David Jewberg — social engineering the Russia conversation

The David Jewberg persona trolled Russian and Ukrainian media. The question remains: Was it the alter ego of Dan Rapoport or a creation to social engineer the Russian dialog?

David Jewberg — social engineering the Russia conversation?
Ed Brambley (CC BY-SA 2.0)

David Jewberg, according to Oleksiy Kuzmenko in his interesting and entertaining dissection of Jewberg on Bellingcat, is a fictitious online persona. A persona whose creation has been attributed to Dan Rapoport, an attribution he denies.

The David Jewberg persona trolled Russian and Ukrainian media. Jewberg is allegedly an “American soldier, analyst, military history specialist, officer of the U.S. Army, political consultant of the U.S. State Department, Department of Defense, and National Security analyst.” The personal existed online from at least 2015-2018, when the Kuzmenko piece seemed to have caused the persona to evaporate. Facebook, gone. LinkedIn, gone.

What makes Jewberg different than past online fictions is the inclusion of real persons supporting the fiction in proper context. Who can forget the fictitious persona of Robin Sage and her online engagement with members of the Defense Department? Robin Sage used a stock photo and then evolved contacts and context directly one on one with individuals — social engineering at its best.

Kuzmenko notes how the photos of Jewberg are really Rapoport’s childhood friends. He also points out how individuals within the social media milieu, with knowledge of the hoax, used their own presence to provide a sound boost to the opinions of Jewberg.

Why was David Jewberg created?

It appears from this seat that Jewberg was created to socially engineer and troll the Russian and Ukrainian communities both at home and abroad. Perhaps only Rapoport can tell us, and he denies having created Jewberg.   

Rapoport is an emigre from Latvia (he was a child when his parents emigrated from the USSR) to the United States. He is known to be a supporter of Putin opposition figure Alexei Navalny. The Russian annexation of the Crimea occurred in 2014; the creation of Jewberg evolved circa 2015. 

Looking beyond Kuzmenko's write-up

First off, I confirmed that Jewberg was indeed a topic of conversation within the Russian expat community of activists and opposition members in the United States. Some were convinced he quit his Defense Department gig and became a public voice because of the U.S. presidential election results of 2016, while others viewed him as real as Dostoevsky’s Prince Lyov Nikolayevitch Myshkin in the classic "The Idiot."

While Kuzmenko’s piece caused quite the stir, one should dig into a far more interesting piece that contains more grist for the mill. “Advanced Training Center” (Russian language) on the blog hosted by its founder, Ruslan Karmanov, was found to be far more granular.

Karmanov in a multi-part dissection of David Jewberg, aka Dasha, asked the questions: Is David Jewberg real or a bot? Who is behind Jewberg? (Karmanov also notes that Kuzmenko interviewed him for Kuzmenko's own article on Jewberg.)

Karmanov, concludes that Rapoport is behind Jewberg — providing photographic evidence and his personal analysis. He further notes that the appearance of bot-like capabilities existed given the seemingly always-on presence (I wonder if Karmanov has met a teenager?) that Jewberg exhibited on Facebook.

Karmanov’s piece is worth a gander just for the screenshots that he captured during his own one-on-one engagement with Jewberg via social networks and email.

Why social engineer a dialog?

Rapoport’s desire to social engineer the political discussion, beginning in 2015 with respect to Russia, seems to be tied to the Crimea annexation by Russia. The Jewberg dialog was global, kicking up dust and taking inflammatory positions on a number of global issues, always with a consistent anti-Russian slant. The persona also demonstrated thin skin, using the block function to remove detractors or those who questioned the authenticity of the persona from the social network threads. Thousands of individuals followed Jewberg on his social networks. Online interviews via email were conducted with both Russian and Ukranian media organizations.

The person behind Jewberg invested significant time and energy into creating and maintaining this persona.

The creation of the persona and forgery of U.S. government IDs for the purpose of posting on social networks may put the creator in legal hot water. The likelihood that the Department of Justice and Department of Defense decides it is worth their time is, however, very low and thus we may never know the rest of the story.

Not the first, not the last fictitious online persona

Rapoport is certainly not the first to create an aggrandize persona, and Rapoport’s public and private documentation of his own engagement with his apparent fictitious alter-ego Jewberg leads one to wonder about schizophrenia (tongue in cheek).   

The bottom line? As the Department of Justice's indictment of 13 individuals who were engaged in manipulating social networks and the narrative from the Russian Internet Research Agency shows, the creation of fake personas for a variety of purposes continues.

We are now in the era in which President Reagan’s famous quote, taken in a different context, demonstrates great prescience: “Trust, but verify — Доверяй, но проверяй — Doveryai, no proveryai.”

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