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The mysterious “Alice Donovan”: a tale brought to you by the FBI

An apology to our readers for publishing a writer who unknown to us plagiarises and writes under a pseudonym

On returning to London from a short trip during the Christmas vacation I became aware of two articles, one in the Washington Post and one by Counterpunch, which have exposed “Alice Donovan”, an individual or entity with a significant publication history, as a person or persons writing under a pseudonym, and as someone who has plagiarised the work of other writers.

A detailed account of who “Alice Donovan” is and of her activities has been provided by Counterpunch, which after being alerted by the Washington Post that she is not what she purports to be has researched her activities exhaustively.

Counterpunch, which has exposed her plagiarism and which has made painstaking but ultimately unsuccessful efforts to establish her identity, published five of her articles.

However various other internet publications have published “Alice Donovan” articles also, and The Duran has published two of them.

Here is what Counterpunch has to say about this

In digging deeper into Donovan’s online presence, we found that she had been published on many other sites, across a political spectrum that runs from right to left: The Duran, Ground Report, GlobalResearchMintPress Newsthe ActivistPostVeterans TodayOp-Ed NewsPopular ResistanceRestoring Liberty and, most prolifically, on  WeAreChange, where her pieces began appearing regularly in June 2016. In total, we identified 28 unique stories under Donovan’s byline on more than a dozen websites. (See below: “Alice Donovan: a Chronological Bibliography.”)

On checking I found that The Duran published two articles by “Alice Donovan”, one on 26th May 2017 on the subject of the US cruise missile attack on Syria, the other on 15th October 2017 on the subject of the situation in Venezuela.

Both are subjects about which “Alice Donovan” has written about extensively on other sites.

Counterpunch has this comment to make about “Alice Donovan’s” articles

Based solely on what we’d just reviewed was there any reason at the time to suspect that Alice Donovan was anything other than what she appeared to be: an occasional contributor of topical stories? Not as far as we could tell. The stories weren’t pro-Russian polemics and they didn’t read like awkward Google-translations of the Russian language. The most controversial thing that could be said about them was that some stories attempted to present a particular Syrian view of the war, a perspective rarely heard in the US media.

That is exactly the same impression the two pieces by “Alice Donovan” published by The Duran made on me when I reviewed them.  There was nothing about the pieces or the way they were submitted to suggest a fictitious individual, and there was nothing about them that made them appear unfit for publication.

As it happens “Alice Donovan’s” first submission to us in May 2017 came with this email, which suggested someone with a real personality and an extensive publication history

Hello,

My name is Alice Donovan and I am an independent writer, blogger, meme maker and activist. I’ve been published in different alternative media outlets including WeAreChange, VeteransToday, CounterPunch, ActivistPost and MintPress News.

I’d like to be published by The Duran so do you need my article?

Best regards,
A

Our internal correspondence shows that we found the submission lacked originality but like Counterpunch we were keen to encourage a new writer with a good publication history.

In this sort of situation there are certain things which need to be done.

The first is to take down “Alice Donovan’s” two pieces, which we have done.

Here I should say that the problem is not with the pieces themselves or that she has chosen to write them under a pseudonym but rather (1) that she deceived us about her use of a pseudonym; and (2) that she is plagiarising the work of other writers.

The second is to thank Counterpunch and indeed the Washington Post for exposing this individual as fictitious and in Counterpunch’s case for exposing her also as a plagiarist.  We are particularly grateful to Counterpunch for their exhaustive research into “Alice Donovan’s” background.

The third is to apologise to our readers for publishing the work of a fictitious individual and a plagiarist, though I would reiterate that there was nothing about the two submissions she sent to us which raised obvious red flags.

Now however comes the most curious part of this strange story.

The Washington Post says it was alerted to “Alice Donovan’s” fictitious identity by no less an agency than the FBI, which supposedly identified her as a Russian intelligence disinformation operation (“a Kremlin troll”) by way of a counter intelligence operation known as “Northern Light”.

The Washington Post does not say what evidence the FBI has for this assertion, but I have to say that I find it extremely difficult to believe.

Though “Alice Donovan’s” pieces take a line which is consistently critical of US foreign policy, they add nothing to the work of scores of hundreds of other bona fide writers who write about the same subjects and of whom exactly the same could be said.

For an intelligence agency to create and sustain the “Alice Donovan” persona for the two years of its existence in order to duplicate badly the work of other writers looks to me like an exercise in utter pointlessness.

Besides “Alice Donovan’s” reach was far too small to make creating her persona and sustaining it for two years worthwhile.  It seems she has only 48 twitter followers.

Even if one allows for gross inefficiency and wastefulness on the part of Russian intelligence this seems just too crazily disproportionate to be believable.

Frankly it seems to me far more likely that behind “Alice Donovan” is an actual person anxious to get published but who feels the need to use a pseudonym, possibly because of the extent to which her work relies on plagiarism.  By contrast I find the claim that an intelligence agency lies behind her altogether too farfetched to be true.

Counterpunch is apparently continuing to investigate the mystery of “Alice Donovan”.  Perhaps more will become known about her in due course.  If so then we too shall update our readers about this strange story, though in the scale of things this has to be treated as a small affair.

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