An Oak Harbor woman named Sarah Bils gained international fame literally overnight after she was linked with pro-Russia social media accounts involved in the distribution of leaked top-secret documents.
The headlines range from the compelling to the bizarre.
The Business Insider, for example, posted a story Monday with the headline, “One of the most prolific pro-Russia propaganda channels is run by a U.S. Navy veteran living in Washington.” The Daily Mail in London’s story had the headline “U.S. Navy vet-turned tropical fish seller-turned pro-Moscow propagandist faces DOJ probe over posting leaked Pentagon documents.”
Bils, a former noncommissioned officer at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, purported to be a Russian blogger named Donbass Devushka and is the face of a network of pro-Moscow social media sites, videos and podcasts, The Wall Street Journal first reported on Sunday. Top secret documents — which contained classified information about the war in Ukraine — were posted online by Airman 1st Class Jack Teixeira on Discord but languished for months, the newspaper reported, until they were posted to Donbass Devushka’s accounts and quickly caught the notice of Russia supporters.
The fact that an important pro-Russia social media influencer turned out to be an American living in a small American city caught the attention of both mainstream media and bloggers, who have dissected her life and even dug up the fact that she used to sell tropical fish.
“In late 2021, a nascent social media influencer based in Oak Harbor, Washington, embarked on a clandestine career spreading Russian propaganda,” Malcontent News reported. “Starting on Twitter under the moniker Donbass Devushka, they would eventually expand to Telegram, a podcast, and a YouTube channel. Donbass Devushka gained a much larger following after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.”
While 37-year-old Bils claimed to be Russian — and The Wall Street Journal reported she speaks with a slight accent — various media reported that she has lived in America her entire life. If true, it’s unclear where her allegiance to the Kremlin comes from.
It’s also unclear what, if any, crimes Bils could be accused of committing. While she had a security clearance in the Navy, she is not accused of stealing any classified materials. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is continuing to work jointly on an investigation of her activities with the Department of Justice, according to an NCIS spokesperson.
The Wall Street Journal interviewed Bils at her Oak Harbor home Saturday. She said another administrator posted the classified documents and that she deleted them after realizing what they were.
The Whidbey News-Times was unable to contact Bils.
Bils has had a tough couple of years that included separation from the Navy, a difficult divorce with allegations of substance abuse and mental health problems, and a serious car accident, according to court documents, the State Patrol and The Wall Street Journal.
An online photo from Fleet and Family Reserve shows that Bils was promoted to chief aviation electronics technician in late 2020. She described herself as having an E-6 rank and “being frocked for E-7” in 2021 court papers.
Bils was honorably discharged in November of last year with the lower rank of E-5. She told The Wall Street Journal that she left the military for medical reasons. She was still in the Navy when she established and was supervising the social media accounts that “glorified the Russian military and the paramilitary Wagner Group,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
The Navy sent Bils to treatment in Utah in 2021 because she suffered from depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and a substance abuse disorder, according to documents she wrote in 2021 for her divorce proceedings.
In September 2021, Bils was driving an Audi on Highway 20 near Libbey Road and struck another vehicle, according to the Washington State Patrol. She and the other driver were injured and both vehicles were totaled. The State Patrol determined that she was driving too fast and issued her an infraction.