Wednesday, October 24, 2018

By Michael Balsamo

 

WASHINGTON (AP)—When the Justice Department unsealed criminal charges detailing a yearslong effort by a Russian troll farm to “sow division and discord in the U.S. political system,” it was the first federal case alleging continued foreign interference in U.S. elections.

Earlier Friday, American intelligence officials released a rare public statement asserting that Russia, China, Iran and other countries are engaged in ongoing efforts to influence U.S. policy and voters in future elections.

The statement didn't provide details on those efforts. That stood in contrast with the criminal charges, which provided a detailed narrative of Russian activities. Russian activities have also been outlined in previous criminal cases.

A look at what is known about foreign efforts to interfere in U.S. elections:

 

WHAT IS THE U.S. WORRIED ABOUT?

The U.S. has a lot of concerns; ballot tampering, hacking into campaigns, open and covert attempts to sway voters.

Friday's announcement didn't suggest that electoral campaigns or systems were compromised. Instead, it spelled out a focus on foreign campaigns aimed at undermining confidence in democratic institutions.

The criminal charges detailed how a Russian troll farm created thousands of false social media profiles and email accounts that appeared to be from people inside the United States. While social media companies are making an effort to combat fake accounts and bogus news stories ahead of the upcoming elections, there is a concern from advocates that it may not be enough to combat the foreign interference.

 

IS RUSSIA MEDDLING IN U.S. ELECTIONS?

The criminal complaint provided a clear picture that there is still a hidden but powerful Russian social media effort aimed at spreading distrust for American political candidates and causing divisions on social issues such as immigration and gun control.

Prosecutors said a Russian woman, Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, worked for the same social media troll farm indicted earlier this year by special counsel Robert Mueller, whose office is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. The case largely mirrors the one brought by the special counsel's office against three Russian companies, including the Internet Research Agency, and 13 Russians—including a close ally to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Court papers describe how the operatives in Friday's case would analyze U.S. news articles and decide how they would draft social media messages about those stories.

They also show that Russian trolls have stepped up their efforts with a better understanding the U.S. political climate and messages that are no longer riddled with misspellings.

In 2016, Russian trolls were trying to help elect Republican Donald Trump and harm the campaign of Democrat Hillary Clinton, while also sowing discord in America.

The latest charges show that Russia is continuing to focus on the latter, instead of helping a particular candidate. The case detailed how the operatives would often send messages with diverging viewpoints about the same issue from different accounts.