this is "nightline." >> tonight, the kremlin connection. brian ross investigates russian-fueled propaganda. #syriahoax, trying to shift blame for the deadly gas attack. >> this is a new iteration of an old type of warfare. >> we're on the front lines of the new cyber cold war. inside british electronic spy headquarters where they first detected the election leaks. countering russia's attempts to weaponize fake news. plus panda-monium. a ground-breaking journey into the far east wilderness. >> the wildlife, topography is amazing. >> disney nature's "born in china" taking you inside the private lives of pandas, snow leopards, and a pack of other exotic animals.
and pecking at the record. how a plea for free chicken nuggets from wendy's from a 16-year-old boy could wind up breaking ellen degeneris' record for retweets. but first the "nightline 5." >> i'm joy bauer. i know probiotics can often help. digestive advantage, tougher than your stomach's harsh environment so it survives 100 times better than the leading probiotic. >> also in chocolate, probiotic bites. no wonder you can't sleep, your car is a mess. you need parts i've never heard of. it's going to cost you a fortune. >> when life keeps you up z quill helps you fall asleep. sleep is a beautiful thing. >> number one in just 60 seconds.
good evening. thanks for joining us. tonight, another onslaught of russian propaganda. this time flooding the internet with #syriahoax, an attempt to shift the blame on that chemical attack by the assad regime in syria. we take you to the front lines of the high-stakes cyber cold war where global intelligence agencies are hard at work trying to thwart the next salvo. here's abc's chief vest gave correspondent brian ross. >> reporter: they did it again. within hours of last week's u.s. missile strike against syria, a cyber operation with #syriahoax, pushed b the russians according to u.s. analysts, became the number one trending topic on twitter in the u.s. >> it was picked up by russian influencers online who pushed the story and the hash tag until it entered the alt-right community in the united states, at which point it really took off and started to trend very heavily. >> reporter: the fake news campaign picked up speed today with syrian officials calling
these horrific images part of the u.s. hoax. >> 100% fabrication. >> this is a new iteration of an old type of warfare. >> reporter: and the disinformation from the kremlin over syria comes just months after its successful effort to use similar tactics to meddle with the u.s. president, election. >> absolutely they're at it again and they will continue to go after who is opposed to their interests. >> reporter: and robby mook should know what he's talking about. he was the campaign manager for hillary clinton, the target of the russian hacking and fake news operation last year. >> they want us to be confused and they want us to turn against ourselves. so that they become stronger and we become weaker. >> reporter: all run, u.s. officials say, out of a secretive russian intelligence operation based in the city of st. petersburg. >> we know they have a large building in st. petersburg that is the home base for a team that is tasked with manipulating public opinion in other countries. >> professor phil howard of the
oxford university internet institute in great britain has been studying the russian fake news cyber operation for several years. >> we know that they have hundreds of employees who do this work. and perhaps thousands of other volunteers who do this kind of work for the country as patriots for russia. >> reporter: and professor howard says the russian operation in many ways similar to an american version imagined by the creators of the tv show "homeland." >> they're just a bunch of fake users with online lives that you manage, right? >> reporter: uses thousands of fake twitter and facebook accounts called bots. >> do any of these ring a bell? iraq bob. >> that's me. >> navy wife. >> that's me too. >> reporter: to flood social media with their fake news and dominate public perception. a technique the spies have borrowed from commercial marketers. >> a couple of years ago we started seeing them used by the russian government to promote content related to the kremlin's
view on international politics. now we've seen this sort of strategy of using computers to manipulate public opinion. we've seen that strategy move back to the u.s. >> reporter: and now new information is providing a much more extensive and clearer view of how the russians, under orders u.s. officials say from vladimir putin, use their internet skills and their spies in an effort to help elect donald trump as president. >> congratulations, mr. president. >> reporter: for example, it was a month before the election. october 7th, 3:26 p.m. when an official statement from the u.s. intelligence community said russia had hacked the democrats. then 37 minutes later, at 4:03 p.m., the first report came that an outtake from "access hollywood" showed trump's crude sexist remarks. >> when you're a star, they let you do it, you can do anything, grab them by the [ bleep ]. >> reporter: then it was just 29
minutes later, at 4:32 p.m., when wikileaks posted the first hacked e-mails of clinton campaign chairman john podesta. >> thousands of e-mails appearing to come from clinton campaign chair john podesta released -- >> reporter: hacked by the russians months earlier but held back until this pivotal moment. >> clearly someone in the kremlin saw that this very compromising tape had come out and they decided they needed to inject this information into the bloodstream. >> someone in the kremlin? >> you have to believe that. i don't know it as fact but it is my belief that the kremlin was pulling the strings on what wikileaks was able to do. >> reporter: wikileaks denies they were manipulated by the russians but congressional investigators say, looking back at the timeline of key events during last year's political campaign -- especially during the week of the republican convention in july -- proves the point. on monday, the republican platform committee made public a pro-russian plank that would cut back on u.s. help for ukraine if the russians attacked there.
