US indicts 13 Russians for influencing presidential elections

After an investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, the US has charged 13 Russians and three Russian organizations with, among other things, influencing the presidential elections. In doing so, they would have supported current President Trump.

The US Department of Justice published the indictment on Friday, which indicates that one of the accused organizations is the so-called Internet Research Agency. It is described in the document as an ‘organization concerned with influencing politics and elections’. This name also came up during the social media investigations into influence through their platforms.

The other two organizations are called Concord Management and Consulting and Concord Catering. The defendants are suspected of having “sown discord in the American political system, including the presidential elections.” In doing so, they “supported then-candidate Donald Trump and expressed condescension to candidate Hillary Clinton,” the document said. They also posed as American activists on social media. The accused are said to have started their operation in 2014.

Around that time, the Internet Research Agency is said to have set up a department called the ‘translator project’. That department focused on the US and made use of platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. On this, the suspects created hundreds of accounts of fictitious persons. So-called ‘specialists’ would have been instructed to create accounts and pose as Americans. In addition, the suspects are said to have created groups on the platforms and purchased advertisements. In the summer of 2016, the project would have consisted of approximately eighty employees. Some suspects have also traveled around the US to obtain intelligence, the text reads.

The indictment also alleges using VPN services alongside stolen identities to disguise their identities. It’s unclear what the facts are based on, though it appears the investigators must have had access to internal communications. For example, the indictment mentions an internal evaluation of the Facebook group ‘Secured Borders’ created by the accused, in which a specialist is criticized for having made ‘too few posts that criticized Hillary Clinton’.

Update, 21:58: Bloomberg reports on the basis of the press conference that, according to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, there has been no influence on the outcome of the presidential election. None of the 13 accused are said to be in custody and Russia has portrayed the charges as absurd.