On Friday, the US attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia unsealed a criminal complaint accusing a Russian national named Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova of conspiring to interfere in the US political system. The document maintains that as a financial officer, Khusyaynova was part of the effort mounted by the Internet Research Agency, a troll farm in St. Petersburg funded by a Russian oligarch close to Vladimir Putin, to use Facebook and Twitter accounts to influence politics in the United States. The IRA’s role in Putin’s attack on the 2016 election—a scheme that was part of what’s known as “Project Lakhta”—has already been revealed. But the complaint highlights a less-known fact: that the Russian attack “continues to this day” and is partially aimed at the 2018 midterm campaign. That is, the United States, as it heads toward a crucial election, remains under assault by the Kremlin.
President Donald Trump, whose election, according to a 2017 US intelligence community assessment, was one goal of the Russian plot, has refused to seriously address Russia’s covert exploitation of US social media to undermine American politics. For instance, on September 27, 2017, after Facebook revealed that Russian government operatives had secretly placed political ads on the site during the 2016 campaign, Trump dismissed the matter and tweeted that the “hoax continues, now it’s ads on Facebook.” Yet his own Justice Department now says Russia “to this day” is conducting what Project Lakhta has internally called “information warfare against the United States of America.”
The DOJ contends that the “strategic goal” of the Russian operation is to “sow division and discord in the US political system, including by creating social and political polarization, undermining faith in democratic institutions, and influencing US elections, including the upcoming 2018 midterm elections.” According to the criminal complaint, the monthly budget of Project Lakhta, which does not focus exclusively on the United States, is generally between $1 million and $2 million. In a press release, the DOJ states that “The conspirators’ alleged activities did not exclusively adopt one ideological view.” But most of the examples cited in the criminal complaint—which is full of details indicating the FBI obtained copies of the internal records of several Russian companies involved with the IRA—are actions that bolster Trump and conservatives.
As the complaint puts it, the Russian operation aimed to “inflame passions on a wide variety of topics, including immigration, gun control and the Second Amendment, the Confederate flag, race relations, LGBT issues, the Women’s March, and the NFL national anthem debate,” and that it sought to exploit specific events in the United States, including the Las Vegas mass shooting and the “Unite the Right” rally organized by white supremacists in Charlottesville.
^^^ first published by Mother Jones – October 20, 2018 ^^^