Special counsel Robert Mueller has obtained a new indictment charging 12 Russian intelligence officers with hacking Democrats to intefere with the 2016 presidential election, and with stealing information of about 500,000 American voters, the Justice Department announced Friday.
The indictment lodged by a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., accuses the Russian spies of hacking into the Democratic National Committee and the presidential campaign of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and of releasing emails obtained from that cybersnooping with a goal of influencing the election.
Two of the defendants are also “charged with conspiring to infiltrate computers of organizations responsible for administering elections, including state boards of election, secretaries of state, and companies that supply software and other technology used to administer elections,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
It was the hacking of a state election board that led to the theft of information about the 500,000 voters, he said.
Rosenstein said the “conspirators created fictitious online personas, including ‘DCLeaks’ and ‘Guccifer 2.0,’ and used them to release thousands of stolen emails and other documents, beginning in June 2016.”
“The defendants falsely claimed that DCLeaks was started by a group of American hackers and that Guccifer 2.0 was a lone Romanian hacker,” he said.
The swiped emails were both made public and transferred to another organization, Rosenstein said, without identifying that organization. He added that the conspirators discussed timing the release of the documents “in an attempt to enhance the impact on the election.”
The group Wikileaks, which is not named in the indictment, in late July 2016 released almost 20,000 emails that contained DNC communications about, among other issues, Clinton’s rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
“The conspirators corresponded with several Americans through the internet,” Rosenstein said. “There is no allegation in the indictment that the Americans knew they were communicating with Russian intelligence officers.”
However, the indictment says that “The Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, also communicated with U.S. Personas about the release of stolen documents. On or about August 15, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, wrote to a person who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump, ‘thank u for writing back … do u find anyt[h]ing interesting in the docs I posted?’”
“On or about August 17, 2016, the Conspirators added, ‘please tell me if I can help u anyhow … it would be a great pleasure to me,”” according to the indictment. “On or about September 9, 2016, the Conspirators, again posing as Guccifer 2.0, referred to a stolen DCCC document posted online and asked the person, “what do u think of the info on the turnout model for the democrats entire presidential campaign.” The person responded, [p]retty standard.”
In another case, the indictment said, “On or about August 15, 2016, the conspirators posing as Guccifer 2.0 receive a request for stolen documents from a candidate for U.S. Congress. The Conspirators responded as Guccifer 2.0 … and sent the candidate stolen docs related to the candidate’s opponent.”
Rosenstein said he briefed President Donald Trump about the case earlier in the week and that “the president is fully aware of today’s actions by the department.”
Trump, who was meeting with Queen Elizabeth II in England during Rosenstein’s press conference announcing the new charges, has repeatedly called Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling the election a “witchhunt.”
The indictment does not accuse any American citizen of committing a crime, nor does it allege that that the conspiracy either “altered the vote count or changed any election result.”
Rosenstein said that the defendants charged in the indictment worked for two units of Russia’s main intelligence arm, the GRU.
“There was one unit that engaged in active cyber operations by stealing information and a different unit responsible for disseminating the stolen information,” Rosenstein said.
He said the spies used two techniques to steal information. One was the trick known as “spearfishing,” in which the target of the inflitration is tricked into replying to an email and disclosing their passwords and security information.
The indictment says the spearfishing attack on Clinton’s personal office started for the first time on or about July 27, 2016.
That is the same day that Trump, during a public speech, said, “Russia, , if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” That was a reference to the more than 30,000 emails deleted from Clinton’s private email by an employee of the company that managed server that she had used while secretary of state. Clinton’s staff said the emails were of a personal nature, and not related to her work as secretary.
The other technique used was the implementation of malicious software onto computer networks, which allowed the conspirators to spy on users and capture their keystrokes, Rosenstein said.
“The defendants accessed the email accounts of volunteers and employees of a U.S. presidential campaign, including the campaign chairman, starting in March 2016,” Rosenstein, referring to Clinton’s campaign. “They also hacked into the computer networks of a congressional campaign committee and a national political committee. The defendants covertly monitored the computers, implanted hundreds of files containing malicious computer code, and stole emails and other documents.”
He said the conspirators used a network of computers around the worl, which they paid for with cryptocurrency to cover their tracks.
The defendants were identified as: 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.
Mueller’s office in a prepared statement said, that a “federal grand jury in the District of Columbia returned an indictment today 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,” Mueller’s office said.
A White House spokeswoman, in a prepared statement said, “Today’s charges include no allegations of knowing involvement by anyone on the campaign and no allegations that the alleged hacking affected the election result. This is consistent with what we have been saying all along.”
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., who had been chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee at the time of the alleged hacking, said, “The Democratic National Committee was the first major target of the Russian attack on our democracy, and I strongly believe that every individual who helped carry it out – foreign or domestic – should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
“I’m pleased that the Justice Department is following the facts wherever they may lead, despite Donald Trump’s dangerous distortions and his refusal to acknowledge the conclusions reached by the American Intelligence Community,” Schultz said.