On September 10, 2020, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District Virginia brought a criminal complaint against a Russian national for his alleged role in a conspiracy to use the stolen identities of real U.S. persons to open fraudulent accounts at banking and cryptocurrency exchanges. Also on September 10, 2020, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions against Andriy Derkach. He is a member of the Ukrainian Parliament. Treasury says he has been “an active Russian agent for over a decade.” Treasury accuses him of disseminating “edited audiotapes” and “substantiated allegations against U.S. and international political figures.” The Treasury Department also imposed sanctions against three employees of the Internet Research Agency (IRA). IRA is a troll farm in Russia that disseminates disinformation on social media as part of the Russian election interference campaign in 2016.
Complaint against Russian Project Lakhta Member
The 111-page criminal complaint and affidavit allege Artem Mikhaylovich Lifshits, 27, of St. Petersburg, Russia, operates as a manager in “Project Lakhta.” The latter is based in Russia and engages in political and electoral interference activities. Since at least May 2014, Project Lakhta has tried to hide its conduct by acting through a number of entities, including IRA. Lifshits served as manager since approximately 2017 for the Translator Department, which is allegedly responsible for much of the Project’s ongoing influence operations.
Lifshits allegedly conspired with Project Lakhta members to secure means of identification of real U.S. persons. The conspirators then used these identities to open fraudulent accounts at banking and cryptocurrency exchanges in the victims’ names. Lifshits and the conspirators allegedly employed these fraudulently opened accounts to promote Project Lakhta’s influence operations and personal enrichment.
Treasury designated Andrii Derkach (Derkach) pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13848 for his efforts to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election. According to Treasury, “Derkach has directly or indirectly engaged in, sponsored, concealed, or otherwise been complicit in foreign interference in an attempt to undermine the upcoming 2020 U.S. presidential election.”
From at least late 2019 through mid-2020, Derkach conducted a covert influence campaign focused on creating false and unsubstantiated narratives concerning U.S. officials in the upcoming 2020 Presidential Election, spurring corruption investigations in both Ukraine and the U.S. designed to influence the U.S. Presidential election day. The Western media covered Derkach’s unsubstantiated narratives through coverage of press conferences and other news events, including interviews and statements.
Between May and July 2020, Derkach disseminated edited audio tapes and other unsupported information with the intent to discredit U.S. officials. He made unsubstantiated allegations against U.S. and international political figures. Derkach almost certainly targeted the U.S. voters, prominent U.S. persons, and members of the U.S. government, based on his reliance on U.S. platforms, English-language documents and videos, and pro-Russian lobbyists in the United States used to propagate his claims.
The Treasury sanction does not mention that Rudolph W. Giulani, President Trump’s personal attorney, met twice with Derkach since late last year and publicized Derkach’s claims on his podcast and elsewhere. Since late last year, Derkach has operated a campaign against Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden and former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko from Kyiv. The campaign has included an English-language website and YouTube channel, and a conspiratorial flowchart showing Biden and financier George Soros at the center. fn1
Treasury also designated three IRA actors pursuant to E.O. 13694, as amended by E.O. 13757, and E.O. 13848 for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the IRA, an entity designated pursuant to E.O. 13694, as amended, and E.O. 13848. Russian nationals Artem Lifshits, Anton Andreyev, and Darya Aslanova, as employees of the IRA, supported the IRA’s cryptocurrency accounts.
Department of Homeland Security Whistleblower Complaint about Intelligence re Russian Election Interference
On September 9, 2020, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, announced that, as part of its ongoing investigation into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A), the Committee received a whistleblower reprisal complaint alleging serious wrongdoing by officials at the Department and reprisal against former I&A Acting Under Secretary Brian Murphy for making protected disclosures. Mr. Murphy filed the whistleblower reprisal complaint on September 8, 2020 with the DHS Office of Inspector General.
Rep. Schiff released a statement that “Murphy’s allegations are serious — from senior officials suppressing intelligence reports on Russia’s election interference and making false statements to Congress about terrorism threats at our southern border, to modifying intelligence assessments to match the President’s rhetoric on Antifa and minimizing the threat posed by white supremacists. We have requested Mr. Murphy’s testimony before the Committee, pursuant to subpoena if necessary, alongside other already scheduled interviews with other DHS officials.”
The criminal complaint, sanctions, and whistleblower complaint show that Russian interference in U.S. elections is continuing. The extent of the interference and the cooperation, if any, by members of the Republic National Committee and the Trump Administration are controverted. Depending on the results of the U.S. election, the U.S. sanctions against Russia are likely to deepen. The alleged interference is likely to generate additional sanctions by Europe and other countries. For European sanctions the case of Aleksei A. Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who is recovering from being poisoned, is important. He has spoken to a German prosecutor about the attempt on his life and says he plans to return to Russia as soon as he has recovered. The alleged poisoning of Navalny also potentially trigger sanctions under the the U.S. Global Magnitsky Act, which a number of countries have emulated. The current issue of the IELR will have more discussion on these matters in this blogpost.
FN 1 Paul Sonne, Josh Dawsey and Karoun Demirjian, Treasury penalizes Ukrainian it calls a ‘Russian agent’, Wash. Post, Sept. 11, 2020, at A10, col. 1.