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Russian citizens Aleksandra Krylova and Anna Bogacheva, who were able to obtain U.S. visas, traveled through several states during June 2014 as part of their information-gathering work, including Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, New York, Nevada, Illinois, Michigan and Louisiana, the indictment alleges.
“After the trip, Krylova and (Mikhail) Burchik exchanged an intelligence report regarding the trip,” the indictment states. Burchik is another Russian defendant charged in the indictment. He was the manager in charge of the suspects’ organization, the Internet Research Agency LLC, “involved in operational planning, infrastructure, personnel,” according to the court document.
The defendants are charged with conspiring – from 2014 to the present – “to defraud the United States by impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of the government through fraud and deceit for the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016.”
The indictment charges 13 Russians and three Russian organizations with conspiring to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The operation was based in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The Voice of America reported Feb. 19 that Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, denied that the Russian government was involved in any efforts to interfere in the U.S. election. Kremlin denies allegations
U.S. officials do not expect the Russians accused in the indictment to surrender to U.S. authorities. However, details in the indictment serve to establish that Russians attempted to actively influence the presidential election, and counter statements by politicians that the investigation's aim was purely political.
During the intelligence-gathering process, the Russian operatives posed as Americans, and “communicated with a real U.S. person affiliated with a Texas-based grassroots organization,” alleges the indictment without naming the Texas organization.
An intricate operation
The recent indictment also states that “During the exchange, (the) defendants and their co-conspirators learned from the real U.S. person that they should focus their activities on “purple states like Colorado, Virginia and Florida,” and that “After that exchange, (the) defendants and their co-conspirators commonly referred to targeting “purple states” in directing their efforts.”
Apparently, according to the indictment, the Russian operatives followed up with the recommendation to focus on “purple states.”
The suspects charged in the document created hundreds of fake social media accounts, to include fake accounts of alleged leaders of public opinion, the court document states. Some of these accounts were created on Facebook and Instagram, including one called “The Heart of Texas.”
The 13 Russian defendants are charged with conspiring – from 2014 to the present – “to defraud the United States by impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of the government through fraud and deceit for the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016.”
The alleged conspiracy also involved identity theft on the part of the Internet Research Agency LLC organization members. Their objectives included attacking Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton, supporting Green Party candidate Jill Stein and Democratic Party candidate Bernie Sanders, and actively supporting Republican Party candidate Donald Trump’s campaign.
“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.”
President Trump stated in recent and previous Twitter messages that there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russian operation to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election. In Twitter messages, he also called potential Russian election interference a "hoax."
After the indictment against the 13 Russians was made public,Trump tweeted on Feb. 18, "I never said Russia did not meddle in the election. I said 'it may be Russia, or China or another country or group, or it may be a 400 pound genius sitting in bed and playing with his computer."
Trump has been questioned for failing to enforce the sanctions against Russia that he signed in August 2017, and which U.S. lawmakers overwhelmingly supported, and despite warnings from U.S. intelligence officials that Russia would continue interfering in U.S. elections.
The latest indictment does not allege whether the Russian operation affected the 2016 election outcome. Trump won the electoral college vote with 304 votes, he needed 270 votes to win, while Clinton garnered 227 electoral college votes. Clinton received 2.9 million more popular votes than Trump.
U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller in May 2017, a former FBI director, to investigate any possible coordination between Russian election interference and the Trump campaign. Mueller has the authority to investigate anything else that he comes across as part of his investigation.
“The indictment alleges that the Russian conspirators want to promote discord in the United States and undermine public confidence in democracy,” Rosenstein, said in his Feb. 16 announcement to the new media.“We must not allow them to succeed."
The special counsel's investigation also led to the indictment of Richard Pinedo, a U.S. citizen in Santa Paula, California, accused of selling bank account numbers through an internet business he created. The Russian defendants may have used his services to obtain documents that facilitated their election-interference operation; Pinedo, however, was not charged with knowing that he was helping the Russians.
"Pinedo obtained account numbers either by registering accounts in his own name or by purchasing accounts in the names of other people through the internet," according to a court document filed by the special counsel's office. "Many of the bank accounts purchased by Pinedo over the internet were created using stolen identities of U.S. persons." Charges against Richard Pinedo
Court documents state that Pinedo pleaded guilty Feb. 2, 2018.
According to separate 2017 indictments emanating from Mueller's probe, four U.S. citizens with to Trump were charged with various other crimes involving Russian connections: Retired Lt. General Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser, Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager and longtime business associate; Richard Gates, Trump's former campaign assistant and George Papadopolous, Trump's former foreign policy adviser during the campaign.
One of the charges against Manafort alleges "conspiracy against the United States." Manafort, who is fighting the charges against him, denied the allegations, according to court documents.
Flynn and Papadopolous pleaded guilty in connection to lying to federal officers, and are awaiting sentencing. Gates pleaded not guilty to the fraud charges against him.
A more recent court filing indicates that Dutch citizen Alex Van der Zwaan pleaded guilty of giving false statements to FBI officials. The charge grew out of the special counsel's investigation. Dutch citizen indictment
The court document filed Feb. 16 states that Van der Zwaan had communications with Gates and someone else identified as "Person A," about a report concerning the trial of Ukrainian politician Yulia Tymoshenko. The document states that Van der Zwaan deleted an email and failed to provide investigators with emails between him and Person A.
After the recent charges against the 13 Russians were made public, Trump’s national security adviser (Lt. General) H.R. McMaster told officials at a Feb. 16 security conference in Germany that the indictment proved that there was Russian interference with the U.S. election, the Associated Press and other media outlets reported.
