Former US ambassador says Russia is using ‘deepfakes to impersonate him’

Former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul (Getty Images)
Former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul (Getty Images)

The former US Ambassador to Russia has claimed that deepfakes are being used to impersonate him in a bid to “undermine” Ukrainian war efforts.

Michael McFaul, a vocal critic of Vladimir Putin who served as US ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014, claims that an “AI-generated deep fake that looks and talks like me” is being circulated as a “new Russian weapon of war”

Mr McFaul has alleged that Russia is experimenting with the video technology and has even created fake videos to discredit him.

He wrote on Twitter: “WARNING. Someone using the phone number +1 (202) 7549885 is impersonating me. If you connect on a video platform with this number, you will see an AI-generated "deep fake" that looks and talks like me.

“It is not me. This is a new Russian weapon of war. Be careful.”

However, Mr McFaul latter added that he “cannot” be certain the caller is of Russian origin.

He wrote: “Let me add an obvious caveat. I cannot confirm who this caller is. It could just be hooligans. But the questions they ask are obviously designed to undermine Ukraine’s diplomatic and war efforts.”

Deepfakes are digitally constructed videos that can make it appear as if a person is saying or doing something they never did.

Deepfake videos first appeared on a large scale in 2017, when fake footage started spreading online with the faces of Hollywood stars such as Scarlett Johansson, Emma Watson and Nicolas Cage. They used a new deep learning method known as generative adversarial networks.

In 2019 a doctored video of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was even shared by Mr Trump.

US intelligence agencies later warned "adversaries" were likely to use deepfakes to influence the 2020 election campaign.

Others have seized upon the potential of deepfakes as a weapon of mass disinformation, including to undermine political opponents, spread conspiracy theories and destabilise democracy.

A video previously emerged showing the state governor for Sao Paulo in Brazil - a conservative who defended "family values" - taking part in an orgy.

He claimed the footage was fake, calling it "the worst electoral crime".