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Fake Tom Cruise documentary is part of a Russian influence campaign aimed at Paris Olympics, report finds

CNN —
Pro-Russian propagandists are ramping up their efforts to denigrate next month’s Paris Summer Olympics and undermine Western support for Ukraine through a series of brazen online and offline stunts, private experts and Western officials told CNN.
The stunts have included using artificial intelligence to impersonate the actor Tom Cruise’s voice narrating a fake documentary attacking the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and placing coffins with an inscription invoking the Ukraine war near the Eiffel Tower, sources said.
The activity appears to be part of an increasingly frantic effort from Russian operatives to tarnish the Olympics and stall any momentum Ukraine is building to use Western-made weapons to attack Russian territory, experts who track Russian disinformation told CNN. The IOC has placed restrictions on Russian athletes’ participation in the Paris Olympics because of Russia’s war on Ukraine.
There is a mix of desperation and opportunism to the recent spate of propaganda, said Gavin Wilde, a former Russia expert at the National Security Council. “For the tech-savvy propagandists working in Russia, the alternative they’re hedging against isn’t irrelevance — it’s a one-way trip to the front lines,” Wilde told CNN.
Russia’s embassy in France called the allegations “Russophobic.”
“The Embassy declares that the Russian Federation has never interfered and does not interfere in the internal affairs of France – our country has other more important priorities,” the embassy said in a statement posted in French. “The Embassy urges the French authorities to put an end to this unfounded and unjustified anti-Russian disinformation campaign.”
Campaign to undermine the West
The Russian operatives used the fake Cruise voice, the Netflix logo and even a fake New York Times review to try to lend the documentary legitimacy, according to analysts at Microsoft, who released a report on the activity on Sunday. The propaganda video, released on social media platform Telegram last year, was “the first glimpse of what would prove to be an extensive campaign” by the same Russian propaganda actor to smear the Paris Olympics, Microsoft said.
Russian propagandists have also been ginning up fake news stories claiming that Parisians are buying property insurance because of fears of terrorism around the Olympics, and fake press releases purporting to come from the CIA and French intelligence warning about terrorism, according to Microsoft.
CNN has requested comment from the Russian Embassy in Washington, DC.
Not all the recent subterfuge has been online.
On Saturday, French police discovered five coffins draped in the French flag, with the words “French soldiers in Ukraine,” near the Eiffel Tower. A French military official told CNN they suspect that Russia was involved in the stunt. French police are questioning three men in connection with the incident.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s refusal to rule out the possibility of sending French troops to Ukraine has infuriated the Russian government.
In recent days, pro-Russia social media accounts have also shared a doctored video of US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller commenting on Ukraine’s potential use of US-made weapons in Russia. The video appears to be compiled from two different press appearances by Miller, showing him wearing different ties.
It’s unclear who made the video. US officials and private experts have not publicly identified the source of the video.
“While this video is obviously fake, it is a step towards what counter-disinformation researchers have been warning about – the use of AI manipulated media to enhance foreign disinformation operations,” the State Department said in a statement to CNN.
The Russian Embassy in South Africa shared a version of the video on its X accounts, according to screenshots captured by a BBC journalist.
Hany Farid, a digital forensic expert and professor at UC Berkley, said the video had hallmarks of being manipulate using AI.
Farid ran the video through multiple deepfake detection systems and said they indicated that the voices in the video had been created using AI and that the lip movements of the State Department spokesperson in the video had been altered using lip-sync AI software.
“Even if the fake is not believed by everyone, the constant bombardment of deepfakes is leading to an overall skepticism of everything we see online,” Farid said.
But Lee Foster, another information operations expert, expressed skepticism that the imagery in the video was made using AI.
“Looking at it from an analytic standpoint, it doesn’t make sense to use AI to manipulate mouth movements such that they are basically identical to the original,” Foster told CNN. “AI manipulation of the video’s audio remains an unresolved question, however.”
Ghosts of Olympics past
Russian antagonism toward the IOC has been years in the making. The IOC has prohibited Russian athletes from competing officially under the Russian flag in Paris because of the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Russian athletes have faced similar restrictions at past Olympic games because of Russia’s alleged doping program.
Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency was behind a destructive cyberattack on computers used at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in South Korea in 2018, according to the US Justice Department.
Officials at the Paris Olympics are bracing for a similar threat next month.
“The GRU has reserved some its most serious cyberattacks for France and the Olympics, and they carried those out when the geopolitical situation was considerably less strained,” said John Hultquist, chief analyst at the Google-owned cybersecurity firm Mandiant.
The Olympic Games in Paris “will be an incredibly enticing target for these actors,” Hultquist added. “Any attack they cook up will be designed to undermine French prestige and the solidarity at the heart of the event.”

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