on tuesday, the russian ambassador showed up in cleveland, meeting with the future attorney general, then senator jeff sessions. something sessions would later somehow fail to mention. wednesday and thursday, donald trump formally won the roll call vote then accepted the republican presidential nomination. >> i humbly and gratefully accept your nomination for the presidency of the united states. usa, usa, usa! >> reporter: and then on friday, the first e-mail stolen from the democratic party headquarters by the russians began to appear on wikileaks. >> it was a time that our party needed to unify. it was the time to come together. >> and? >> and the russians introduced information to tear people apart. and people were very angry. i think it fanned flames that pushed people to potentially vote for third-party candidates down the line, people who would have voted democratic. >> it hurt?
>> it absolutely hurt. yeah. it was very cleverly timed. >> reporter: whoever was responsible, it was all to the delight of donald trump. >> wikileaks, i love wikileaks. it's been amazing what's coming out a wikileaks. this wikileaks is like a treasure trove. >> reporter: the first indication the russians had hacked the democratic party came not from the u.s., but from great britain. from the people inside its electronic spy headquarters called gchq, government communications headquarters, in a small town outside london. abc news was the first american television network whose cameras were allowed inside. our tour guide, known to us only by his first name anthony, started by showing us a bit of spy history. the nazi german code machine, the enigma, which the british famously found a way to compromise. >> everybody always tries to have secrets. >> reporter: then on to the gchq crisis center where analysts spend 24 hours a damon forring cyber attacks from around the
world. officials told us this map shows hacking attacks coming from china against great britain in just one two-minute time period. >> some attacks will get through, so our job is to manage those cyber attacks so they do as little damage as possible. >> reporter: kiran martin is head of the newly created national cyber security operation which spends a lot of time tracking recognition government-sponsored hackers. >> i think we've seen a significant increase in russian aggression in cyber space the past two years. >> reporter: the russian active measures were seen across europe well before they hit the u.s. in berlin, russian operatives hacked the computers of the german parliament. in france two years ago, russian hackers hijacked 12 of the 18 channels run by the television network. >> everything went down at the very same second. >> reporter: putting up jihadist propaganda messages, apparently to hide they were really russians. >> the islamic state had nothing whatsoever to do with it.
>> reporter: then another hack in the wake of a finding bit dutch safety board that blamed russia for shooting down a malaysian passenger jet over ukraine. how good are the russians? >> it is a very capable cyber attack operation. >> reporter: and now adding to the intrigue are the revelations of key trump staff campaign aides -- paul manafort, general michael flynn, adviser carter page -- who all had suspect financial ties with russia. and page was actually suspected bit fbi as working as a russian spy inside the campaign. according to a report this week in the "washington post." this morning on "good morning america," page denied the allegation to george stephanopoulos. >> i do not talk about any ongoing investigations. >> reporter: for all of the russian efforts to cultivate trump and help him win the election, the developments this week suggest it may have backfired. >> we may be at an all-time low in terms of relationship with russia. >> reporter: and now the russian
operation out of that building in st. petersburg may be finding new american targets. >> now they're coming after donald trump. >> reporter: and looking to the future, u.s. officials say they fear the russians may actually now try to hack in and change actual vote totals in the next election. >> probably going to come back again with more skill, with greater desire to cause impact. the alarm has been clearly sounded where the assessment is, it will happen in 2020. >> reporter: for "nightline," brian ross, abc news, new york. >> our thanks to brian ross and his team for that report. up next, an extraordinary journey into the far east wilderness to meet exotic animals born in china. e may weigh on your mind. thinking about what to avoid, where to go, and how to work around your uc. that's how i thought it had to be.
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they're black and white but they're not all over. if you want to find a giant panda in the wild, you'll have to go deep into the wilderness of china. a new documentary helps illuminate the secret lives of the still-threatened species. tonight abc's david wright takes us up close into the unseen world of exotic animals. >> reporter: born in china. exotic. industrious. at times shrouded in mystery. disney nature's new movie from abc's parent company disney reveals a side of china we rarely get to see. an interest mat look at some of the most incredible creatures on earth. >> you chose three different animals. the panda, the golden monkey, and the snow leopard.
