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The Department of Justice issued charges on Friday against a Russian national for interfering with the 2018 U.S. elections. Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova is charged with conspiring with “a Russian influence campaign to interfere with U.S. democracy,” according to a statement from the DOJ.
Khushyaynova was allegedly the chief accountant for a Russian online influencing campaign dubbed “Project Lakhta.” Project Lakhta was funded by Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch and known associate of Vladimir Putin. Prigozhin’s companies, Concord Management and Consulting LLC and Concord Catering, weren’t distant donors, either—the companies apparently oversaw staffing and operations decisions, according to the DOJ’s criminal complaint.
Khushyaynova is the first person to be charged for interfering in the 2018 midterms. She likely will not be extradited to the U.S. and thus probably won’t be tried for her alleged crimes, as Putin hasn’t shown any eagerness to turn over alleged meddlers to the U.S..
The DOJ’s documents paint a picture of a highly organized, well-funded operation exploiting American division over a number of issues using bots, false information, and other now-familiar tactics.
The DOJ’s charges state that Project Lakhta has been around since at least 2014 and has operated through a number of other entities, including the Internet Research Agency (IRA). Thirteen individuals associated with the IRA were indicted in Robert Mueller’s ongoing probe in February.
As part of its methods, Project Lakhta’s SEO department (yes, it has an SEO department) advised content creators to, for example, dumb down content for LGBTQ people of color.
“Colored LGBT people are less sophisticated than white,” the court filings say, quoting internal documents. “Therefore, complicated messages and phrases do not work,” the documents continue.
Project Lakhta also had very specific messaging around Paul Ryan, calling him a “two-faced loudmouth,” and encouraging Americans to vote for his opponent, Randy Bryce, in the midterms, although Ryan isn’t running for reelection.
It seems lots of Americans fell for it; as Splinter notes, some of the accounts linked to bots were able to bring in hundreds of thousands of followers.
Even with the fresh charges, with the midterms just a couple of weeks away on Nov. 6, much of the damage is (probably) already done.
Ellen Ioanes is the FOIA reporter at the Daily Dot, where she covers U.S. politics. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School, and her work has appeared in the Guardian, the Center for Public Integrity, HuffPost India, and more.