An indictment handed down by a federal grand jury charges thirteen Russian nationals and three organizations — including the Internet Research Agency, a Russian state-backed agency known for conducting cyberoperations and spreading propaganda — with interfering in the American political process, including the 2016 presidential election.
The indictment, provided by the Department of Justice, states:
The conspiracy had as its object impairing, obstructing and defeating the lawful government functions of the United States by dishonest means in order to enable the Defendants to interfere with U.S. political and electoral processes, including the 2016 presidential election.
The indictment alleges that efforts to inject discord into the American political system and the 2016 election began in 2014. Using multiple identities, some stolen, hundreds of operatives worked to organize Americans around divisive social issues with the aim of spreading “distrust” in the political system.
The scheme was allegedly funded via Russian shell companies, the principals of which are also named in the indictment.
Using Facebook ads, operatives targeted and reached Americans in multiple states with messaging around potentially divisive issues like Black Lives Matter, gun control, religion and immigration. Some messaging aimed to fracture the Democratic Party, urging voters not to vote for Hillary Clinton and to cast a vote for candidate Jill Stein instead — or just telling voters Hillary Clinton “doesn’t deserve” their vote as a manner of dissuading them.
Other messaging praised then-candidate Donald Trump as the “one and only who can defend police from terrorists” and said Hillary Clinton sought to “sponsor terrorism” and had “already committed voter fraud.”
Russians spent over $100,000 on Facebook in total.
In numerous instances, those groups took their efforts offline by mobilizing real protests and rallies, hiring and paying Americans in the process.
In an announcement of the indictment, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the Russian operatives who participated in the work called it “information warfare.”
Rosenstein added that “Russians hired and paid real Americans” to conduct political activities, including rallies for and against President Donald Trump. He emphasized that no Americans had been charged in this indictment; anyone working for Russian operatives posing as activists were unaware that they were doing so.