>> yeah. >> reporter: director lu chan says when he decided to make the movie the giant panda wasn't even on his list. >> we get used to panda. >> everybody's tired of the panda? the panda gets too much air time? >> reporter: lu is one of china's most-celebrated filmmakers but he's not known for nature movies. he wrote and directed the award-winning chinese historical drama "city of life and death" about the rape of nanking. >> this film's a bit of a departure for you, you're not known as a nature filmmaker. why did you want to make it? >> i always loved wild animals. but to make this movie for me is a kind of little -- a little like a surprise. >> reporter: making "born in china" would require a three-year time commitment. it took three months just to get the first shots of the elusive snow leopard. >> we stay there for 90 days. but got no single shot of snow
leopard. so we almost decide to withdraw from the area. but on the 91st day, we got the shot. the shot is amazing. >> reporter: the results are breathtaking. >> i think some of the footage of the snow leopard, one, it's never been filmed before like that, it's the most incredible footage of wildlife. it's amazing. >> reporter: dr. jane goodall, who spent decades living alongside chimpanzees in tanzania and transformed our understanding of humankind's closest cousins in the animal kingdom, is now a disney nature ambassador. talk to me about the importance of patience when it comes to observing animals. >> it's the most important thing in nature. fy hadn't been patient, i wouldn't have discovered anything. >> reporter: lu chuan brings the same patience to his work and a human touch. these aren't just animal stories, they're family stories. the giant panda story focuses on
a mother raising her cub. >> we need a storyline to put everything together. the relationship between mother and the kit are the central plot of this movie. >> i've been to sichuan to see the pandas. we went with a group of research hoarse dress up in panda suits. yeah. >> reporter: i told lu about an adventure we took for "nightline" traveling to remote sichaun province to the wulong panda research center. the scientists there have come up with an unusual way of studying pandas up close. >> sort of like a giant halloween costume. >> reporter: worried their monthly medical checkups might spook the pandas, they try and make themselves more friendly and familiar by actually dressing up in the panda suits. >> it's very difficult to see outside these panda suits. it must make the scientists' work a lot more difficult. >> reporter: oddly enough, lu knew exactly what i was talking
about. >> first we don't want to annoy or disturb the mother, mother pandas are really protective. >> you dressed up in these panda suits? >> not me, my dp. >> director of photography? >> yes. >> reporter: pandas are now off the endangered species list but they're still threatened. at zoo atlanta real life is imitating the "born in china" narrative, a panda mom worried about her twin cubs. >> having cubs is a really intense journey for a mom. having twins obviously doubles that. >> reporter: zoo atlanta is one of four zoos in the u.s. where giant pandas live. fans here have been able to see their share of panda cubs. but it's only a temporary home. when they grow up -- >> all of the cubs born here at zoo atlanta will return to china for giant panda breeding. it's really exciting to think about the fact that someday they may produce offspring that are reintroduced to the wild, are contributing to that wild population, contributing to the giant panda conservation message as a whole. >> reporter: lu hopes his movie
will also help to contribute to conservation efforts. >> for me, a panda is kind of a symbol of china. we want to share panda's lifestyle with the people outside china. because panda live a peaceful life, you know. never attack other animals. only eat bamboo. >> as a filmmaker, do you prefer to work now with animals? or humans? >> working with the wild animals, easier for me, you know. >> how so? >> you know -- i don't know if i should answer the question or not. because i will return to that in the feature film circle. >> yeah, yeah. this touched your spirit? >> my heart, touched my heart. >> reporter: china's prosperity, he says, is now leading to a greater recognition that the natural world is not just a resource to be used, but a treasure to be protected. i'm david wright for "nightline" in new york.
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here's the thing. he's not famous. he says he wasn't even trying to be famous. so how did a 16-year-old nugget-loving kid end up playing chicken with ellen degeneris? there's an unlikely new contender gunning for the most retweets ever. 16-year-old carter wilkerson is just 500,000 retweets away from tying ellen's famous oscar selfie. and the unlikely reason? chicken nuggets. the nevada teen tweeted at wendy's last week asking, how many retweets would it take to win a year's supply of nuggets for free? wendy's isn't that correctily replied, 18 million. carter responding, consider it done. going viral with #nugsforcarter
getting upwards of 2.5 million retweets. ellen, worried about losing the title, called out wilkerson. >> this kid is on my heels, carter, stop it right now. you mess with the bull, you get the horns. >> carter isn't fazed. the nugget enthusiast tweeting a selfie, next time i eat these, they better be free. and that is what we call chutzpah in the digital age. thanks for watching abc news. as always we're