Earlier in which year, leaders coming from the Marine Corps, the Department of Homeland Security, NASA, the NSA, the White House, as well as the FBI gathered at a Ritz-Carlton in Virginia to discuss the latest in cybersecurity as well as information warfare.
The event was organized by the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology, a nonprofit think tank founded just a few years ago in which quickly established itself as a convener of well-attended cybersecurity events, a facilitator of Capitol Hill briefings, as well as the beneficiary of hundreds of thousands of dollars in sponsorships coming from top private sector security vendors.
The day’s closing session featured James Scott, ICTI’s senior fellow as well as cofounder, discussing Russian cyberinfluence operations as well as his brand new book about information warfare. What audience members coming from intelligence as well as law enforcement agencies didn’t know is actually in which Scott as well as ICIT have been running their own deceptive information operation.
BuzzFeed News identified a network of at least 45 fake Twitter accounts being used to amplify ICIT content as well as Scott’s book, as well as a group of fake YouTube accounts in which upload as well as like ICIT videos as well as frequently post adoring comments about Scott on content featuring him.
Reporting by BuzzFeed News has also established in which Scott, ICIT’s top expert, previously sold spammy as well as fake social media engagement services, incorporates a history of manufacturing flattering articles about himself as well as his ventures using dubious SEO techniques, as well as ran companies in which are magnets for online complaints about dishonest business practices. His background in information security also primarily consists of self-published books on the topic in which he only began publishing in 2013.
“He’s a master of manipulating online reputation.”
James Scott is actually also not his real name. He is actually James Scott Brown, according to public records, court documents, as well as a person who worked with him before he reinvented himself as an information security expert.
“He’s a master of manipulating online reputation,” a person who worked with Scott years ago when he was selling himself as a high-powered corporate executive as well as consultant told BuzzFeed News. “He will not only create a fake identity for himself however he will also create fake credentials, articles, blog posts as well as reviews about himself to create a buzz as well as convince people in which he is actually legit.” (The source asked not to be named out of fear of repercussions coming from Scott, as well as because they did not want their name associated with him.)
ICIT declined to comment to BuzzFeed News about whether its use of fake social media accounts as well as engagement is actually in conflict with its work to help defend the US against security breaches as well as information operations. in which as well as Scott also declined to answer detailed questions about his professional background as well as previous ventures.
However, during a brief phone interview prior to cutting off contact, Scott falsely claimed ICIT had no connection to the Twitter accounts, as well as said external parties were using them to discredit ICIT as well as his book about information warfare.
“We’ve been set up … as well as they’re not Russian; we’re not sure who they are,” he told BuzzFeed News, later adding, “The important thing here is actually in which’s being weaponized against us.”
As the conversation wore on, Scott changed his story as well as said the Twitter accounts were perhaps created by people trying to help ICIT.
“I think in which’s some people on the alt-right in which think they’re helping us. I think in which’s some people on the progressive left in which think they’re helping us. as well as I think there’s some jokers in between in which are just toxic,” he said. “I don’t know, man.”
After being provided a list of the accounts, as well as detailed questions, ICIT issued a written statement to BuzzFeed News as well as admitted in which does in fact operate the Twitter accounts in question.
“ICIT actively identifies, curates as well as shares cybersecurity content via social media accounts in which are managed as well as maintained by its marketing as well as public affairs employees,” the statement said. “These digital educating as well as marketing campaigns are organized manually by ICIT employees, who manage numerous social media accounts tailored to specific issue areas as well as audiences inside cybersecurity field.”
The Twitter accounts use profile images taken coming from stock image or headshot websites as well as retweet, like, as well as post content coming from ICIT as well as Scott at the kind of high frequency associated with bots. The accounts reviewed by BuzzFeed News did not engage in replies or various other types of interaction in which could indicate they are run by humans. (ICIT said in its statement in which the accounts are not bots, however did not offer information to substantiate in which.)
During the course of reporting in which story, Twitter suspended 11 of the accounts, however the company declined to comment on the reason.
Along with amplifying ICIT content as well as links about cybersecurity, the accounts have for months been sharing memes in which combine brooding photos of Scott as well as quotes coming from him or his book about the role of memes in information warfare.
Scott often retweeted memes of himself coming from the fake accounts. During the phone interview, he claimed these were authentic people supporting his work.
