A federal grand jury on Friday indicted 12 Russian military intelligence officers with conspiracy to hack into Democrat computers during the 2016 presidential election, the latest charges brought against Russian nationals by the special counsel investigating Moscow’s interference.
The indictment charges the operatives with carrying out one of two kinds of the Russian meddling in the contentious election: hacking the email accounts of volunteers and employees of the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, including its chairman, and releasing the emails and other documents to the public.
The other aspect of the Russian interference involved a massive influence operation on social media orchestrated by a St. Petersburg-based troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency.
In February, a grand jury indicted 12 of the company’s employees and its financial backer.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the latest charges Friday.
“The blame for election interference belongs to the criminals who committed election interference,” Rosenstein said at a press conference. “We need to work together to hold the perpetrators accountable, and keep moving forward to preserve our values, protest against future interference, and defend America.”
The Russian operatives worked for two special units of Russia’s military intelligence agency known as GRU and used a variety of techniques to gain access to the Democratic computers, according to the 29-page indictment.
“The units engaged in active cyberoperations to interfere in the 2016 presidential election,” Rosenstein said. “One GRU unit worked to steal information, while another unit worked to disseminate stolen information.”
Starting as early as March 2016, the Russians hacked into Clinton campaign accounts, according to the indictment. By April, the operatives also had intruded into the computer networks of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic National Committee.
“The Conspirators covertly monitored the computers of dozens of DCCC and DNC employees, implanted hundreds of files containing malicious computer code [“malware”], and stole emails and other documents from the DCCC and DNC,” the indictment says.
By July, the Russians, using fictitious online personas, including DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0, released tens of thousands of the stolen emails and documents from the Clinton campaign and the two Democratic committees, according to the indictment.
The charges come on the eve of a highly-anticipated summit Monday between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland. Trump said at a news conference Friday that he’ll “absolutely ask” Putin about the Russian interference in the U.S. election.
Rosenstein said he briefed Trump on the allegations earlier this week.
“The president is fully aware of today’s actions by the Department,” he said.
Rosenstein said that while the Russian aim was to influence the elections, “there is no allegation that the conspiracy altered the vote count or changed any election result.”
The indictment names all 12 agents engaged in the conspiracy, including Viktor Borisovich Netyksho, who headed the GRU unit responsible for hacking the Democratic accounts. The commanding officer of the second unit, which helped release the stolen documents through DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0, is identified as Aleksandr Vladimirovich Osadchuk.
Eleven agents are charged with conspiring to hack computers, steal documents and release them in an effort to influence the election.
The 12th is 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.