Based in St. Petersburg, President Vladimir Putin’s hometown, the Russian Internet Research Agency employs bloggers and online commentators to influence public opinion in Russia and abroad.

Friday’s indictment says that the company was funded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is close to Putin. The company allegedly purchased internet advertisements in the names of Americans whose identities they had stolen, staged political rallies while posing as American political activists and paid people in the U.S. to promote or disparage candidates. They started out by posting pro-Russian or controversial comments on social media and popular web sites and then developed more sophisticated tactics.

Analysts and journalists found that some of the accounts – such as the now-deleted and rabidly pro-Trump @TEN-GOP – accrued national followings and were retweeted by a range of figures as well as several members of Trump’s team, including ex-National Security Adviser Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and one of Trump’s sons, Donald Trump Jr.

Soon enough, they were also organizing flesh-and-blood protests on American soil and being promoted by some of the most senior politicians in the land.

Some Trump campaign officials also helped the Russian meddling – unknowingly, the indictment says, after some of the defendants posed as Americans and communicated with “unwitting individuals” associated with the Trump election team in order to coordinate activities, according to the document. Sometimes the Russians used fake U.S. personas to communicate with Trump officials doing local outreach and those officials would then distribute their materials via social media. There was no immediate comment from the White House on this matter.

The FBI’s indictment carries new tidbits about how its operatives stole Americans’ Social Security numbers and drivers’ licenses to help pull off their fakery.

It appears that the FBI had access to the group’s internal communications. In the case of agency worker Irina Kaverzina, for example, the FBI cites an email she wrote to her family saying: “We had a slight crisis here at work: the FBI busted our activity (not a joke). So, I got preoccupied with covering tracks together with the colleagues.”

– The Associated Press


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