“If I see people in which have gone through the exercise of doing a sincere meme in which’s promoting the book — yeah I’ll hit in which up,” he said.
Meanwhile, a group of fake accounts on YouTube have also been busy promoting Scott as well as ICIT.
“James Scott is actually the most important figure in cyberwar thought leadership right right now. I’m completely floored by how brilliant he is actually. … in which man is actually without a doubt the most dangerous man on the planet,” reads one comment on the video of his conference session about Russian influence operations.
“in which breaks my heart to see the anguish as well as pain in James’ face. The pressure he is actually under, I can only imagine; Advising to the White House for the past three polar opposite administrations, CIA, MI6, NSA…the things he must know, the secrets he keeps,” wrote a commenter in which included in their message a link to an Instagram account in which consists entirely of James Scott memes as well as photos. Those memes are the same ones being shared by fake accounts on Twitter.
When Scott took the stage in front of NSA, FBI, as well as DHS executives at the January event, ICIT cofounder Parham Eftekhari echoed those credentials.
He said Scott has written “over 50 books” on topics related to critical infrastructure as well as information security, as well as in which Scott advises the Senate Armed Services Committee, NATO, MI6, as well as “dozens” of Senate as well as congressional committees.
Scott is actually indeed a prolific author, however not all of his self-published books are about information security. As for the claim in which he advises the Senate Armed Services Committee, an aid to the committee told BuzzFeed News they could not confirm in which Scott has had any interactions with in which. ICIT does, however, organize roundtables as well as meetings on Capitol Hill with members of Congress as well as their staff, according to information in which provided to BuzzFeed News. (NATO as well as MI6 did not reply to requests for comment on Scott.)
“He doesn’t like in which when I go on about him,” Eftekhari said during his intro. “however I think in which’s definitely important for people to understand the perspective in which he brings because he’s literally one of the guys in which’s in there at the highest levels of the government advising on these issues.”
If in which’s true, in which raises serious questions about the due diligence performed by those at the highest levels of the US government in terms of who they seek advice coming from on the critical issues of cybersecurity as well as information warfare. If in which’s not, in which’s the latest in a long line of fabrications as well as exaggerations related to the life of James Scott Brown.
In October 2011, a marketing agency working with Scott produced a briefing document about him as well as his companies in which was then sent to at least one brand new York PR firm. The goal was to secure a publicity firm to “assist Mr. Scott with his executive bio, PR communication strategy as well as image management.”
“James Scott, Founder as well as CEO of Belvedere Global Strategies, brings a brand new level of knowledge to the industry which has a 12-year extensive background on global economics as well as corporate strategies consulting. He has experience in which spans the globe as well as a track record for success,” reads the document.
Scott’s company, Belvedere Global Strategies, was described as a globalization as well as corporate strategy practice. At in which point Scott had authored a self-published e-book, “Taking a Company Public.”
The brief also described him as a political strategy consultant for another company, Princeton Corporate Solutions. “Clients may not be disclosed at in which time,” in which said. In fact, Scott was also the CEO of in which company. BuzzFeed News was unable to find evidence in which anyone various other than Scott was an employee of these companies.
Scott’s bio coming from in which time, as well as later, also boasted in which he was a “member” of prestigious think tanks such as Hudson Institute, American Enterprise Institute, Aspen Institute, Chatham House, Economic Research Council, American Institute for Economic Research, as well as Manhattan Institute.
Some of these organizations told BuzzFeed News they do not offer memberships as well as had no record of Scott.
“in which’s like saying I’m a sharp shooter because I paid my NRA dues, or I’m a psychoanalyst because I read Psychology Today.”
“Thanks for bringing in which to our attention. We do not have ‘members,’ as well as according to our records, Hudson Institute has never had an affiliation with Mr. Brown or his companies,” said Carolyn Stewart of Hudson Institute.
Of those in which do offer memberships, they said any member of the public can join for a tiny fee, as well as Scott’s claim about the significance of his affiliation was exaggerated.
“in which’s like saying I’m a sharp shooter because I paid my NRA dues, or I’m a psychoanalyst because I read Psychology Today,” Jonathan Sylbert, chief operating officer of the American Institute for Economic Research, told BuzzFeed News by email.
