On Friday, February 16, 2018, The DOJ Special Counsel’s Office released a 37-page indictment charging the Internet Research Agency, a Russian organization, as well as thirteen Russian nationals who carried out the organization’s mission in the U.S, with crimes related to meddling in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 presidential election.
The indictment alleges that the organization began its operations targeting the U.S. as early as 2014. Posing as U.S. activists, the defendants operated social media accounts that commented on polarizing U.S. political and social issues, and attempted to cultivate a U.S. audience. The defendants controlled pages on a range of divisive issues on both sides of the political spectrum, such as Black Lives Matter, border security, and religion. The indictment also alleges that some of the defendants traveled to the U.S. under false pretenses to collect intelligence.
After establishing social media accounts and personas, the defendants allegedly purchased advertisements related to the 2016 presidential election on U.S. social media sites. Most of the advertisements disparaged then-candidate Hillary Clinton or praised Donald Trump. One advertisement read: “Hillary is a Satan, and her crimes and lies had proved just how evil she is.” Another stated: “Among all the candidates Donald Trump is the one and only who can defend the police from terrorists.”
The indictment explicitly states that the Internet Research Agency’s main goal was to “sow discord in the U.S. political system,” in part by bolstering Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign and disrupting Hillary Clinton’s. Furthermore, some of the defendants, posing as U.S. persons, allegedly “communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.” In one particularly harrowing example, some of the defendants, by posing as U.S. persons, purportedly communicated with U.S. grassroots activists based in Texas, and learned from the U.S. activists that they should focus their targeting efforts on “purple states like Colorado, Virginia & Florida.”
Of the 13 defendants, all are charged with conspiracy to defraud the U.S., three are charged with conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud, and five are charged with aggravated identity theft.
You can access the full indictment here.