US indicts 12 Russians on election meddling charges

Washington -
By Gretel Johnston - The US Justice Department on Friday announced the indictment of 12 Russians on charges of hacking into the computers of the Democratic National Committee, Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and other organizations in an effort to influence the 2016 presidential election.

An indictment laid out by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein charges the 12 Russians, all military officers, with hacking into computers in order to steal information and release it through other entities "with intent to interfere."

In addition to the DNC's computers and those of the Clinton campaign, others affected belonged to state boards of elections, Rosenstein said at a news conference.

Rosenstein said there was no allegation that the suspects' activity changed the vote count. He also said that although the conspirators allegedly corresponded with several Americans via the internet, there is no allegation that any US citizen committed a crime.

The indictment comes as US President Donald Trump prepares to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday in Helsinki. Rosenstein said he briefed Trump on the indictment earlier this week.

"The president is fully aware of today’s actions by the department," he said.

The indictment was was returned Friday by a federal grand jury after being presented by investigators with special counsel Robert Mueller's office. Mueller has been probing alleged meddling by Russians in the 2016 election for more than a year.

Rosenstein said 11 of the defendants are charged with conspiring to hack into computers, steal documents and release the data in an effort to interfere with the election. One of the 11 and the 12th defendant are charged with conspiring to infiltrate computers of state election authorities.

The indictment alleges the defendants worked for two units of the main intelligence directorate of the Russian General Staff, known as the GRU. One unit worked to steal information, while the other worked to disseminate the stolen information.

The defendants allegedly hacked into computer networks and installed malicious software that allowed them to spy on users and capture keystrokes, take screenshots and remove data. They also are charged with using a technique known as "spearphishing," which involves sending misleading email messages and tricking users into disclosing their passwords and security information.

The conspirators created fictitious online personas, including "DCLeaks" and "Guccifer 2.0," to release thousands of stolen emails and other documents beginning five months before the election.

The indictment says the defendants attempted to conceal their connections to Russia by using a network of computers located around the world and paid for the activities with cryptocurrency.

The indictment also describes an alleged second conspiracy in which Russian GRU officers hacked the website of a state election board and stole information about 500,000 voters. The officers also allegedly hacked into computers of a company that supplied software used to verify voter registration information.

Charges listed in the indictment include conspiring to access computers without authorization, causing damage to those computers, aggravated identity theft and money laundering. It also seeks the forfeiture of property involved in the criminal activity.

Rosenstein cautioned against politicizing the indictment.

"The blame for election interference belongs to the criminals who committed election interference," he said.

Russia did not interfere and had no intention of interfering in the 2016 US presidential elections, a Kremlin official says, after indictments against 12 Russians were announced in the United States.
"When the Americans have facts, we will take a look - that's what our president has said multiple times," said Yuri Ushakov, Russian President Vladimir Putin's foreign policy adviser.

Friday, July 13th 2018
By Gretel Johnston

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