The Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of Russian nationals meddling in the 2016 election process reveals new details of the operation indicating the covert “information warfare” operations was targeted at preventing the election of Hillary Clinton, reports The Washington Free Beacon.
The 13 Russians and a front company that are charged in the federal grand jury indictment were part of a sophisticated covert influence campaign aimed at sowing political discord in the United States.
“The Russians, along with two funding entities and the internet troll group called Internet Research Agency, were charged with eight criminal counts under four federal laws, including conspiracy, in seeking to disrupt the U.S. political system, including the 2016 presidential election,” reports The Washington Free Beacon.
This indictment, however, does not provide new intelligence linking the Moscow government to an organization behind the coordinated scheme called Operation Lakhta, which used American social media and other outlets for political influence activities.
In the indictment, it says intelligence and law enforcement agencies first learned of the election meddling plans in the summer of 2014, which is two years earlier than the claims of a recent U.S. intelligence assessment. It contrasts the January 2017 intelligence assessment produced by the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency.
That assessment clearly states that the influence operation was ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, which is not what the recent indictment is claiming.
Regarding Russian backing of Trump, the assessment said the Russians wanted to help Trump to win by discrediting Clinton, a judgment the CIA and FBI voiced high confidence in, but the NSA gauged with only moderate confidence.
This indictment does not address the Russian cyber attacks or publishing of stolen emails during the campaign, but the intelligence assessment said Moscow’s network penetrations against the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman, and other political figures were part of a cyber-enabled influence plan.
American authorities first learned about the influence operation around June 2014, according to the indictment, following news reports that a Russian hacking group had obtained internal documents from the Internet Research Agency.
The indictment does not reveal how the prosecutors obtained details of the operation, but it quotes from internal emails and other communications used by the Russians, suggesting the details were obtained from intelligence gathered by human spies or electronic intercepts during its years of activities, or after its operations were publicly exposed in September.
“The organization sought, in part, to conduct what it called ‘information warfare against the United States of America’ through fictitious U.S. personas on social media platforms and other internet-based media,” the 37-page indictment states.
Mueller’s indictment is the first legal action he’s taken against Russians related to efforts to influence the outcome of the presidential election.
This revelation also seems to have undermined the conspiracy theories liberals and Democrats alike have claimed about the Trump campaign colluding with the Russian government to defeat Clinton.
“To the contrary, details in the indictment suggest Moscow’s calculus behind the operation appeared aimed at thwarting Clinton’s election more than backing the long-shot candidacy of Republican nominee Donald Trump,” reports The Washington Free Beacon.
Not only did the Russians use Trump as a tactic but they also worked covertly to build support for Clinton’s top rivals, Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein, in hopes of another avenue of tearing down Clinton’s support.
The Russians wanted to make sure Clinton never won the election, but it was also a case of overall information warfare against the U.S. political system.
The Russians “engaged in operations primarily intended to communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton, to denigrate other candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and to support Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump,” the indictment said.
Putin’s hatred towards Hillary Clinton can be seen as far back as 2012, when he believed that as secretary of state she supported destabilizing “color” revolutions by pro-democracy activists in Russia.
“‘Russian disinformation targeting Clinton had been underway for years before the 2016 campaign. An internal report by the CIA-based Open Source Center from May 2012 revealed that Moscow produced a 25-minute ‘pseudo-documentary’ attacking Clinton called “‘Basic Instinct Hillary,’ reports The Beacon.”
“The show links the secretary’s conduct of U.S. foreign policy to her alleged marital problems, and attempts to dehumanize and insult her for her alleged uncompromising desire to incite revolutions across the world, including Russia,” the report says.
The 2017 intelligence assessment concluded the influence operation was ordered by Putin in 2016, not 2014 as in the indictment, to “undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.”
The Russians also were in contact with “unwitting” members, volunteers, and supporters of the Trump campaign and grassroots supporters.
The Russian organization employed more than 80 people who used YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter with the goal of “spreading distrust toward the candidates and the political system in general.”
A White House spokesman declined to say if the U.S. government will take retaliatory steps to punish Russia for the election interference, or whether the CIA would conduct covert action to undermine the upcoming presidential elections in Russia next month.
Moscow has denied the charges in the indictment. Dmitri Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, said Monday the government has “yet to see any substantive evidence that someone interfered in [U.S.] internal affairs.”
The fact that Russian nationals tried to upend U.S. politics and influence our political system is a major concern to our national security and something everyone should be concerned about. Whether the Russian government was involved is yet to be determined, but either case, the threat to cybersecurity in the U.S. is heightened and action needs to be taken so this kind of attack never happens again.