How Russia Used Trolls, Cyberattacks and Propaganda to Try to Influence Election
A declassified U.S. intelligence report reveals new information.
By MEGHAN KENEALLY
January 7, 2017, 4:05 AM
• 4 min read
-- A declassified report on Russian hacking activity pertaining to the recent U.S. presidential election details how intelligence officials believe Moscow and its supporters attempted to put their stamp on the political process.
The report, which comes after an investigation ordered by President Obama, specifies that there is no indication that Russian actors directly interfered with vote counts but does indicate that there were a number of other ways that they got involved in the contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
In March 2016, two months before Donald Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee, the report says that "Russian Government-linked actors began openly supporting President-elect Trump's candidacy in media aimed at English-speaking audiences."
Trump has repeatedly called into question U.S. intelligence assessments about Russian interference in the election, specifically hacking, despite several statements from those agencies indicating they believed that to be the case.
He even went so far as to suggest that intelligence agencies were delaying a briefing with him until today because they were building their case.
After being briefed today, Trump maintained that "there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines," according to a statement.
The report details an elaborate effort by the Russian government, at the direction of its president Vladimir Putin, to discredit and denigrate Hillary Clinton while trying to cast Donald Trump in a favorable light including cyberattacks as well as propaganda.
The report specifically names Dmitriy Kiselev -- who it calls "Putin's chief propagandist" -- saying that he used his weekly newsmagazine program "to cast President-elect Trump as an outsider victimized by a corrupt political establishment and faulty democratic election process."
A number of videos published on the website of RT, which the report calls "the Kremlin's principal international propaganda outlet," had headlines specifically targeting Clinton, with one connecting Clinton to ISIS money and another purporting that the Clintons were the biggest recipients of Clinton Foundation money: n, “How 100% of theClintons’ ‘Charity’ Went to…Themselves.”
Several of those stories received more than 9 million views on social media platforms, the report states, and one single story had more than 2.2 million views.
The report states that the news coverage that RT dedicated to Hillary Clinton was "consistently negative and focused on her leaked emails and accused her of corruption, poor physical and mental health, and ties to Islamic extremism."
The head of RT, Margarita Simonyan, tweeted "they're joking, right?" in Russian Friday, mocking the intelligence report.
Another specific tool that intelligence officials believe was used by the Russians were internet "trolls" who "amplified stories on scandals about Secretary Clinton and the role of Wikileaks in the election campaign."
The trolls were deemed "professionals" in the report, and were "previously devoted to supporting Russian actions in Ukraine."
The work of those trolls appear to be among some of the earliest actions that were taken by Russian forces in support of Trump, as the report states that the trolls "started to advocate for President-elect Trump as early as December 2015."