WASHINGTON — In April 2014, former FBI special agent Clint Watts and two colleagues noticed a bizarre petition on the Whitehouse.gov website.
“Alaska back to Russia appeared as a public campaign to give America’s largest state back to the nation from which it was purchased,” Watts said during testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on March 30, 2017.
Watts told the committee that upon closer examination he, Andrew Weisburd and J.M. Berger observed a strange occurrence.
The petition had gained “more than 39,000 signatures in a very short period of time,” Watts said.
Watts, currently a senior fellow at the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University and a Foreign Policy Research Institute fellow, said he and his team detected something even more peculiar.
“Our examination of those signing and posting on this petition revealed an odd pattern. The accounts varied considerably from other petitions and appeared to be the work of bots.”
Their investigation into the accounts associated with the petition revealed that the bots were directly related to other social media campaigns and networks that had been aggressively promoting Russian propaganda in previous months.