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Election Interference

Tracking interference into our elections

One former analyst at the Wikistrat consulting firm called it ‘disturbing.’Days after Donald Trump rode down an escalator at Trump Tower and announced he’d run for president, a little-known consulting firm with links to Israeli intelligence started gaming out how a foreign government could meddle in the U.S. political process. Internal communications, which The Daily Beast reviewed, show that the firm conducted an analysis of how illicit efforts might shape American politics. Months later, the Trump campaign reviewed a pitch from a company owned by that firm’s founder—a pitch to carry out similar efforts. The founder of the firm, called Wikistrat, has been questioned by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team as they investigate efforts by foreign governments to shape American politics during the 2016 presidential campaign. Joel Zamel, a low-profile Israeli-Australian who started the firm, has deep contacts in Middle Eastern intelligence circles. There are no known publicly available pictures of him. But he met people in the upper echelons of the Trump campaign. In April 2016, senior Trump campaign official Rick Gates reviewed a pitch produced by a company called Psy Group, which Zamel reportedly owns. The pitch laid out a three-pronged election influence campaign that included creating thousands of fake social media accounts to support then-candidate Trump and disparage his opponents, according to The New York Times. After Trump became the party’s official nominee, Zamel met with Donald Trump Jr. and discussed the plan, which echoed both the real election interference already underway by the Kremlin and the scenario Wikistrat gamed out the year before. Zamel took part in at least two meetings in Washington in 2016 and 2017. And his staff at Psy Group made several connections about their social media manipulation plan with individuals who represented themselves as close to the Trump team.

Russian operations meant to polarize American voters continued during the midterm elections, but did not compromise the voting systems used, according to a study by the intelligence community. The assessment by Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, was the result of a request by the White House before the November vote that he examine election meddling by Russia and other powers. The agency did not release that report, but Mr. Coats released a statement on the document. “Russia, and other foreign countries, including China and Iran, conducted influence activities and messaging campaigns targeted at the United States to promote their strategic interests,” Mr. Coats said in the statement.

Russia used every major social media platform to influence the 2016 US election, a report claims. New research says YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram and PayPal - as well as Facebook and Twitter - were leveraged to spread propaganda. The report, released today by the US Senate, exposes the scale of Russian disinformation efforts. Its authors criticise the "belated and uncoordinated response" by tech firms. The report was put together by University of Oxford's Computational Propaganda Project and the social network analysis firm Graphika. It is the first analysis of millions of social media posts provided by Twitter, Google and Facebook to the Senate Intelligence Committee. While Facebook and Twitter have previously disclosed Russian interference, little has been known about the use of other platforms. The report suggests YouTube, Tumblr, PayPal and Google+ were all affected, with Russia adapting techniques from digital marketing to target audiences across multiple channels. "It's a whole family of social media sites," says Dr Philip N. Howard, director of the Oxford Internet Institute. "We think the goal was to make the campaigns seem more legitimate."

If it had stuck with its original mission — digging up dirt on the rich and famous, without a care for the rules of traditional journalism — The Enquirer would have had the tabloid story of a lifetime. The most powerful print publication in America might just be The National Enquirer. It functioned as a dirty-tricks shop for Donald J. Trump in 2016, which would have been the stuff of farce — the ultimate tabloid backs the ultimate tabloid candidate — if it hadn’t accomplished its goal. The Enquirer’s power was fueled by its covers. For the better part of the campaign season, Enquirer front pages blared sensational headlines about Mr. Trump’s rivals from eye-level racks at supermarket checkout lanes across America. This stroke-of-genius distribution apparatus was dreamed up by the man who made The Enquirer the nation’s biggest gossip rag: its previous owner, Generoso Pope Jr. The Enquirer’s racks, under the current chief, David J. Pecker, were given over to the Trump campaign. This was a political gift even more valuable than the $150,000 that The Enquirer paid in a “catch-and-kill” deal with the former Playboy model Karen McDougal for her story of an affair with Mr. Trump. Wondering what The Enquirer’s covers were worth to the Trump campaign, I called Regis Maher, a co-founder of Do It Outdoors, the national mobile and digital billboard company. He said a campaign with that level of national prominence would cost $2.5 million to $3 million a month. - The National Enquirer interfered with the election by prompting false stories about Trumps opponents, while hiding bad stories about Trump at the same time promoting good stories about Trump and not telling the America people they had made a deal to protect Trump from bad stories.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is set to release two reports on Monday detailing the breadth of the Russian social media campaign to sow discord in the United States. The reports, both of which were commissioned by the committee, are based on troves of data that Facebook, Twitter, and Google handed over to the committee about the Russian campaign to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election and American politics generally. Much of the data has not previously been disclosed publicly. Researchers analyzed more than 10 million tweets, 116,000 Instagram posts, 61,000 Facebook posts and 1,000 videos posted by the Russian government-linked Internet Research Agency (IRA), the troll group indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller earlier this year.

