U.S. Indicts Russian “Troll Factory” And Its Employees Over Election Interference
16 February, 2018

A United States grand jury has indicted the so-called “Russian troll factory” and individuals connected to its operations for interfering in U.S. politics.

The indictment, published on the website of the U.S. Department of Justice, presses charges against the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency (IRA), two other legal entities, and thirteen Russian nationals “who worked in various capacities to carry out [the IRA’s] interference operations targeting the United States.”

The Special Counsel’s office, which has been investigating the Russian interference, states that, since 2014, the defendants had “knowingly and intentionally defraud the United States by impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful function 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.”

Among the defendants is Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian businessman close to President Vladimir Putin, and two of his companies, Concord Management and Consulting LLC and Concord Catering. The Justice Department accuses Prigozhin and his companies of funding the IRA’s activities and paying the other defendants, as well as IRA employees not named in the indictment.

Also included among the defendants is Dzheikhun Aslanov, who former IRA employees identified as the head of the IRA’s U.S. desk in interviews with independent Russian media.

The indictment accuses the “troll factory” and its employees of posing as American activists on social media “to sow discord in the U.S. political system” by addressing controversial issues; supporting then candidate Donald Trump and denigrating his opponent, Hillary Clinton; and buying political advertisements and staging rallies in the United States.

The indictment also alleges that some defendants “traveled to the United States under false pretense for the purpose of collecting intelligence” to inform the IRA’s actions. These IRA employees also allegedly purchased “computer infrastructure, based partly in the United States, to hide the Russian origin of their activities and avoid detection by U.S. regulators and law enforcement.”

Russia’s independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta revealed the location of the so-called “troll factory’s” first office in 2013. Initially, the organization appeared to target the Russian opposition. However, in 2014, leaked documents revealed the trolls’ strategies to leave comments on popular Western news sites in the hopes of advancing the Russian view on its invasion of Ukraine.

The IRA gained greater international prominence for its activities during the run-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In September 2017, during a U.S. Congressional Hearing, Facebook stated that it had discovered hundreds of fake accounts connected to the IRA. Meanwhile, Twitter believes that 1.6 million Americans interacted with Russian trolls during the election.

/By Matthew Kupfer