The U.S. Justice Department has announced criminal conspiracy charges against 12 Russian intelligence officers thought to have been involved in the 2016 hack of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and Democratic National Committee (DNC).
Deputy attorney general Rod Rodenstein announced on Friday that Viktor Borisovich Netyksho, Boris Alekseyevich Antonov, Dmitriy Sergeyevich Badin, Ivan Sergeyevich Yermakov, Aleksey Viktorovich Lukashev, Sergey Aleksandrovich Morgachev, Nikolay Yuryevich Kozachek, Pavel Vyacheslavovich Yershov, Artem Andreyevich Malyshev, Aleksandr Vladimirovich Osadchuk, Aleksey Aleksandrovich Potemkin, and Anatoliy Sergeyevich Kovalev were being charged with conspiracy, money laundering, and identity theft, for their alleged work on behalf of Unit 74455, a branch of Russian intelligence.
The indictment claims that Russia’s intelligence agency, the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff (GRU), “conducted largescale cyber operations to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election”.
Free and fair elections are hard-fought and contentious, and there will always be adversaries who work to exacerbate domestic differences and try to confuse, divide, and conquer us.
– Rod Rodenstein, Deputy Attorney General, U.S. Government
In March and April of 2016, the document states, the officers hacked into and stole information from the email accounts of volunteers and employees of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. They also hacked into the computer networks of the DCCC and DNC, and used this access to monitor activities, install malware, and steal emails and other documents.
Then, beginning in or around June, the group released the stolen materials (over 50,000 documents) using fictitious online personas, including DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0. As ‘Guccifer 2.0’, they also posted the information on WikiLeaks, which the indictment refers to as “an organization (“Organization 1”), that had previously posted documents stolen from U.S. persons, entities, and the U.S. government”.
Individuals commenting on the news have noted that the group’s activities targeting Clinton’s campaign appeared to begin on the same day that Donald Trump requested that Russia release the stolen emails to the press, saying that this would be “rewarded mightily”. This request came some 20 seconds after he had claimed that Russia was “probably not” involved in the hack.
The release of stolen documents included direct contact with and offers to provide help to persons involved with the Trump campaign. According to messages quoted in the indictment, ‘Organization 1’ contacted the officers, offering to host the stolen material in order to bring it to a wider audience. A few days later, it specifically requested materials which would damage Clinton’s reputation sufficiently to divide the Democrat vote, explaining “we think trump has only a 25% chance of winning against hillary . . . so conflict between bernie and hillary is interesting.”
The indictment also stated that at least one candidate for Congress also contacted ‘Guccifer 2.0’ to request information on an opponent, and was sent stolen documents by the group.
However, the Justice Department stresses that there is no allegation that any American citizens knowingly participated in the attempts to interfere with the election.
According to the indictment, the Russian officers continued to interfere with the presidential election for the rest of the campaign, while attempting to hide their links to Russia. Other activities included the hacking of voter registration services and the theft of voter data.
Former FBI director James Comey said last year, during congressional testimony, that he had “no doubt” the Russian government was behind the DNC hack. However, Trump and Putin have continued to deny Russian interference with the election.
“Free and fair elections are hard-fought and contentious, and there will always be adversaries who work to exacerbate domestic differences and try to confuse, divide, and conquer us,” said Rosenstein. “So long as we are united in our commitment to the shared values enshrined in the Constitution, they will not succeed.”