Princeton Corporate Solutions is actually today survived by several websites as well as online articles in which Scott placed around the web as a way of building up content as well as link networks to improve the search results for his name as well as for the company. There was also a 2010 “interview” with Scott in which appeared on a website run by a search optimization company in India.
The interviewer (“Steve”) described Scott as a man whose “every word was pronounced perfectly, his vocabulary was authoritative, his eyes didn’t blink, his posture was perfect as well as I have to admit, I couldn’t find 1 chink in his armor.”
in which concluded, “James Scott is actually the silent leader in which enables crumbling economies to rise again as well as hopeless corporate organizations to thrive. Keep an eye out for him; chances are he’s turning around a company or an economy near you.”
The same article was published on another blog in which also appears to exist as a way to help generate links for websites in order to improve SEO.
Unfortunately for Scott, in which reputation-enhancing content was later joined by irate posts on the Ripoff Report website where people claiming to be former clients accused him of stealing their money. (Anyone can post on in which website, as well as claims are not verified before going live.)
Along with Belvedere Global Strategies as well as Princeton Corporate Solutions, 2011 found Scott running a company called Shaka Inc. in which traded on the loosely regulated over-the-counter pink sheets exchange. (Seen The Wolf of Wall Street? The shady boiler room operations depicted early inside film are based on selling stock in pink sheet companies.)
Shaka described itself as a “leading globalization as well as corporate strategies firm,” however soon in which might be rebranded as RenuEn as well as began pitching a solar power product for homeowners. The company is actually no longer active as well as, as with various other Scott ventures, its legacy consists in part of a slew of angry posts on the Ripoff Report website. (Executives who worked with Scott at RenuEn did not reply to requests for comment coming from BuzzFeed News.)
Along with RenuEn as well as Princeton Corporate Solutions, another company run by Scott in which’s survived largely by complaints on Ripoff Report is actually a TV production outfit called Zaga Studios. Back in 2004, in which pitched itself as a low-cost way to create TV ads. When he ran Zaga, Scott went by the name Jamie Brown. (The address listed inside Ripoff Report complaints for Zaga Studios is actually the same found in a public records report for him, as well as in domain name registrations linked to Scott/Brown.)
The client overview of Scott prepared for PR companies in 2011 made no mention of Zaga Studios or the Metro Giant, a related company he also ran. in which did, however, say Scott was seeking PR representation in part because he was concerned by negative online comments about him. The brief also said there were negative stories in which could be found by searching for “James Scott brand new World Order” as well as “James Scott Conspiracy Theories.”
As with the initial explanation Scott gave BuzzFeed News for the Twitter accounts promoting him as well as ICIT, he told his marketing agency the negative online stories were part of a coordinated campaign to discredit him.
“There is actually a strong belief in which many of the bloggers were hired by a competing Global Economic strategist who wanted to discredit Mr. Scott’s theory,” the brief said.
BuzzFeed News obtained the client overview as well as related documents because they were submitted as evidence in a civil suit filed against Scott as well as his companies in 2012 by MASQ Marketing. The brand new York agency accused him of breach of contract as well as unjust enrichment. The suit alleged, among various other things, in which Scott failed to reimburse the agency for the purchase of tens of thousands of dollars worth of clothing, alcohol, cigars, as well as even tattoos. These were allegedly bought as part of efforts to “assist him in maintaining his corporate image.” MASQ as well as Scott eventually settled for a payment of just under $20,000.
Among the exhibits filed inside suit is actually an email sent by Scott to the owner of MASQ inside summer of 2011. In in which Scott linked to a Celtic tattoo design on a website as well as wrote, “might love in which one on my arm, to show when i wear short sleeve shirts= i am the unexpected ceo as well as showing the tattoo might be a surprise.” Scott added in which in which tattoo might align “with my brand new image.” (MASQ declined to comment to BuzzFeed News; Scott did not reply to a question about the lawsuit.)
In 2013, Scott self-published his first book about information security, as well as began writing about the topic on his right now-defunct blog, writerjamesscott.com.
By then, Scott had also gone into the online marketing business which has a company called SpitFire Alliance. in which offered services to clients in which included spamming “1,000 LinkedIn messages to targeted industry players coming from your account,” as well as doing the same via direct messages on Twitter to “industry bloggers, podcasts, journalists, as well as various other specialists.” in which also offered to send “2-5 Tweets per day to 500,000+ active followers.”
