US charges 12 Russians over hacking of Democrat emails
A dozen Russians were criminally charged yesterday with hacking and leaking the emails of senior Democrats during the 2016 US presidential election campaign.
Grand jury indictments against the 12 alleged Russian intelligence officials were announced by Rod Rosenstein, the deputy US attorney general.
“The internet allows foreign adversaries to attack America in new and unexpected ways,” he said.
Lamenting what he called “partisan warfare” in the US around the ongoing Russia inquiry, Rosenstein added: “The blame for election interference belongs to the criminals who committed election interference.”
The charges were filed in Washington by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, who is investigating Russian interference in the election and possible collusion with members of Donald Trump’s campaign team.
Trump is set to meet Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, on Monday. Rosenstein said he had briefed Trump on the developments.
Rosenstein said those charged were operatives of the GRU, a Russian military intelligence agency. He said they had “corresponded with several Americans through the internet”, including an associate of the Trump campaign.
Roger Stone, a Trump adviser, previously acknowledged he had exchanged messages with one of the online personas accused yesterday of being a front for Russian intelligence, but denied knowing that true identity. He told the Guardian his correspondence about the hacked documents was “benign based on its content, context and timing” and “provides evidence no of collaboration or collusion”.
Thousands of emails taken from the accounts of staff at the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, were published by outlets including WikiLeaks during 2016.
The leaks threw the Democratic party into turmoil.
US intelligence agencies concluded that the accounts were hacked as part of a wide-ranging operation ordered by Putin to damage Clinton’s run and assist Trump’s campaign.
Trump has consistently tried to cast doubt over the conclusions of the intelligence agencies that he now controls, and highlighted denials from Putin about the election interference. He continued yesterday to dismiss Mueller’s inquiry as a “witch-hunt”.
The indicted Russians are also accused of hacking into the computer systems of US state election authorities. Rosenstein said there was no evidence of vote tallies being affected.
The Russians used techniques including “spear-phishing” and spying software, before publishing the emails through online accounts, which purported to be independent American and Romanian hackers. Rosenstein said both were operated by the GRU.
In February this year, Mueller’s team filed criminal charges against 13 Russians and three Russian companies for interfering in the presidential campaign, using social media and coordinating with low-level Trump campaign activists.
Rosenstein said the Russians had waged “information warfare” against the US in 2016, aiming to “spread distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general”.
Mueller’s team has also charged Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, with financial crimes. Three other Trump campaign aides have admitted lying to the FBI.
The Kremlin did not immediately respond to questions about the US indictment.
Putin and Trump will hold a closed tête-à-tête on Monday morning, followed by a larger meeting between the two delegations.
The indictment targeted 12 Russian military officers in two cyberwarfare units in the GRU, up to the rank of colonel. They are charged with conspiracies against the US, aggravated identity theft and money laundering.
Both GRU units are based in Moscow and traditionally charged with deciphering foreign military communications.
The GRU has been accused of standing behind Fancy Bear, one of two hacking groups accused of infiltrating US political parties in 2016.
The US has already sanctioned six officers from the GRU leadership, including Igor Korobov, the directorate’s head.
Hillary Clinton at a convention yesterday. Hacked emails were published during her campaign