If you think the NSA is bad, try the Putin-controlled Chrome toolbar

Summary:I am not making this up. You can't make this stuff up. This is what the world is coming to.

When I grew up the Russians were the Soviets and they were the bad guys. We were told we were about 20 minutes or so from mutually-assured destruction and that the Russians (er, Soviets) hated us for our freedoms.

Eventually, things changed. The Soviet Union fell but many of the old guard remained in power. Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin is a good example. He spent 16 years in the KGB, mustering out with the title of Lieutenant Colonel (the same rank Ollie North had when he was playing games with Iran and the Contras).

While Ollie never became leader of a great nation, Vlad-Vlad certainly did. In fact, the Putinator has been either President or Prime Minister of today's Russia since 1998. Suffice it to say, not much goes on in Russia today without the Putin stamp of approval.

That's why my attention was so quickly drawn to what seems like a normal little marketing gimmick on the part of RT.com. You might know RT.com as a news site. After all, Alexa shows it has a ranking 553 in terms of American visitors to its Web site. 20 percent of its visitors come from the United States (compared to only 5.8 percent who visit from Russia).

What was that marketing gimmick? Nothing big really. Just an extension you can install in Chrome to keep up with RT's news. Or is it something more... devious?

RTputin-sept2013
Image courtesy RT.com

Let's explore RT.com for just a minute. RT.com is Russia Today. Yeah, it's a Russian-owned and Russian-operated propaganda vehicle aimed squarely at Americans. It is funded directly by the Russian Government through Rospechat, the former Ministry of Communications and Mass Media, now known as the Federal Agency on Press and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation.

RT is Putin's house organ. Of course, because most people don't bother to investigate where their news comes from, RT.com is regularly quoted and Liked and tweated all around the blogosphere. I wonder how many people who think they're good Americans don't realize they're furthering Putinganda all across the U.S.?

So here's what baffles me. Everyone is all up in arms about this NSA spying thing, where activities being done are being done under carefully defined legal conditions, and where most of it is for Americans' protection. And yet there are constant stories of outrage.

But when a foreign frenemy power wants to install a toolbar right in your browser, a toolbar that can do pretty much anything (no, I haven't disassembled it, but that's not the point), no one whines and no one cries.

Of course, we're also depending on Eugene Kaspersky for much of our anti-malware protection. Kaspersky was trained by the KGB and his anti-malware software "protects" about a third of America's PCs.

Americans and the press are all freaking out because America's premier signals intelligence agency is gathering signals intelligence for the purpose of protecting America, but then they turn around and open up their computers and their privacy completely to a foreign power who most definitely does not have their best interests at heart.

Sometimes I just don't understand folks out there.

Oh, and if you want to know more about Putin and his antics, read this briefing paper I wrote last year. That one will give you nightmares for a week.

By the way, I'm doing more updates on Twitter and Facebook than ever before. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz and on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz.

Topics: Security, Google, Government, Government : US, Privacy

About

In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

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