Russian Interference In The 2016 Election

The Russian government interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election with the goals of harming the campaign of Hillary Clinton, boosting the candidacy of Donald Trump, and increasing political and social discord in the United States. According to U.S. intelligence agencies, the operation—code named Project Lakhta—was ordered directly by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Special Counsel's report, made public in April 2019, examined numerous contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials but concluded that there was insufficient evidence to bring any conspiracy or coordination charges against Trump or his associates.

The Internet Research Agency (IRA), based in Saint Petersburg, Russia and described as a troll farm, created thousands of social media accounts that purported to be Americans supporting radical political groups and planned or promoted events in support of Trump and against Clinton. They reached millions of social media users between 2013 and 2017. Fabricated articles and disinformation were spread from Russian government-controlled media, and promoted on social media. Additionally, computer hackers affiliated with the Russian military intelligence service (GRU) infiltrated information systems of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and Clinton campaign officials, notably chairman John Podesta, and publicly released stolen files and emails through DCLeaks, Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks during the election campaign

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) opened the Crossfire Hurricane investigation of Russian interference in July 2016, including a special focus on links between Trump associates and Russian officials and suspected coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Russian attempts to interfere in the election were first disclosed publicly by members of the United States Congress in September 2016, confirmed by US intelligence agencies in October 2016, and further detailed by the Director of National Intelligence office in January 2017. The dismissal of James Comey, the FBI director, in May 2017, was partly because of Comey's investigation of the Russian interference

Russian use of social media to disseminate propaganda content was very broad. Facebook and Twitter were used, but also Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Medium, YouTube, Vine, and Google+ (among other sites). Instagram was by far the most used platform, and one that largely remained out of the public eye until late 2018.

Advertisements (advertising) bought by Russian operatives for the Facebook social media site are estimated to have reached 10 million users. But many more Facebook users were contacted by accounts created by Russian actors.

Facebook originally denied that fake news on their platform had influenced the election and had insisted it was unaware of any Russian-financed advertisements but later admitted that about 126 million Americans may have seen posts published by Russia-based operatives.

Cyberattack on Democrats

In April 2017, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said WikiLeaks was a hostile intelligence agency aided by foreign states including Russia, and that the U.S. Intelligence Community concluded that Russia's "propaganda outlet," RT, had conspired with WikiLeaks.

In a leaked private message on Twitter, Julian Assange wrote that in the 2016 election "it would be much better for GOP to win," and that Hillary Clinton was a "sadistic sociopath".

Hacking of Republicans

On January 10, 2017, FBI Director James Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia succeeded in "collecting some information from Republican-affiliated targets but did not leak it to the public".

Calls by Trump for Russians to hack Clinton's deleted emails

At a news conference on July 27, 2016, Donald Trump publicly called on Russia to hack and release Hillary Clinton's deleted emails from her private server during her tenure in the State Department.

The July 2018 federal indictment of Russian GRU agents said that the first attempt by Russian hackers to infiltrate the computer servers inside Clinton's offices took place on the same day (July 27, 2016) Trump made his "Russia if you're listening" appeal. While no direct link with Trump's remark was alleged in the indictment, journalist Jane Mayer called the timing "striking".

Attempts to suppress African American votes and spread alienation

According to Vox, the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) focused on the culture of Muslims, Christians, Texas, and LGBTQ people, to engage those communities as part of a broader strategy to deepen social and political divisions within the U.S., but no other group received as much attention as Black Americans, whose voter turnout has been historically crucial to the election of Democrats. Russia's influence campaign used an array of tactics aiming to reduce their vote for Hillary Clinton, according to a December 2018 report (The Tactics & Tropes of the Internet Research Agency) commissioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Intrusions into state election systems (voting machine)

A 2019 report by the Senate Intelligence Committee found "an unprecedented level of activity against state election infrastructure" by Russian intelligence in 2016.

Investigation into financial flows

Money funneled through the NRA

By January 2018, the FBI was investigating the possible funneling of illegal money by Aleksandr Torshin, a deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia, through the National Rifle Association, which was then used to help Donald Trump win the presidency. Torshin is known to have close connections both to Russia's president Vladimir Putin and to the NRA, and he has been charged with money laundering in other countries.

The NRA reported spending $30 million to support the 2016 Trump campaign, three times what it spent on Mitt Romney in 2012, and spent more than any other independent group including the leading Trump superPAC.

Money from Russian oligarchs

As of April 2018, Mueller's investigators were examining whether Russian oligarchs directly or indirectly provided illegal cash donations to the Trump campaign and inauguration. Investigators were examining whether oligarchs invested in American companies or think tanks having political action committees connected to the campaign, as well as money funneled through American straw donors to the Trump campaign and inaugural fund. At least one oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, was detained and his electronic devices searched as he arrived at a New York area airport on his private jet in early 2018. Vekselberg was questioned about hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments made to Michael Cohen after the election

Intelligence analysis and reports

Non-U.S. intelligence

In part because U.S. agencies cannot surveil U.S. citizens without a warrant, the U.S. was slow to recognize the pattern of Russia's efforts. From late 2015 until the summer of 2016, during routine surveillance of Russians, several countries discovered interactions between the Trump campaign and Moscow

Because the materials were highly sensitive, GCHQ director Robert Hannigan contacted CIA director John O. Brennan directly to give him information. Concerned, Brennan gave classified briefings to U.S. Congress' "Gang of Eight" during late August and September 2016. Referring only to intelligence allies and not to specific sources, Brennan told the Gang of Eight he had received evidence that Russia might be trying to help Trump win the U.S. election

October 2016 ODNI / DHS joint statement

U.S. government response

In May 2018, the Senate Intelligence Committee released the interim findings of their bipartisan investigation, finding that Russia interfered in the 2016 election with the goal of helping Trump gain the presidency, stating: "Our staff concluded that the [intelligence community's] conclusions were accurate and on point. The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated, and ordered by President Putin himself for the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton."

Punitive measures imposed on Russia

On December 29, 2016, the U.S. government announced a series of punitive measures against Russia. The Barack Obama administration imposed sanctions on four top officials of the GRU and declared persona non grata 35 Russian diplomats suspected of spying; they were ordered to leave the country within 72 hours

Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act

On January 29, 2018, the Donald Trump administration notified Congress that it would not impose additional sanctions on Russia under 2017 legislation designed to punish Moscow's meddling in the 2016 U.S. election. The administration insisted that the mere threat of the sanctions outlined in the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act would serve as a deterrent, and that implementing the sanctions would therefore be unnecessary.

Impact on election result

a number of former intelligence and law enforcement officials, at least one political scientist and one former U.S. president argue that Russian interference was decisive because of the sophistication of the Russian propaganda on social media, the hacking of Democratic Party emails and the timing of their public release, the small shift in voter support needed to achieve victory in the electoral college, and the relatively high number of undecided voters (who may be more readily influenced)

Three states where Trump won by very close margins—margins significantly less than the number of votes cast for third party candidates in those states—gave him an electoral college majority. Mayer writes that if only 12% of these third-party voters "were persuaded by Russian propaganda—based on hacked Clinton-campaign analytics—not to vote for Clinton", this would have been enough to win the election for Trump.

Targeting of important voting blocs and institutions

Edited:    |       |    Search Twitter for discussion