Facebook Inc.’s Instagram played a much bigger role in Russia’s manipulation of U.S. voters than the company has previously discussed, and will be a key Russian tool in the 2020 elections, according to a report commissioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee. The Russian Internet Research Agency, the troll farm that has sought to divide Americans with misinformation and meme content around the 2016 election, received more engagement on Instagram than it did on any other social media platform, including Facebook, according to a joint report by three groups of researchers. “Instagram was a significant front in the IRA’s influence operation, something that Facebook executives appear to have avoided mentioning in Congressional testimony,” the report says. IRA activity shifted there after the media began to write about Russian activity on Twitter and Facebook. “Our assessment is that Instagram is likely to be a key battleground on an ongoing basis.”

The Russian influence campaign on social media in the 2016 election made an extraordinary effort to target African-Americans, used an array of tactics to try to suppress turnout among Democratic voters and unleashed a blizzard of activity on Instagram that rivaled or exceeded its posts on Facebook, according to a report produced for the Senate Intelligence Committee. The report adds new details to the portrait that has emerged over the last two years of the energy and imagination of the Russian effort to sway American opinion and divide the country, which the authors said continues to this day. “Active and ongoing interference operations remain on several platforms,” says the report, produced by New Knowledge, a cybersecurity company based in Austin, Texas, along with researchers at Columbia University and Canfield Research LLC. One continuing Russian campaign, for instance, seeks to influence opinion on Syria by promoting Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president and a Russian ally in the brutal conflict there.

The report, a draft of which was obtained by The Washington Post, is the first to analyze the millions of posts provided by major technology firms to the Senate Intelligence Committee. A report prepared for the Senate that provides the most sweeping analysis yet of Russia’s disinformation campaign around the 2016 election found the operation used every major social media platform to deliver words, images and videos tailored to voters’ interests to help elect President Trump — and worked even harder to support him while in office. The report, obtained by The Washington Post before its official release Monday, is the first to study the millions of posts provided by major technology firms to the Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), its chairman, and Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), its ranking Democrat. The bipartisan panel also released a second independent report studying the 2016 election Monday. Lawmakers said the findings “do not necessarily represent the views” of the panel or its members.

Shane Huntley has seen every form of state-sponsored cyberattack, first as an Australian intelligence officer and now as director of Google’s most advanced team of threat detectors. So when he was asked what surprised him the most about the 2018 midterm elections, his response was a bit counterintuitive. “The answer is surprisingly little on the hacking front, at least compared to two years ago.” He paused, and added: “And that reassures some people, and it scares some people.”

A new book makes a not very skeptical case for Russia’s impact on the 2016 race. In her new book, Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President, Kathleen Hall Jamieson argues that the Russian-government directed interference campaign likely provided Donald Trump with his winning margin in the crucial states that allowed for his 2016 Electoral College victory. But in an election with so many moving parts, how can we really know, or even be confident, that the Russian operation made the difference?

the Justice Department announced that Russia and the world’s most interesting catering company continue to attack the United States online—and that Russian Twitter trolls had even defended the efforts of special counsel Robert Mueller earlier this year. Prosecutors unsealed a September criminal complaint against Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, a 44-year-old Russian woman from St. Petersburg. According to the charges, Khusyaynova is employed by the Internet Research Agency, the “troll farm” directed by a Russian oligarch known as “Putin’s Cook,” Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin, and two companies he controls, Concord Management and Consulting LLC, and Concord Catering. Those companies, in addition to handling school lunches for Russian children and overseeing the Internet Research Agency, also reportedly supply mercenaries to support Russia’s interests in the Syrian civil war.

