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Fake Ukrainian Assassination Attempt on Tucker Carlson Reaches Millions on X


Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, gestures as he speaks during an interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Feb. 6, 2024. (Sputnik via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, gestures as he speaks during an interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Feb. 6, 2024. (Sputnik via AP)
Simon Ateba

Simon Ateba

owner of the Today News Africa website

"BREAKING – ATTEMPTED ASSASSINATION OF TUCKER CARLSON: A man has just been arrested in Moscow, accused of being paid by Ukrainian intelligence to plant an explosive device on Tucker Carlson's vehicle and assassinate the prominent American journalist while he was there to interview Putin.”

False

On February 26, Simon Ateba, owner of the Today News Africa website, reported on X that Russia prevented a Ukrainian assassination attempt on American journalist Tucker Carlson while he was in Moscow to interview President Vladimir Putin.

Ukraine’s intelligence agency dismissed the news as a “Russian ploy.”

Andrey Yusov of Ukraine’s Main Intelligence Directorate told VOA’s Ukrainian Service: "This is an absolute delusion and a ploy of the Russian fascist regime.”

Ateba neither cited sources nor provided details to verify the information but illustrated his post with an image of Putin and Carlson taken during their interview.

At the time of this writing, Ateba’s post had received more than 14 million views and about 85,000 interactions.

Ateba wrote:

" BREAKING – ATTEMPTED ASSASSINATION OF TUCKER CARLSON: A man has just been arrested in Moscow, accused of being paid by Ukrainian intelligence to plant an explosive device on Tucker Carlson's vehicle and assassinate the prominent American journalist while he was there to interview Putin.”

That is false.

Voice of America traced the origin of this “news” to a single source — two doppelganger YouTube channels with only a handful of video clips, all uploaded in the last four days. One of the channels describes itself as a “reserve copy” of the other.

The original distributor of the news was the Kontrterrorism YouTube channel, which on February 24 published a video of a man sitting in front of a camera and supposedly confessing his role in the alleged assassination plot to an off-screen “interrogator.”

The man introduces himself as “Vasiliev, Pyotr Alexeievich. Born 1988 in Podolsk,” a Russian city near Moscow. “Vasiliev” then tells the “interrogator” that Ukrainian intelligence promised him $4,000 in exchange for planting an explosive device under the car Tucker Carlson was using during his visit to Moscow. The conversation is in Russian, and the video has English subtitles.

VOA audio engineer Thomas Leahy’s forensic examination of the video clip showed evidence of digital manipulation.

Leahy concluded with “moderate confidence” that the voice of “Vasiliev” has “digital noises and waveform abnormalities, along with other signs of digital manipulation."

The off-screen audio of the “interrogator” belongs to a human, Leahy concluded, but was recorded in a different location, with different audio equipment and room resonance.

Polygraph.info has also established that the distribution patterns of the information about the alleged assassination plot bear distinct characteristics of the tactic known as “disinformation laundering,” which Russia has heavily used in its hybrid war against Ukraine and in its anti-U.S. influence operations.

The means to amplify this disinformation from its obscure YouTube origins with just a few hundred subscribers to the millions of X users also points to a misinformation-laundering scheme.

Here are the key players and what they did, in chronological order:

  • Kontrterrorism posted the video clip on YouTube on February 25.
  • Kontrterrorism YouTube channel
    Kontrterrorism YouTube channel
  • The Telegram Channel Golos Mordora (Voice of Mordor) republished the video on February 26.
  • Telegram channel Golos Mordora (Voice of Mordor)
    Telegram channel Golos Mordora (Voice of Mordor)
  • The European Council-funded anti-disinformation website re:baltica exposed Golos Mordora as the largest and most influential pro-Kremlin channel on Telegram. It also noted that the channel receives an unusually high number of citations in the Russian news media.
  • Golos Mordora is a social media arm of News Front — the Kremlin’s propaganda outlet in Russia-occupied Ukrainian Crimea. An August 2020 U.S. State Department report titled “Pillars of Russian Propaganda and Disinformation Ecosystem” identified News Front as having “ties to the Russian security services and Kremlin funding.” VOA sister organization Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty described News Front as leading the “most aggressive information war against Ukraine in Crimea.”
  • The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Lab, or DFRLab, reported that News Front frequently uses digitally manipulated content. Facebook deleted the News Front accounts in 2020.
  • Twitter also deleted 18 Golos Mordora accounts between 2012 and 2022. Golos Mordora has been back on X since April 2022.
  • Golos Mordora
    Golos Mordora
  • The English-language news site The Intel Drop published a report about the alleged assassination plot based solely on the Kontrterroism YouTube video almost simultaneously with Golos Mordora’s February 26 reposting of the Kontrterrorism video.
  • The Intel Drop website
    The Intel Drop website
  • BBC Monitoring’s disinformation expert Shayan Sardarizadeh characterized The Intel Drop as “a notorious pro-Kremlin disinformation website with a long history of fabricating stories aimed to disparage Ukraine.”
  • He paired The Intel Drop with the DC Weekly website, which uses “this exact tactic of citing obscure YouTube videos to publish fake stories about Ukraine.”
  • Also on February 26, the blue-checked anonymous X user MyLordBebo posted footage identical to the video published by the Kontrterrorism YouTube channel. The footage has MyLordBebo’s own logo and English subtitles different from those used in the Kontrterrorism video clip.
  • MyLordBebo
    MyLordBebo
  • Frequently cited by Russian state broadcaster RT (formerly Russia Today), the MyLordBebo account plays an instrumental role in pushing Russian propaganda and disinformation to English-speaking audiences on X.
  • In a September 2023 disinformation analysis profiling the MyLordBebo X account, Polygraph.info wrote that its main uses are (in order of priority) to promote Russian President Vladimir Putin, to spread anti-Ukraine and anti-U.S. disinformation, and to boost fabricated content promoting Russia’s “traditional values.”
  • Ateba of Today News Africa picked up the “news” of the alleged assassination plot some 40 minutes after MyLordBebo posted the video about it on X. While Ateba’s post has no reference to sources or the video of the “Ukrainian spy’s confession,” Ateba’s role in amplifying the fabricated news is obvious.
  • Ateba has been a frequent subject of fact checks for sharing suspicious or false information, including AI-generated content such as a fake video of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy performing a belly dance on stage that was in fact a doctored video of the Argentinian dancer Pablo Acosta.

On X, blue-checked users amplified Ateba’s post, with a majority of quote-reposts peddling the narrative that Ukraine is using “American taxpayers’ money” to kill an American journalist for interviewing the Russian leader.

The creators of the disinformation claiming Ukraine plotted to assassinate Tucker Carlson did not intend for it to be used inside Russia; they designed it specifically to target U.S. audiences. That is evident from the fact that no major Russian state-controlled news outlets reported the “breaking news” about the alleged plot despite their weekslong fixation on every minor detail of Carlson’s visit to Moscow.

VOA News Center’s Leonid Martynyuk and VOA Ukrainian Service’s Tatiana Vorozhko contributed to this report.

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