reports from CNN and Graphika, in collaboration with Facebook and professors at Clemson University.

Why it matters: Russian efforts to meddle in this year's U.S. elections are evolving in an attempt to avoid detection. In 2016, most state-backed misinformation campaigns went through St. Petersburg. Now, the Kremlin is changing course.

Details: According to the report, hundreds of accounts run by Ghanaian trolls created posts in English aimed at sowing division among U.S. citizens.

  • The Ghanaian fraudsters, mostly in their 20s, were instructed to time the posts for optimal U.S. hours. Many of their posts, like Russian operations in 2016, focused on driving division among the races, as well as LGTBQ issues and police brutality.
  • The trolls communicated via the encrypted app Telegram, which CNN notes isn't normally used in Ghana.
  • The operation's headquarters were in a compound near the Ghanaian capital, Accra. It was rented by a small nonprofit group that called itself Eliminating Barriers for the Liberation of Africa (EBLA). Facebook's intelligence suggests that EBLA was run by a Ghanian man living in Russia in conjunction with the Kremlin.

Between the lines: Facebook and Twitter were already looking into some of the troll accounts when CNN notified the two companies of its investigation.

  • The probe found that the group had extended its activities to Nigeria, and was beginning to try to advertise positions in the U.S. CNN found online job postings for misinformation shops in Nigeria and even Charleston, South Carolina.

By the numbers: More than 200 accounts were created by the Ghanaian trolls — the vast majority in the second half of 2019, per CNN.

  • Facebook said in a statement Thursday it had removed 49 accounts, 69 Pages and 85 Instagram accounts. It said thousands of U.S.-based accounts followed the Ghanian fraudsters' accounts on Facebook and Instagram.
  • Twitter said it had removed 71 accounts that had 68,000 followers.

The big picture: The report speaks to a growing trend of bad actors relying on vulnerable populations in Africa to deploy misinformation campaigns. In October, Facebook said it took down Russian misinformation campaigns that were targeting people in eight African countries.

  • CNN found last summer that Russia had begun to develop an influence operation in the Central African Republic.

Go deeper: 2020 misinformation threats extend beyond Russia

Go deeper

Scoop: Gina Haspel threatened to resign over plan to install Kash Patel as CIA deputy

CIA Director Gina Haspel. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CIA Director Gina Haspel threatened to resign in early December after President Trump cooked up a hasty plan to install loyalist Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as her deputy, according to three senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Why it matters: The revelation stunned national security officials and almost blew up the leadership of the world's most powerful spy agency. Only a series of coincidences — and last minute interventions from Vice President Mike Pence and White House counsel Pat Cipollone — stopped it.

Updated 10 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus deaths reach 4,000 per day as hospitals remain in crisis mode — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden says, "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution — Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan — Widow of GOP congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 will run to fill his seat.
  3. Vaccine: Battling Black mistrust of the vaccines"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts — Instacart to give $25 to shoppers who get vaccine.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode againFed chair: No interest rate hike coming any time soon —  Inflation rose more than expected in December.
  5. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.

John Weaver, Lincoln Project co-founder, acknowledges “inappropriate” messages

John Weaver aboard John McCain's campaign plane in February 2000. Photo: Robert Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)

John Weaver, a veteran Republican operative who co-founded the Lincoln Project, declared in a statement to Axios on Friday that he sent “inappropriate,” sexually charged messages to multiple men.

  • “To the men I made uncomfortable through my messages that I viewed as consensual mutual conversations at the time: I am truly sorry. They were inappropriate and it was because of my failings that this discomfort was brought on you,” Weaver said.
  • “The truth is that I'm gay,” he added. “And that I have a wife and two kids who I love. My inability to reconcile those two truths has led to this agonizing place.”