The U.S. government warned about the continued threat of foreign interference on Friday as it unsealed a new criminal complaint against a Russian woman described as the paymistress for Moscow's program of information war — a scheme targeting next month's midterm elections in the U.S.

The Justice Department on Friday charged a Russian woman for her role in a conspiracy to interfere with the 2018 U.S. election, marking the first criminal case prosecutors have brought against a foreign national for interfering in the upcoming Midterms. Elena Khusyaynova, 44, was charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States. Prosecutors said she managed the finances of “Project Lakhta,” a foreign influence operation they said was designed “to sow discord in the U.S. political system” by pushing arguments and misinformation online about a whole host of divisive political issues, including immigration, the Confederate flag, gun control, and the NFL national anthem protests.The charges against Khusyaynova came just as the Office of the Director of National Intelligence warned that it was concerned about “ongoing campaigns” by Russia, China and Iran to interfere with the upcoming Midterm elections and even the 2020 race — an ominous warning that comes just weeks before voters head to the polls.

Complete coverage of Russia’s campaign to disrupt the 2016 presidential election.

Crystal's tweet praising the former first lady's Ivy League education was shared more than 120,000 times and liked by 325,000 users, according to a CNN analysis of data released by Twitter. In fact the post, the day after the awards show, went viral more than any tweet she and her colleagues ever posted. Her colleagues at Russian intelligence, that is. Crystal1Johnson," since suspended form the social media platform, was a fake Russian account run by the Internet Research Agency (IRA), according to Twitter. It's one of thousands released this week by Twitter as part of a huge 9-million-tweet collection of the Russian group's activities -- the most comprehensive accounting to date of the so-called IRA's efforts to use fake social media posts to inflame American society and influence its elections.

Here's a look at hacking incidents during the 2016 presidential campaign  and Russian meddling in the election. For details about investigations  into hacking and efforts to interfere with the election, see 2016 Presidential Election Investigation Fast Facts.  

The Russian government interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election in order to increase political instability in the United States and to damage Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign by bolstering the candidacies of Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein. A January 2017 assessment by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) stated that Russian leadership favored presidential candidate Trump over Clinton, and that Russian president Vladimir Putin personally ordered an "influence campaign" to harm Clinton's chances and "undermine public faith in the US democratic process"
In the wake of the Mueller indictment of a Russian troll farm, any attempt to claim that the 2016 presidential election wasn’t affected by Russian meddling is laughable. For some time, there has been a conflation of issues—the hacking and leaking of illegally obtained information versus propaganda and disinformation; cyber-security issues and the hacking of elections systems versus information operations and information warfare; paid advertising versus coercive messaging or psychological operations—when discussing “Russian meddling” in the 2016 US elections. The refrain has become: “There is no evidence that Russian efforts changed any votes.” But the bombshell 37-page indictment issued Friday by Robert Mueller against Russia’s Internet Research Agency and its leadership and affiliates provides considerable detail on the Russian information warfare targeting the American public during the elections. And this information makes it increasingly difficult to say that the Kremlin's effort to impact the American mind did not succeed.

For two years, cybersecurity researchers, spies and federal prosecutors have laid out a stunningly thorough chain of evidence to support one simple conclusion: The Russian government sought to sway the 2016 presidential election. Federal agents have traced data and currency trails across continents, revealed inside knowledge of Russian spies’ computer network, and quoted the private emails of employees at a Russian internet firm working to influence voters. Cybersecurity researchers analyzed malware and followed clues buried in the details of stolen emails.

The Justice Department announced indictments against 12 Russian nationals as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, accusing them of engaging in a "sustained effort" to hack Democrats' emails and computer networks. All 12 defendants are members of the GRU, a Russian federation intelligence agency within the main intelligence directorate of the Russian military, who were acting in "their official capacities."

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