The Issues That Russian Operatives Used to Divide Americans, in Their Own Words

The Issues That Russian Operatives Used to Divide Americans, in Their Own Words
How Russian trolls manipulated American politics
Justice Departments criminal complaint says Elena Khusyaynova worked for the same Russian social media troll farm that was indicted in February by special counsel Robert Mueller; chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge reports from Capitol Hill.

A Russian national has been charged with interfering in the U.S. political system, including next month’s midterm elections, the Department of Justice revealed Friday.

Uncle Sam has receipts: In noting that Khusyaynova kept "detailed financial documents that tracked itemized Project Lakhta expenses" and "kept track of requests to Concord for funds to cover those expenses," prosecutors tipped their hand that theyre sitting on a mountain of evidence about how money, the lifeblood of any organization, moved around the IRA and the many activities it subsidized. Unless youre willing to believe that IRA employees did work for free at times, the feds probably have a receipt for whatever work theyve done under the umbrella of Project Lakhta. Lakhta, prosecutors wrote, was the IRAs line item for activities to "spread distrust towards candidates for political office and political system in general."

Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, 44, was the chief accountant of a Russian operation called "Project Lakhta," which was "funded by Russian oligarch Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin and two companies he controls, Concord Management and Consulting LLC, and Concord Catering," a news release said.

Photo Illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily BeastFederal prosecutors made it clear Friday that they have a pile of Russian troll farm receipts. Like Elliot Ness going after Al Capones accountant, prosecutors in a new complaint named the Internet Research Agencys top accountant, Elena Khusyaynova for her role as the bookkeeper for Russias social media meddlers in a case that appears to tie in with Russia Special Counsel Robert Muellers ongoing investigation. While Khusyaynova is unlikely to ever see the inside of a U.S. courtroom, the complaint hints that the feds have a lot more granular information about how the Internet Research Agency works than theyve previously far let on. So what does the money trail show?

"Project Lakhta includes multiple components, some involving domestic audiences within the Russian Federation and others targeting foreign audiences in the United States, members of the European Union, and Ukraine, among others," according to the DOJ.

“Brand Ryan as a complete and absolute nobody incapable of any decisiveness,” the Russian guidance said, referring to the U.S. speaker of the House, a Republican and usual ally of President Trump. “State that the only way to get rid of Ryan from Congress, provided he wins in the 2018 primaries, is to vote in favor of Randy Brice, an American veteran and an iron worker and a Democrat.”

As part of her role in the operation, Khusyaynova allegedly oversaw its finances, "including foreign influence activities directed at the United States," the DOJ said.

“That sort of activity has persisted,” Mr. Krebs said. “We continue to see Russians, and increasingly Iranian and other Chinese actors, continue to use social media to influence the American public, to sow discord and increase divisiveness. That’s something that is probably just a tool of the trade for them right now.”

Among the records she allegedly managed were "detailed expenses for activities in the United States, such as expenditures for activists, advertisements on social media platforms, registration of domain names, the purchase of proxy servers, and 'promoting news postings on social networks,'" the news release said.

In their joint statement on Friday the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Justice Department, FBI and Department of Homeland Security also said they did not have any evidence that anyone went far enough to prevent voting or change vote counts. Some state and local governments, which run polling sites, have reported attempts to access their networks, but officials were able to “prevent access or quickly mitigate these attempts,” the statement said.

“Today’s charges allege that Russian national Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova conspired with others who were part of a Russian influence campaign to interfere with U.S. democracy,” the news release said. “Our nation is built upon a hard-fought and unwavering commitment to democracy. Americans disagree in good faith on all manner of issues, and we will protect their right to do so. Unlawful foreign interference with these debates debases their democratic integrity, and we will make every effort to disrupt it and hold those involved accountable.”

The case against Khusyaynova was unsealed on the same day that U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies issued a warning about attempts by Russia, China, Iran and other foreign entities to interfere with Nov. 6 congressional elections, in which Trumps Republicans are trying to maintain majority power in Congress, and national elections in 2020.

Video: Charges Handed Down In Russian Meddling In 2018 Midterms

The FBI remains dedicated in its efforts to thwart "unlawful influence operations" with fellow law enforcement agencies, FBI Director Christopher Wray said in the news release, adding that the bureau takes "all threats to our democracy very seriously."

