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A Freelance Writer Learns He Was Working for the Russians


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A Freelance Writer Learns He Was Working for the Russians

Colin Munro Wood was not shocked when he learned that federal investigators believed the new website he had been writing for was a facade for a Russian troll operation looking to sway Americans ahead of the November election.

It explained the strange emails and writing prompts he had been receiving from his mysterious editor, an individual who admitted he was not based in the United States but wanted to weigh in on the presidential race.

“I just felt things were odd,” Mr. Wood said. And when his editor made it clear he didn’t want him to criticize President Trump or support Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential nominee, he started to figure out “they had a different kind of agenda.”

Mr. Wood, a 50-year-old who lives in Binghamton, N.Y., and has been writing for various online publications for years, was one of dozens of American and British nationals who wrote for the site Peace Data. The authorities said on Tuesday that it was part of a covert operation run by the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency, which conducted extensive election meddling in 2016.

Mr. Wood said he approached the Peace Data editors in June after seeing a link on their website commissioning new writers. Other writers answered job ads, or were contacted through blogs where they were publishing their work. The site typically offered $75 to $200 for each article. Writers were paid through electronic systems, though Mr. Wood said he volunteered to write and was not paid.

The first article Mr. Wood wrote, which was focused on the top 1 percent of American wealth, was his pitch and idea. But when he submitted the story, he said, he was asked to cut significant portions, including one section tying Mr. Trump to the economic elite.

“It was just a paragraph or two, not serious, but I wondered why they wanted it cut,” said Mr. Wood. He would go on to write two more articles for the site, but lengthy email correspondence exchanged ahead of those articles led him to become increasingly suspicious of the editors and their intentions.

Many of the emails had obvious mistakes in grammar and strange syntax. In one exchange, after Mr. Wood took offense at what one editor had said, he was told that the editor was Romanian and didn’t have a good grasp of the English language.

Mr. Wood was troubled by the direction the editors were pushing. On Aug. 12, Mr. Wood suggested a story looking at the potential picks for vice president on the Democratic Party slate, or the “potential fall or dissolving of the Republican Party.”

He was waved away from writing about the Republican Party or Mr. Trump by a Peace Data editor who told him, “As for my opinion on the elections in America I don’t see both candidates as something that will benefit the country in the long run.”

“Elections in the US will always have a big impact on the whole world, so from my perspective I would prefer Bernie Sanders as the President,” the editor wrote.

“I thought, well, now that explains things,” said Mr. Wood. As of Wednesday, no one had contacted him from Facebook, the F.B.I. or other U.S. law enforcement agencies.

“I’m just confused — you would have thought that they would want to speak to me,” Mr. Wood said. “Instead, I’m just learning about it from the news.”

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