WASHINGTON — Twelve members of Russia’s military intelligence agency (GRU) have been indicted for hacking the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign during the 2016 campaign season.
The indictment from special counsel Robert Mueller’s office, announced at the Justice Department today by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, also outs the website DCLeaks — which claimed to be a hub for “American hacktivists” — and hacker Guccifer 2.0 as GRU operations; false Facebook and Twitter accounts were also used to promote DCLeaks. Rosenstein noted that the Russians tried to paint a false cover for Guccifer 2.0 as Romanian.
It also states that in July 2016 the Russian team hacked the website of an unnamed state board of elections and “stole information related to approximately 500,000 voters, including names, addresses, partial social security numbers, dates of birth, and driver’s license numbers.”
The next month, using “some of the same infrastructure,” the Russians allegedly hacked a vendor that supplied software used to verify voter registration information. The text of the indictment does not state that vote totals were known to be altered as a result of these intrusions.
Rosenstein said that this specific indictment does not contain allegations that Americans committed a crime. He stressed that Mueller’s investigation is ongoing.
The indicted Russians, officials in Unit 26165 and Unit 74455 of Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate, are 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.
Eleven of today’s defendants are charged with conspiring to hack into computers, steal documents, and release documents in an effort to interfere with the election. One of those 11, along with a twelfth Russian officer, are 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.
Rosenstein said the team used spearphishing to trick users into revealing login information and also hacked into computer networks, where they installed spyware. The intrusion into accounts of volunteers and employees of the Clinton campaign began in March 2016, then the DNC and DCCC were hacked.
“The defendants covertly monitored the computers, implanted hundreds of files containing malicious computer code, and stole emails and other documents,” 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.”
“In addition to releasing documents directly to the public, the defendants transferred stolen documents to another organization, not named in the indictment, and discussed timing the release of the documents in an attempt to enhance the impact on the election.”
The indictment states that on Aug. 15, 2016, 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?'” Two days later, Guccifer 2.0 added, “Please tell me if i can help u anyhow… it would be a great pleasure to me.” On Sept. 9, 2016, the indictment continues, Guccifer 2.0 engaged with the unnamed person about a stolen DCCC document posted online.
The indictment refers to an “Organization 1” that sought “Hillary related” information from Guccifer 2.0 before she had a chance to “solidify Bernie supporters” at the Democratic National Convention.
Rosenstein added that “in an effort to conceal their connections to Russia, the defendants used a network of computers located around the world, and paid for it using cryptocurrency.”
“The conspirators corresponded with several Americans through the internet. There is no allegation in the indictment that the Americans knew they were communicating with Russian intelligence officers,” he said.
The case is being transferred to the Justice Department’s National Security Division “while we await the apprehension of the defendants,” the deputy attorney general said.
Rosenstein added that “when we confront foreign interference in American elections, it is important for us to avoid thinking politically as Republicans or Democrats and instead to think patriotically as Americans. Our response must not depend on who was victimized.”
“The Internet allows foreign adversaries to attack America in new and unexpected ways,” he said. “Free and fair elections are hard-fought and contentious. There will always be adversaries who work to exacerbate domestic differences and try to confuse, divide, and conquer us. So long as we are united in our commitment to the values enshrined in the Constitution, they will not succeed.”
The Justice Department announcement came as Trump was meeting with Queen Elizabeth II in the UK, and precedes Trump’s Monday summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Rosenstein said Trump was notified “earlier this week” of the indictments.
At a press conference earlier today with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Trump branded the Mueller probe a “witch hunt” that “really hurts our country, and it really hurts our relationship with Russia.”
“I think that we would have a chance to have a very good relationship with Russia, and a very good chance — a very good relationship with President Putin,” Trump added. “I would hope so.”
Some lawmakers began calling on Trump to cancel the meeting given the indictments.
“These indictments are further proof of what everyone but the president seems to understand: President Putin is an adversary who interfered in our elections to help President Trump win,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “President Trump should cancel his meeting with Vladimir Putin until Russia takes demonstrable and transparent steps to prove that they won’t interfere in future elections. Glad-handing with Vladimir Putin on the heels of these indictments would be an insult to our democracy.”
“Certainly no meeting alone,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) added in a tweet.