The complaint states that Khusyaynova kept detailed financial documents that outlined payments for activities meant to undermine US elections. An itemized budget covering the year leading up to January 2017, for instance, listed expenses for Instagram, Facebook, and VKontakte ads. It also included budget lines for bloggers, developing accounts on Twitter, and funding online videos. Between January and June of 2018, she submitted expenditures of roughly $60,000 for Facebook ads, $6,000 for Instagram ads, and $18,000 for bloggers and Twitter accounts. In its press release, the Justice Department thanked Facebook and Twitter for exceptional cooperation during the investigation.

The Most Shocking Moments of the New Russia Complaint

“This case serves as a stark reminder to all Americans: Our foreign adversaries continue their efforts to interfere in our democracy by creating social and political division, spreading distrust in our political system, and advocating for the support or defeat of particular political candidates,” Wray said.

According to the criminal complaint, Khusyaynova managed the budget of Project Lakhta, funded by the companies Concord Management and Consulting LLC and Concord Catering — both of which were mentioned in earlier indictments. The total operating budget between January 2016 and June 2018 was allegedly $35 million, which covered activities directed at the US, Russia, the European Union, and Ukraine. Among other things, Khusyaynova allegedly coordinated payment for expenditures like activists, advertisements on social media platforms, registration of domain names, the purchase of proxy servers, and promoting news postings on social networks.

Neither Khusyaynova nor the alleged conspiracy operation is accused of producing "any effect" on election results, the news release said. Khusyaynova is accused of taking part in the alleged conspiracy, which attempted to carry out "what it called internally 'information warfare against the United States,'" the DOJ said.

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"This effort was not only designed to spread distrust towards candidates for U.S. political office and the U.S. political system in general, but also to defraud the United States by impeding the lawful functions of government agencies in administering relevant federal requirements," the news release said.

Those allegedly involved in the operation attempted to present themselves as Americans, the DOJ said. And, by using the "thousands of social media and email accounts" that were generated, they tried "to create and amplify divisive social and political content targeting U.S. audiences."

Other posts from Edison spoke of the medias warped judgment on gun violence and policing. Another page, Bertha Malone, yielded 400 Facebook posts, the complaint alleges, containing inflammatory political and social content focused primarily on immigration and Islam. Among them was a meme saying if only media had been as bothered by Obamas ties to the Muslim Brotherhood as they are by Trumps fake ties to Russia – posted, of course, by a Kremlin troll. Instead this stupid witch hunt on Trump [sic], media should investigate this traitor and his plane [sic] to Islamize our country, it continued.

Russian woman CHARGED with conspiring to interfere in US elections

"The conspirators allegedly took extraordinary steps to make it appear that they were ordinary American political activists. This included the use of virtual private networks and other means to disguise their activities and to obfuscate their Russian origin," the news release said. "These accounts also were used to advocate for the election or electoral defeat of particular candidates in the 2016 and 2018 U.S. elections. Some social media accounts posted tens of thousands of messages, and had tens of thousands of followers."

An array of issues, such as immigration, gun control and the NFL national anthem debate, were allegedly brought up in online discussions by the conspirators, who were told "to create 'political intensity through supporting radical groups' and to 'aggravate the conflict between minorities and the rest of the population,'" the news release said.

During those same six months, Russian trolls also asked for $18,000 to create more Twitter accounts. The trolls focused on issues like immigration, gun control, racial divisions, LGBT rights and net neutrality, the documents said. The Russian trolls also fanned arguments after national news events, such as the mass shooting in Las Vegas and the “Unite the Right” rally in Virginia. 

Mueller Hits Snag In Russian Internet Troll Case

"The actors also developed playbooks and strategic messaging documents that offered guidance on how to target particular social groups, including the timing of messages, the types of news outlets to use, and how to frame divisive messages," the DOJ said.

Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova served as the chief accountant for Project Lakhta, an umbrella term for multiple Russian propaganda efforts, according to court documents released Friday. Project Lakhta includes the Internet Research Agency, a trolling operation designed to influence the 2016 presidential election and spread political chaos. 

Companies such as Facebook and Twitter provided "exceptional cooperation" as officials worked on their investigation, the DOJ said.

Washington (CNN)A new complaint unsealed Friday revealed extraordinary new details of how Russian trolls manipulate US politics and try to fool unsuspecting Americans on social media.


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