Robert Mueller looks on during a news conference in the rose garden of the White House on June 21, 2013, in Washington D.C. Photo by Oliver Doulery
A Grand Jury recently handed down an indictment of 13 Russian Nationals and three Russian companies for meddling in the 2016 Presidential Election Cycle. The 37-page indictment details the ways in which the Internet Research Agency, and two other companies, spent millions of dollars and employed hundreds in an attempt to conduct what it called “information warfare against the United States of America.”
President Donald Trump, claiming to be vindicated by these indictments responded in a Tweet saying, “The Trump Campaign did nothing wrong–no collusion!”
Starting in 2014 the Internet Research Agency began stealing the identities of Americans as well as creating fraudulent identities for their workers, allowing them to begin a widespread disinformation campaign within the US political system.
“Spreading distrust towards candidates and the political system in general,” was the main goal of the Internet Research Agency, as stated in the indictment
The efforts were funded and partially overseen by Yevgeniy Progozhin, a Russian oligarch who supposedly funded the Internet Research Agency. Progozhin also has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and is often being referred to as “Putin’s Chef.”
Progozhin controlled the agency’s parent company Concord Management and Consulting LLC who reported a monthly budget for what they called “Project Lakhta,” of the equivalent of 1.25 million dollars.
Project Lakhta is believed to be the overarching Russian project to sow political discord both foreign and domestic. Their targets included various countries, including the US and the Russian Federation itself.
The indictment states that the Internet Research Agency initially targeted fault lines within American politics, aiming a large amount of resources at the Black Lives Matter Movement and promoting white nationalist groups.
The group told their personnel to create, “political intensity through supporting radical groups,” they would often attempt to schedule BLM rallies at the same time as those of white nationalist groups as was outlined in earlier Congressional hearings on the group’s activities.
The group’s attacks did not target an individual group, or issue, as they organized rallies for both then-candidate Trump and Hillary Clinton. In one instance, Project Lakhta allegedly paid an American to stand in a cage dressed as Clinton in a prison uniform.
Eventually, however the group focused their attacks on Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. An internal memo was released around February 2016 stating that they should, “use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump – we support them).”
Most of their personnel were used to maintain the internal infrastructure of the group. However, a department internally referred to as the “translator project” employed more than 80 people and was designed to carry out their subversion of both the Federal Election Commission and the U.S. Department of State.
Their main tactics were posing as American citizens and using their identities to buy political ads as well as post in and create groups on social media sites. They would often use Facebook to organize political rallies as well as to coordinate and pay outside individuals to attend these rallies held within the United States.
The group is also accused of requisitioning American based servers. These sites were purchased to set up virtual private networks, or VPNS, that were used to disguise the group’s actual location in Russia.
Beginning in 2014 the group conducted in depth research into the United State political climate as well as the impacts social media can have on elections, no fewer than two of the defendants named in the indictment traveled to the US on false pretenses to conduct fact finding missions, with a third having been denied the necessary visa.
During and after these fact-finding visits they would use false personas to contact grassroots organizers to determine how and where their money should be spent. In talking with grassroots organizers across the US the organization learned their money was best spent in targeting “purple states,” or swing states, such as Colorado, Virginia and Florida.
The efforts of the Internet Research Agency did not stop at the end of the election, with the group having organized a rally in New York after the election called, “Trump is NOT my President.”
Russian foreign actors are still, as the New York Times reported on Monday, attempting to impact the political conversation within the United States. Several Twitter accounts believed to be connected with Russia were tweeting on both sides of the gun reform debate after a mass shooting on Feb. 14 left 17 dead in Parkland, Florida.
These indictments are unlikely to lead to arrests; the Justice Department has made a history of indicting foreign nationals as a way to publicly disgrace them. Few of these individuals have ever faced trial within the United States, however their ability to travel internationally has been greatly affected.