How Russia’s “influence operations” targeted the midterms (and how they still do)
Last week, Twitter released data from accounts that had been identified as part of Russian and Iranian influence campaigns, including efforts by Russia to influence the political climate in the United States before, during, and after the 2016 presidential campaign. Hours later, the US Department of Justice announced the indictment of a 44-year-old Russian woman accused of directing ongoing influence campaigns on social media platforms targeting the US midterm congressional elections.
Both Twitter’s data and the indictment are data points in the history of “Project Lakhta,” a wide-ranging campaign to shape the political and cultural discussions in Russia, Ukraine, Western Europe, and the United States. The campaign started began in earnest in 2014, though the Internet Research Agency’s efforts date back even further in Russia. The Internet Research Agency, also known as the IRA, was but one of several organizations enlisted in these efforts; the operation also enlisted a number of media organizations, including the Federal News Agency (FAN). FAN operates the “USA Really” propaganda site, which was launched earlier this year, as well as associated social media accounts that have been leveraged as part of the campaign.
According to the FBI affidavit that led to the indictment of Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova last week, Khusyanova managed the financing of the organizations under the Project Lakhta umbrella and funneled $35 million to various entities to fund social media and propaganda operations. These activities in the US included covering the expenditures of “activists,” purchasing advertisements on social media platforms with faked US identities, operating proxy servers in the US, and “promoting news postings on social networks.”