The Kremlin didn’t just hack U.S. servers — the Russian government also worked with professional trolls to influence the U.S. presidential election.
On Friday, the Director of National Intelligence released its declassified report on Russias cyberattacks, which examined the motivations and scope of Russia’s hacking endeavors. Efforts to influence the election, such as paid social media users (“trolls”), were approved at the highest levels of the Russian Government, the report found. The actual term “trolls” comes up six times in the 25-page report. It also claims that Russia’s cyberattacks during the election were “unprecedented” and predicted that it’s likely Russia will be encouraged by its results and try to influence other elections.
“Russia, like its Soviet predecessor, has a history of conducting covert influence campaigns focused on U.S. presidential elections that have used intelligence officers and agents and press placements to disparage candidates perceived as hostile to the Kremlin,” the report reads.
The report called these efforts a “state-run propaganda machine” that included a network of “quasi-government trolls” who used social media to disparage Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. For example, stories on Clinton’s health received a signal boost on Twitter and Facebook, as did the emails published by WikiLeaks. And since there are so many more outlets (see: “fake news”) to spread doubt, misinformation, and conspiracy theories, Russian efforts at intervening in the election had a greater rate of success.
There is an Internet Research Agency — commonly known as “The Agency” — of professional trolls located in Saint Petersburg. The financier of this agency is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin with ties to Russian intelligence. The report also said that a journalist who is a leading expert on the Internet Research Agency claimed that some social media accounts appear to be linked to Russia’s professional trolls.
As early as December 2015, accounts that previously supported Russian actions in Ukraine started advocating for President-elect Donald Trump.
Russia used these methods to undermine public trust in the government and media. According to the report, Russian influence campaigns are designed to be deniable since they use a mix of different outlets. Russia has a history of these types of campaigns, too. For example, during the Ukraine crisis in 2014, Russia deployed forces and advisers to eastern Ukraine, and then publicly denied it.
“Moscow’s campaign aimed at the U.S. election reflected years of investment in its capabilities, which Moscow has honed in the former Soviet states,” the report said.
At a U.S. intelligence’s briefing with the Senate Armed Services committee on Thursday, officials promised to release a report next week, but they chose to release it earlier. Following a meeting with intelligence officials Friday, Trump said he does not think Russian cyberattacks affected the election’s outcome.