In his remarks, McMaster, as well as other intelligence experts, confirmed that the 37-page federal indictment was unprecedented in its disclosure about an operation by foreign agents acting on U.S. soil to try to influence an American election.
Former Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, who attended the Munich Security Conference, disputed the allegations, the Associated Press reported over the weekend. McMaster on Russian meddling
The Associated Press roundup article also quoted Burchik’s statement in a Russian newspaper (Komsomolskaya Pravda) denying that he was involved in any U.S.-election interference.
In addition to the special counsel's investigation, four committees of the U.S. Senate and U.S. Congress convened hearings into the allegations of Russian meddling in the U.S. election. The hearings have gotten bogged down in highly charged partisan politics.
Concerns that Trump may have been compromised by the Russian government, an allegation he vehemently denies, were raised by a memo provided to the FBI known as the "Steele dossier." The memo titled "Company Intelligence Report 2016/080 U.S. Presidential Election Republican Candidate Donald Trump's Activities in Russia And Compromising Relationship With The Kremlin."
The memo - actually collection of reports - was prepared by a private intelligence firm hired separately and at different times by Republicans and Democrats to find negative information about the 2016 presidential candidates. Christopher Steele, a former British M16 intelligence officer wrote the memo. Buzz Feed, an online news publication, was the first to publish most of the memo in January 2017. Here is a link to the memo Steele dossier
Several states indicated they are beefing security of their voter systems, after learning that Russians had penetrated the systems of 21 states, ABC reported on Feb. 8. States strengthen voter systems
Earlier warning signs of Russian interference were spelled out in a U.S. intelligence report, which was redacted to remove classified information. The Jan. 26, 2017 report "Background "To Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections,'" went mostly ignored by the Trump White House. 2017 US Intelligence Report
Mexico, Latin America
In recent weeks, Enrique Krauze, a prominent Mexican scholar and journalist, has warned in columns and interviews that Russia might try to influence Mexico’s 2018 presidential election, especially by possibly supporting candidate Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Lopez, who’s ahead in the polls, shrugged off and made fun of the suggestion that Russia would support his candidacy. See Mexico News Daily article “Russian meddling is no joke: journalist”
McMaster warned about this possibility in December, and U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez asked U.S. State Secretary Rex Tillerson to address the issue during his visit to Mexico earlier in February, the Hill reported in its Jan. 31 article "Senators ask Tillerson to fight Russian interference in Mexico election." Mexican 2018 election
Mexico's Reforma, a leading national newspaper, posted a video clip featuring an interview with McMaster in which he alleged that Russia was seeking to influence the 2018 Mexican presidential election. Mexicans head to the polls July 1 to elect a new president for a six-year term.
“You’ve seen, actually, initial signs of it in the Mexican presidential campaign already," McMaster said in the video interview posted online 2017 and reported by Reuters Jan. 7, 2018. McMaster alleges Russia seeks to interfere in Mexico
The video clip with McMaster's comments about Russian meddling in Mexico can be viewed on Reforma Correspondent Jose Diaz Briseno's Twitter page: McMaster allegation on video
Maria Zajarova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry (equivalent of the State Department), on Jan. 25 called allegations that the Kremlin was trying to interfere in Latin America's elections as "absurd," Telesurtvnet reported Russia denies Latin America interference
Russia's destabilizing modus operandi in European "Putin's Asymmetric Assault on Democracy in Russia and Europe: Implications for U.S. National Security" is described in ample detail in a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee Report. Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Tom Udall of New Mexico served on the committee that released this report on Jan. 10, 2018. Russia Modus Operandi
Religion as a political tool
The report contains the Russian government's alleged use of the Russian Orthodox Church as an arm of state government, in what appears to be an eerie parallel to the American Evangelical Christian Church's unbending embrace of Trump's candidacy and presidency. Trump and evangelicals
"According to the former editor of the official journal of the Moscow Patriarchate," the church has become an instrument of the Russian state," the Senate Subcommittee report states. "It is used to extend and legitimize the interests of the Kremlin."
In In another peculiar turn, Bloomberg published an editorial Feb. 7, 2018, asking the National Rifle Association (NRA) to disclose any of its ties to Russia in light of the FBI's investigation into suspicions that the NRA may have channeled Russian money to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. FBI investigates NRA
Bloomberg reported that the NRA, which is considered the most powerful lobby on the Hill, had not issued a definitive denial of the allegation. In a Feb. 2, 2018 letter, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden asked the U.S. Treasury Department to provide any documents in its possession related to the NRA and Russia. Here is the letter NRA and Russia documents sought
In testimony November 2017 before Senate and House committees, executives for Facebook, Google and Twitter acknowledged that Russians paid for ads and hundreds of accounts during the 2016 presidential election campaign.
Social media venues are considered important agents of social change in the modern era, which also gave rise to wide-ranging misinformation campaigns aimed at politicians and government and law enforcement institutions.
NBC produced a timeline of the social media usage based on information provided by the companies "Google, Facebook, Twitter and Russia: A Timeline on the ‘16 Election," which analysts have said was devoted to fake news and divisive messages intended to turn Americans against each other on such matters as race, religion and immigration. Russia social media timeline
Facebook owns Instagram and Google owns YouTube, which also were also used by Russians to spread misinformation, according to U.S. media outlets.
Links to indictments for Manafort, Gates, Flynn and Papadopolous:
Manafort and Gates indictment
Diana Washington Valdez, an international award-winning journalist and author, is president of the Digie Zone Network, which publishes the Digie Zone Express and Prensa 360.