The crux of the massive Kremlin operation mounted against Hillary Clinton in her 2016 campaign for U.S. president is a three-pronged strategy detailed on page 8 of the dossier compiled by Christopher Steele and delivered by the highly significant Source E.
As the Mueller investigation progresses, it is verifying much that is contained in this Steele memo.
Steele’s source, believed to be Felix Sater, details a cooperative arrangement between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin using an “intelligence network” sponsoring three separate measures:
- Agents/facilitators within the Democratic Party structure itself
- Russian emigre and associated offensive cyber operators based in the U.S.
- State-sponsored cyber operatives working in Russia
1. State-sponsored cyber operatives working in Russia
The Special Counsel has revealed the primary actors and issued indictments. Each of these operations was pernicious and effective – injecting malware, stealing email, surveilling accounts, monitoring computer activity of individuals, stealing folders, broadcasting negative propaganda about Hillary Clinton and cooperating with actors such as WikiLeaks. Social media platforms were the avenue in which the cyber offensives took place. The geographic location was in St. Petersburg, Russia.
From the Special Counsel’s website:
U.S. v. Viktor Borisovich Netyksho, et al (1:18-cr-215, District of Columbia)
“A federal grand jury in the District of Columbia returned an indictment on July 13, 2018, against 12 Russian nationals for their alleged roles in computer hacking conspiracies aimed at interfering in the 2016 U.S. elections. The indictment charges 11 of the defendants with conspiracy to commit computer crimes, eight counts of aggravated identity theft, and conspiracy to launder money. Two defendants are charged with a separate conspiracy to commit computer crimes.”
This operation is often referred to as Guccifer 2.0. In actuality, it was a team of Russian military intelligence (GRU) officers. Their collective cyber war ran from March 2016 until October 2016 and was directed against members of the Clinton campaign, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). Over 300 people were targeted.
Their outlets included their own entities – Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks. Both masked the GRU origin with the Russians billing DCLeaks as a site run by “American hactivists.” A large number of fake social media accounts posing as Americans were used in this campaign.
This malicious enterprise stole passwords and folders, gained access to private email which was forwarded to their partner WikiLeaks for deniability, injected malware into computer networks and servers, monitored the keystrokes of individuals and domains, stole DCCC credentials, set-up false websites (actblues.com) and all manner of malicious cyber criminality. This indictment appears to implicate longtime Trump ally Roger Stone as a collaborator and his friend, Jerome Corsi.
U.S. v. Internet Research Agency, et al (1:18-cr-32, District of Columbia)
“A federal grand jury in the District of Columbia returned an indictment on Feb. 16, 2018, against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities accused of violating U.S. criminal laws in order to interfere with U.S. elections and political processes. The indictment charges all of the defendants with conspiracy to defraud the United States, three defendants with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and five defendants with aggravated identity theft.”
With this early indictment against the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm, the Special Counsel identified and charged 25 Russian nationals in the complex plot to undermine the candidacy of Hillary Clinton and promote that of Donald Trump, starting sometime in 2014.
The dozen individuals charged worked in different capacities as teams and individuals. Some came to the U.S. “under false pretenses for the purpose of collecting intelligence to inform” their operation. Their primary aim was to “sow discord in the U.S. political system,” using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube to post false and derogatory info about Clinton in particular but other candidates as well (excluding Trump).
This group was funded by a Russian oligarch Yevginey Vichtorovich Prighozin (aka “Putin’s chef”), who is named in the indictment, with monies funneled through his business, Concord Catering. Prighozin also paid for an even grander criminal enterprise named Project Lahkta. This operation performed its day-to-day operations from a building in St. Petersburg, Russia. Its annual budget was in the millions of U.S. dollars and its pervasive effects on the social fabric and consciousness of millions of Americans is still reverberating.
This aspect of the Kremlin’s attack on the U.S. political system is likely not over.
2. Russian emigre and associated offensive cyber operators based in the U.S.
In July of this year, a Russian citizen living in the nation’s capitol was arrested on charges of running a conspiracy to effect a Russian-backed influence operation. The defendant, Maria Butina, since pleaded guilty to the charges against her and is cooperating with all agencies of the Justice Department.
Butina’s activities implicated the National Rife Association, its executives and members of the Republican Party, specifically her “boyfriend,” Paul Erickson. She apparently acted at the direction of Alexander Torshin, described as “an associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin and longtime supporter of the National Rifle Association who reportedly also has ties to Russian security services and organized crime figures.” Torshin is one of a number of Russians under sanction by the USG. According to CBS News, Donald Trump, Jr met with Torshin in May 2016, a few weeks before the infamous ‘Trump Tower Meeting’ with other Russians. McClatchy reported in January that the FBI was investigating Torshin for injecting millions into the NRA coffers – money which ultimately went to the Trump Campaign.
At the time Butina was charged, a spokesperson for the Justice Department claimed she was not a part of the Special Counsel’s investigation. However, that may be parsing technicalities. The court document claimed her efforts were intended to “act as an agent of Russia inside the United States by developing relationships with U.S. persons and infiltrating organizations having influence in American politics, for the purpose of advancing the interests of the Russian Federation.”
3. Agents/facilitators within the Democratic Party structure
This aspect of the Kremlin’s interference in the presidential election is especially troubling. It would mean American citizens who are members of the Democratic Party worked hand-in-hand with an American adversary to disrupt our free and fair elections.
I wrote often of Sen. Bernie Sanders, an Independent who ran as a Democrat during the 2016 campaign, covering the primary season and the general election. His prolonged and ugly primary campaign, his massive influx of foreign contributions, his many similarities to the Republican candidate Trump along with the hordes of vicious trolls (aka Bernie Bros) were counter-productive to the Democratic party structure and extraordinarily vicious to supporters of Hillary Clinton.
The support apparatus of Bernie Sanders was hostile, aggressive and unAmerican featuring anarchists such as Revolt Against Plutocracy, which advocated destroying the Democratic Party and waging a coup against Clinton, should she be elected (this group morphed from BernieOrBust to SteinOrBust and now pronounces itself a climate change advocate); various malicious Reddit boards including one spinoff called redlegion that covertly collected and disseminated ISPs of Hillary supporters for stalking (see here and here); violent sovereign citizen tactics at the Clark Co. NV primary caucus; and a frivolous lawsuit against the DNC based on WikiLeaks to name a few instances.
The Special Prosecutor has yet to indict Sanders or verify this portion of the Kremlin operation. However, his job is far from complete.