The government was forced to declassify a note on “disinformation” during the Russian-Ukrainian conflict
Italy has dismissed a media report that it was investigating public figures suspected of spreading pro-Russian views. In addition, the government chose on Friday to publish a declassified document on “pro-Kremlin” social media activities, parts of which had already been leaked to the press, causing an outcry.
Franco Gabrielli, the undersecretary of state for security, insisted that the government’s secret file on allegedly pro-Russian figures was “actually non-existent.”
“There is no Big Brother, no Specter in Italy: nobody wants to investigate people’s opinions” Gabrielli said, referring to a villainous organization from the James Bond novels. “Opinions are always respected, which is different from fake news”, he said, adding that “The only antidote to propaganda is free information.” The leak of a classified document to the media, however, will be investigated and “Nothing will go unpunished” Gabrielli pointed out.
The seven-page bulletin titled “Special Disinformation in the Russian-Ukrainian Conflict between April 15 and May 15” was compiled by the Department of Security Intelligence (DIS) with input from several other agencies and then sent to the Parliamentary Committee for the security of the Republic (Copasir).
The document details how various “pro-Kremlin stories”, including criticism of the Italian government and NATO, were spreading on Facebook, Twitter and Telegram. He also described the channels through which quotes from Russian officials were gaining traction on social media. All data had been collected from open sources and contained “no element of intelligence activities”, said Gabrielle.
The controversy erupted after the daily Corriere della Sera reported last Sunday that intelligence officials had identified channels linked to Russian “Propaganda,” and that “the investigation launched by Copasir has entered its crucial phase.” The newspaper listed several people it said were part of “Putin’s network in Italy” reference to the Russian president. The list included journalists, bloggers and political commentators.
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The report claimed that “pro-Putin activists” rallied behind Senator Vito Petrocelli, who lost his post as chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee last month after opposing military aid to Ukraine.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Gabrielli denied that Petrocelli, who was not mentioned in the declassified bulletin, was being investigated. The senator, however, dismissed Gabrielli’s press conference as “a political mess”. Earlier he blasted the Corriere della Sera report as “a witch hunt against the freedom of thought and expression of parliamentarians, professors, columnists and journalists.”
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