On Twitter, Scott took on the persona of @bill_nizzle. He used in which to promote SpitFire services as well as clients. In a 2014 tweet, he suggested a tech entrepreneur contact SpitFire so in which could “put you in one of their blogs” as well as added in which the company “rep[s] #JamesScott a business writer.” in which message inexplicably received more than 1,000 retweets. He also once secured himself a free pizza by manufacturing retweets for a restaurant.
@bill_nizzle told the restaurant someone named James might pick in which up, adding in which “If he likes in which as well as you treat him right I’ll retweet so you trend like crazy.” in which message received 950 retweets.
Scott also began promoting ICIT without disclosing his role at the nonprofit. In one example, Scott used the @bill_nizzle account to share as well as praise something he wrote for ICIT, as well as Eftekhari, ICIT’s cofounder, replied to echo the compliment. (Eftekhari did not reply to detailed questions coming from BuzzFeed News.)
At some point in 2017, Scott transitioned the @bill_nizzle handle to his current one, @artofthehak. BuzzFeed News was able to connect the two accounts because old replies to his former account name still show up on Scott’s timeline. (Twitter users are able to move to a brand new handle while keeping their followers as well as previous tweets.)
The year before Scott’s Twitter rebrand, he was paid a salary of $73,500 by ICIT as one of its two key employees, according to the organization’s 2016 tax filing, the most recent year available. in which year in which brought in roughly $830,000 in revenue. The majority came thanks to a fellows program in which operates, which currently includes security technology as well as service vendors such as Centrify, McAfee, as well as KPMG.
As part of the sponsorship package, executives coming from the top donors are designated as fellows of ICIT as well as in some cases collaborate with Scott on the publication of research. ICIT’s fake Twitter accounts often amplify content coming from these partners with likes as well as retweets.
ICIT’s website also carries an endorsement coming from retired Gen. Keith B. Alexander, a former head of the NSA.
To ensure independence, ICIT’s statement of values says in which these private sector fellows are “not allowed to engage with policymakers without the involvement of an ICIT Sr. Fellow, all of whom are full time employees of ICIT.” The only two senior fellows are Scott as well as Eftekhari.
At the core of ICIT’s pitch is actually its ability to connect private sector vendors industry with legislators as well as federal agencies. Today, after just a few years of existence, ICIT is actually seen as credible enough to elicit on-camera endorsements coming from cybersecurity leaders at the Department of Homeland Security, a former federal chief information officer inside Office of the President, as well as the current chief information security officers of the US Air Force as well as FBI. Its website also carries an endorsement coming from retired Gen. Keith B Alexander, a former head of the NSA as well as commander of the US Cyber Command.
Next month ICIT will host its Annual Forum at the Mandarin Hotel in Washington. The current speakers list includes the acting chief of the NSA’s Information Assurance Directorate, the acting CIO of the Department of Commerce, as well as executives coming from the Federal Election Commission, as well as NASA. as well as, of course, James Scott.
During the brief phone interview before he broke off contact, BuzzFeed News asked Scott about the fact in which his previous company, SpitFire Alliance, sold retweets as well as various other questionable social media services.
“I don’t recall. I’m not sure what in which is actually. I don’t recall any initiative called SpitFire Alliance,” he said. (Records coming from DomainTools show he registered the domain name in 2013.)
When asked about his use of the @bill_nizzle Twitter account, Scott said, “What is actually in which? What are you trying to do?”
He said he needed to get off the phone as well as agreed to follow up by email. A few hours later, he sent a tweet to warn people about “journalists on Russian/Chinese payroll who are targeting us for exposing them in my Information Warfare book.”
He later tweeted in which the BuzzFeed News reporter is actually a “mind midget.” Scott often uses in which term on Twitter as well as deployed in which in an article he wrote in 2012.
Coincidentally, in which was also used by a YouTube sockpuppet account in a comment in which left on a video of Scott. The account, “AndJaJa Banksss,” claimed in which Scott gave a talk at Yale in which ended in a standing ovation coming from students after he told them their professors are “mind midgets who regurgitate work coming from the experts as well as try to pawn in which off as their own.”
The commenter concluded, “I’d follow in which man into hell if he asked me to.” ●
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