Report: ‘Russian tactics’ by Democratic operatives ‘had enormous effect’ on Alabama election turnout
After a new publication obtained the internal report on Project Birmingham, the initial claims published by the Washington Post and New York Times that the efforts were “a small experiment” are coming under serious question. Project Birmingham is the name of the Democratic effort to use “Russian tactics” in Alabama’s 2017 Senate special election.
In an article Thursday evening by Buzzfeed News, which stated that they had obtained the same internal report used in the NYT and Post’s respective articles breaking the scandal, it was revealed that this internal report written by the Democratic participants themselves boasted that they “ran a digital messaging operation to influence the outcome of the AL senate race.”
According to Buzzfeed, the internal report also claims their efforts contributed to high Democratic turnout, a drop in Republican turnout and says that it “drove write-in votes to a number of candidates.” On one page it reportedly states Project Birmingham’s “sustained targeting” of Republican voters “had enormous effect” on turnout.
The publication also revealed that one of the NYT reporters who broke the story this month learned of Project Birmingham in early September, when he received a copy of the internal report and witnessed an in-person presentation on the efforts by two of the participants.
This occurred when Scott Shane, a Pulitzer-winning NYT reporter, was one of a handful of invited speakers at a meeting held in Washington, D.C. by American Engagement Technologies (AET). Shane, despite telling Buzzfeed he was “shocked” when he found out about Project Birmingham and the shadowy Democratic efforts to influence American elections, did not report on what he learned before the national midterm elections in November.
Instead, he waited until late December, claiming that he had signed a nondisclosure agreement with AET and that he had to gather enough information independent of the September meeting before legally being able to report the startling information.
Strange details keep emerging about the disinfo campaign run by Americans to influence the Alabama special election. Turns out one of the NYT reporters who broke the story spoke at a Sept. event organized by the very same people who ran the op: https://t.co/wjN667L4ma
— Craig Silverman (@CraigSilverman) December 28, 2018
AET is the group into which billionaire co-founder of LinkedIn Reid Hoffman put $750,000 to advance liberal political efforts. AET put $100,000 of that money into Project Birmingham.
Hoffman apologized this week for his ties to the project, saying he was unaware of what his money was used for.
Shane also has said he knew nothing of Project Birmingham before the September AET meeting.
“It was basically a bunch of people getting together to talk about disinformation,” he told Buzzfeed News. “Part of the reason I agreed to speak, and somewhat reluctantly sign the NDA, is I was told by the organizer that I could follow up with any of the people on any of the projects after the meeting.”
Shane asserted that it was not necessary to disclose to the American public that he previously spoke at a meeting organized by the very people behind Project Birmingham.
“I don’t think there’s any kind of disclosure that’s relevant, though I’m happy to be corrected,” he added. “If you’ve been to meet with intelligence or defense officials at an off-the-record meeting … it’s always a trade off as to what the ground rules are versus whether you get something useful for your readers. And in this case I did get something useful.”
The internal report provided to Shane and others at the meeting boasted of the campaign’s effectiveness and positions itself as a serious effort to influence 650,000 Alabama voters. It does not use the word “experiment” to describe the effort.
BuzzFeed added that they were unable at this time to republish the internal report in full because their source who conditionally provided it “said some of the report’s claims about its influence are overblown and could create a misleading impression of the operation’s impact if the full report was released.”
In other words, the internal report claims that Project Birmingham did indeed have an impact on and quite possibly influenced Alabama’s 2017 election of Sen. Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook).
Despite this, Shane wrote in his initial story last week that, “The secret project, carried out on Facebook and Twitter, was likely too small to have a significant effect on the race, in which the Democratic candidate it was designed to help, Doug Jones, edged out the Republican, Roy S. Moore.”
As Buzzfeed summarized, this seeming-contradiction between the internal report itself and Shane’s article based on that same report “raises new questions about whether the project was — as the Times said — an ‘experiment,’ or whether it was a straightforward Democratic attempt to replicate the model of the Russian Internet Research Agency.”
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall is exploring whether Project Birmingham may have violated any state laws.
Hoffman and Jones have both publicly welcomed federal investigations into the efforts, saying they were oblivious to the project before news of it broke last week.
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn