Case 1:18-cr-00032-DLF Document 1 Filed 02/16/18 Page 1 of 37
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
[The following is a six page summary of highlights of the 37 page Mueller Indictment of thirteen Russian nations and the organizations they worked for to interfere with our public elections. It was prepared by me, Brian T. Lynch, MSW, to condense the facts related to Russia's criminal interference in our elections. The full document is here: https://www.justice.gov/file/1035477/download ]
Defendant INTERNET RESEARCH AGENCY LLC (“ORGANIZATION”) is a Russian organization engaged in operations to interfere with elections and political processes.
3. Beginning as early as 2014, Defendant ORGANIZATION began operations to interfere with the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
4. Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and creating false U.S. personas, operated social media pages and groups designed to attract U.S. audiences... Defendants also used the stolen identities of real U.S. persons to post on ORGANIZATION-controlled social media accounts.
6. Defendant ORGANIZATION had a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Defendants posted derogatory information about a number of candidates, and by early to mid-2016, Defendants’ operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump (“Trump Campaign”) and disparaging Hillary Clinton... Defendants also staged political rallies inside the United States, and while posing as U.S. grassroots entities and U.S. persons, and without revealing their Russian identities and ORGANIZATION affiliation, solicited and compensated real U.S. persons to promote or disparage candidates. Some Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.
The ORGANIZATION employed hundreds of individuals for its online operations, ranging from creators of fictitious personas to technical and administrative support.
The ORGANIZATION’s annual budget totaled the equivalent of millions of U.S. dollars.
The ORGANIZATION was headed by a management group and organized into departments, including: a graphics department; a data analysis department; a search-engine optimization (“SEO”) department; an information-technology (“IT”) department to maintain the digital infrastructure used in the ORGANIZATION’s operations; and a finance department to budget and allocate funding.
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. (emphasis mine)
By in or around April 2014, the ORGANIZATION formed a department that went by various names but was at times referred to as the “translator project.” This project focused on the U.S. population and conducted operations on social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
By approximately July 2016, more than eighty ORGANIZATION employees were assigned to the translator project.
By in or around May 2014, the ORGANIZATION’s strategy included interfering with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, with the stated goal of “spread[ing] distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.”
Defendants CONCORD MANAGEMENT AND CONSULTING LLC (Конкорд Менеджмент и Консалтинг) and CONCORD CATERING are related Russian entities with various Russian government contracts. CONCORD was the ORGANIZATION’s primary source of funding for its interference operations. CONCORD controlled funding, recommended personnel, and oversaw ORGANIZATION activities through reporting and interaction with ORGANIZATION management.
CONCORD funded the ORGANIZATION as part of a larger CONCORD-funded interference operation that it referred to as “Project Lakhta.” Project Lakhta had multiple components, some involving domestic audiences within the Russian Federation and others targeting foreign audiences in various countries, including the United States.
By in or around September 2016, the ORGANIZATION’s monthly budget for Project Lakhta submitted to CONCORD exceeded 73 million Russian rubles (over 1,250,000 U.S. dollars), including approximately one million rubles in bonus payments.
Starting at least in or around 2014, Defendants and their co-conspirators began to track and study groups on U.S. social media sites dedicated to U.S. politics and social issues. In order to gauge the performance of various groups on social media sites, the ORGANIZATION tracked certain metrics like the group’s size, the frequency of content placed by the group, and the level of audience engagement with that content, such as the average number of comments or responses to a post.
For example, starting in or around June 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, posing online as U.S. persons, communicated with a real U.S. person affiliated with a Texas-based grassroots organization. During the exchange, Defendants and their co-conspirators learned from the real U.S. person that they should focus their activities on “purple states like Colorado, Virginia & Florida.” After that exchange, Defendants and their co-conspirators commonly referred to targeting “purple states” in directing their efforts.
32. Defendants and their co-conspirators, through fraud and deceit, created hundreds of social media accounts and used them to develop certain fictitious U.S. personas into “leader[s] of public opinion” in the United States.
33. ORGANIZATION employees, referred to as “specialists,” were tasked to create social media accounts that appeared to be operated by U.S. persons... Specialists were instructed to write about topics germane to the United States such as U.S. foreign policy and U.S. economic issues. Specialists were directed to create “political intensity through supporting radical groups, users dissatisfied with [the] social and economic situation and oppositional social movements.”
34. Defendants and their co-conspirators also created thematic group pages on social media sites, particularly on the social media platforms Facebook and Instagram. ORGANIZATIONcontrolled pages addressed a range of issues, including: immigration (with group names including “Secured Borders”); the Black Lives Matter movement (with group names including “Blacktivist”); religion (with group names including “United Muslims of America” and “Army of Jesus”); and certain geographic regions within the United States (with group names including “South United” and “Heart of Texas”). By 2016, the size of many ORGANIZATION-controlled groups had grown to hundreds of thousands of online followers.
35. Starting at least in or around 2015, Defendants and their co-conspirators began to purchase advertisements on online social media sites to promote ORGANIZATION-controlled social media groups, spending thousands of U.S. dollars every month.
36. Defendants and their co-conspirators also created and controlled numerous Twitter accounts designed to appear as if U.S. persons or groups controlled them. For example, the ORGANIZATION created and controlled the Twitter account “Tennessee GOP,” which used the handle @TEN_GOP. The @TEN_GOP account falsely claimed to be controlled by a U.S. state political party. Over time, the @TEN_GOP account attracted more than 100,000 online followers.
39. To hide their Russian identities and ORGANIZATION affiliation, Defendants and their coconspirators—particularly POLOZOV and the ORGANIZATION’s IT department—purchased space on computer servers located inside the United States in order to set up virtual private networks (“VPNs”).
40. Defendants and their co-conspirators also registered and controlled hundreds of web-based email accounts hosted by U.S. email providers under false names so as to appear to be U.S. persons and groups.
41. In or around 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators also used, possessed, and transferred, without lawful authority, the social security numbers and dates of birth of real U.S. persons without those persons’ knowledge or consent. Using these means of identification, Defendants and their co-conspirators opened accounts at PayPal, a digital payment service provider; created false means of identification, including fake driver’s licenses; and posted on ORGANIZATION-controlled social media accounts using the identities of these U.S. victims.
42. By approximately May 2014, Defendants and their co-conspirators discussed efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Defendants and their co-conspirators began to monitor U.S. social media accounts and other sources of information about the 2016 U.S. presidential election. [Humm, who were these co-conspirators?]
43. By 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used their fictitious online personas to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. They 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.
44. Certain ORGANIZATION-produced materials about the 2016 U.S. presidential election used election-related hashtags, including: “#Trump2016,” “#TrumpTrain,” “#MAGA,” “#IWontProtectHillary,” and “#Hillary4Prison.” Defendants and their co-conspirators also established additional online social media accounts dedicated to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, including the Twitter account “March for Trump” and Facebook accounts “Clinton FRAUDation” and “Trumpsters United.”
46. In or around the latter half of 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, through their ORGANIZATION-controlled personas, began to encourage U.S. minority groups not to vote in the 2016 U.S. presidential election or to vote for a third-party U.S. presidential candidate.
47. Starting in or around the summer of 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators also began to promote allegations of voter fraud by the Democratic Party through their fictitious U.S. personas and groups on social media. Defendants and their co-conspirators purchased advertisements on Facebook to further promote the allegations...
On or about August 11, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators posted that allegations of voter fraud were being investigated in North Carolina on the ORGANIZATION-controlled Twitter account @TEN_GOP. ..
On or about November 2, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the same account to post allegations of “#VoterFraud by counting tens of thousands of ineligible mail in Hillary votes being reported in Broward County, Florida.”
48. From at least April 2016 through November 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, while concealing their Russian identities and ORGANIZATION affiliation through false personas, began to produce, purchase, and post advertisements on U.S. social media and other online sites expressly advocating for the election of then-candidate Trump or expressly opposing Clinton.
51. Starting in approximately June 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators organized and coordinated political rallies in the United States.
53. In or around late June 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the Facebook group “United Muslims of America” to promote a rally called “Support Hillary. Save American Muslims” held on July 9, 2016 in the District of Columbia.
54. In or around June and July 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the Facebook group “Being Patriotic,” the Twitter account @March_for_Trump, and other ORGANIZATION accounts to organize two political rallies in New York. The first rally was called “March for Trump” and held on June 25, 2016. The second rally was called “Down with Hillary” and held on July 23, 2016.
55. In or around late July 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the Facebook group “Being Patriotic,” the Twitter account @March_for_Trump, and other false U.S. personas to organize a series of coordinated rallies in Florida. The rallies were collectively referred to as “Florida Goes Trump” and held on August 20, 2016.
57. After the election of Donald Trump in or around November 2016, Defendants and their coconspirators used false U.S. personas to organize and coordinate U.S. political rallies in support of then president-elect Trump, while simultaneously using other false U.S. personas to organize and coordinate U.S. political rallies protesting the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
58. In order to avoid detection and impede investigation by U.S. authorities of Defendants’ operations, Defendants and their co-conspirators deleted and destroyed data, including emails, social media accounts, and other evidence of their activities.
76. On or about August 18, 2016, the real “Florida for Trump” Facebook account responded to the false U.S. persona “Matt Skiber” account with instructions to contact a member of the Trump Campaign (“Campaign Official 1”) involved in the campaign’s Florida operations and provided 27 Case 1:18-cr-00032-DLF Document 1 Filed 02/16/18 Page 28 of 37 Campaign Official 1’s email address at the campaign domain donaldtrump.com. On approximately the same day, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the email address of a false U.S. persona, firstname.lastname@example.org, to send an email to Campaign Official 1 at that donaldtrump.com email account, which read in part:
Hello [Campaign Official 1], [w]e are organizing a state-wide event in Florida on August, 20 to support Mr. Trump. Let us introduce ourselves first. “Being Patriotic” is a grassroots conservative online movement trying to unite people offline. . . . [W]e gained a huge lot of followers and decided to somehow help Mr. Trump get elected. You know, simple yelling on the Internet is not enough. There should be real action. We organized rallies in New York before. Now we’re focusing on purple states such as Florida. The email also identified thirteen “confirmed locations” in Florida for the rallies and requested the campaign provide “assistance in each location.”
85. On or about September 22, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators created and purchased Facebook advertisements for a series of rallies they organized in Pennsylvania called “Miners for Trump” and scheduled for October 2, 2016. All in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371.
88. The conspiracy had as its object the opening of accounts under false names at U.S. financial institutions and a digital payments company in order to receive and send money into and out of the United States to support the ORGANIZATION’s operations in the United States and for selfenrichment.
89. Beginning in at least 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used, without lawful authority, the social security numbers, home addresses, and birth dates of real U.S. persons without their knowledge or consent. Using these means of stolen identification, Defendants and their coconspirators opened accounts at a federally insured U.S. financial institution (“Bank 1”), including the following accounts: [snip]
92. On or about the dates identified below, Defendants and their co-conspirators obtained and used the following fraudulent bank account numbers for the purpose of evading PayPal’s security measures: [snip]
93. Additionally, and in order to maintain their accounts at PayPal and elsewhere, including online cryptocurrency exchanges, Defendants and their co-conspirators purchased and obtained false identification documents, including fake U.S. driver’s licenses. Some false identification documents obtained by Defendants and their co-conspirators used the stolen identities of real U.S. persons, including U.S. persons T.W. and J.W.
95. Defendants and their co-conspirators also used the accounts to receive money from real U.S. persons in exchange for posting promotions and advertisements on the ORGANIZATION controlled social media pages. Defendants and their co-conspirators typically charged certain U.S. merchants and U.S. social media sites between 25 and 50 U.S. dollars per post for promotional content on their popular false U.S. persona accounts, including Being Patriotic, Defend the 2nd, and Blacktivist. All in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1349.