According to Clint Watts, a former FBI counterterrorism agent who testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Russian cyberattacks, using third party contractors from both inside Russia and countries with cheap labor is a method used by the Kremlin to “muddy the waters on attribution” of propaganda.
“Often, (the Kremlin) will contract out entities to do this so they can say, ‘You can’t prove that it’s us,’” Watts told The Daily Beast. “It’s pretty routine for them to try to gain resources through third parties and contract cutouts.”
Williams and Kalvin’s videos are not particularly rigorous about nuances of American culture and geography. Kalvin, for example, claims that Baton Rouge is in “L.A.” Another video calls LeBron James the best “basket” player of the year.
Watts called the low quality videos a “weakness in their system.”
“In a normal influence campaign, you do these things called ‘audience analysis’ and ‘product testing’ to see what works before you put it out there. They didn’t. They try everything, then go with what works,” said Watts. “They skipped the product testing phase. They didn’t do it. And they also don’t care.”
Watts said Russia’s forays into YouTube influence is “probably new for them in the U.S. space” after years of social media campaigns across Eastern Europe.
“They thought they were going to do something really cool and amazing—and I’m sure they thought it came out amazing,” he said. “But it didn’t take off, and they showed their hand.”