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‘Fake News’ Takes to the Air

Born from the genesis of the Arab Spring, the conflict in Syria has unabashedly laid waste to cities, communities and the hopes and dreams of millions who are disillusioned by a dictatorial regime that retains power.

A proxy war of sorts which began in 2011 has continued which focuses on efforts to, on the one side, prop up and fortify Bashar al-Assad’s rule by the Russians and the United States who hope to take down his regime.

As the dogfight on the frontlines persists, sophisticated tactics have been deployed to buttress the endeavors by each side like stifling military operations and the deployment of both humanitarian aid and the tools to combat the Syrian regime, by jeopardizing the flight path and the corporate shelf life of the operators who carry out such challenging support-driven endeavors.

To be blunt, a ‘Black PR’ campaign has been silently yet maliciously executed, leveraging social media, Wikipedia, SEO and the malleable, post-Soviet press environment, to besmirch the reputation of and the relationships hosted by longstanding U.S. military contractors such as Silk Way Airlines, perhaps turning their own allies against them in the process.

In July, 2017 a hack made on the Azerbaijani Embassy of Bulgaria, undertaken by ‘Anonymous Bulgaria’ (with IP-address roots linked to Russia), prompted an immediate investigation by an overly ambitious reporter who had previously never written in English let alone on matters as intricate as airline diplomacy. Her works were published in the Bulgarian daily newspaper Trud (the paper has since terminated her engagement). Indeed, Ms. Dilyana Gaytandzhieva’s efforts sought to seemingly reveal how through Bulgaria, “…Silk Way Airlines exploited a loophole in international aviation and transport regulation to offer flights to arms manufacturers and private companies – with much of the cargo heading for known terrorist enclaves in Syria.”

The reporter’s efforts did not remain lost on Trud as they were repeatedly issued as tweets on her social media account (posts which would coincide with a staunch defense of Syria’s President and separately, Russia in the recent chemical attack in the United Kingdom), and would later appear in efforts made on Wikipedia to re-brand Silk Way following her captivating would-be exposé.

Her insinuations threatened a longstanding relationship held between Silk Way Airlines and the U.S. military, the former operating above board and the latter was transporting aid cargo and munitions as a private contractor.

Further, greater investigation would find that cryptocurrency-driven search engine optimization (SEO) services such as Steemit would continue to elevate Silk Way misinformation. In other words, payments were being issued to keep the Trud article elevated when Silk Way itself would become queried.

The Wikipedia positioning raised flags with U.S. military providers and institutions critical for the continued North American operations of Silk Way, which many would say has a leading role in the fight carried out by the U.S. against the tyrannical regime of Assad.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, competitors and cargo carriers continue supporting Russian military operatives to oppose any and all U.S. efforts, while Silk Way is in a state of limbo to assist in retaliation by way of dynamic supply.

In an attempt to avoid this ‘proxy war’ of propaganda and corporate maligning, on the 19th of February, 2018, the Bulgarian Civil Aviation Administration released an official statement refuting the false allegations of the then-Trud journalist, remarking that “the Directorate General Civil Aviation Administration to the Ministry of Transport, Information Technologies and Communications of the Republic of Bulgaria, aimed to clarify that all flights operated by Silk Way Airlines from/through the territory of Bulgaria, with special/military production on board, were performed in accordance with all National and International regulations and legal provisions, with all respective permits, certificates and documents for transportation by air of such sensitive cargo.”

“Without any exceptions,” the statement continued, “…Silk Way Airlines [has strictly adhered] to all applicable regulations for the safe transportation of Dangerous Goods by air. For every flight, the operator and the shipper of the cargo are duly disclosed in a legal manner and disclose by legal documents the origin, the route of the flight, as well as the consignor, consignee and the end user.”

Flight operations in question were ultimately proven to be undertaken at the behest of the U.S government and for the benefit of U.S. foreign policy interests. As a commercial service-provider, Silk Way performed and continues to perform air transportation services under applicable U.S. government contracts.

However, the victim of propagated ‘Fake News,’ the saga of Silk Way Airlines raises eyebrows as to how often media manipulation in the spirit of boardroom competition or as a veil upon the battlefield can be executed in managing public perception, with the assumption being that the intricacy of the espionage will miss the intrepid eye of U.S. publications.

We look forward to sharing greater instances of this haphazard cyber-warfare in the days and weeks to come. Until then, it is in our hands to create lasting change.

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