Russian woman charged with interfering in USA midterm elections

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The FBI remains dedicated in its efforts to thwart "unlawful influence operations" with fellow law enforcement agencies, FBI Director Christopher Wray said in the news release, adding that the bureau takes "all threats to our democracy very seriously".

Elena Khusyaynova, the woman charged by the DOJ, was apparently the chief accountant for this project funded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch who's been referred to as "Putin's chef".

The case appears to be an outgrowth of a larger case filed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in February, accusing Prigozhin and others of interfering in the 2016 election by pushing divisive social media campaigns that attacked Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

In that effort, they pumped out millions of postings via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms created to stir up animosity between political camps and groups in society.

The case against Khusyaynova was unsealed in Alexandria, Virginia, and is not being handled by Mueller because it includes activities related to the 2018 elections, which are not part of his remit, the official familiar with the matter told Reuters news agency.

The campaign aimed to boost Donald Trump's chances of winning the presidency, according to United States intelligence.

Between January 2016 and June 2018, Project Lakhta had a proposed operating budget of more than $35 million for all of its operations, including those directed at the US.

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The money served to pay for IRA activists, social media advertising, registering domain names and buying proxy servers, all needed for the group's influence operations.

The accounts were used "to create and amplify divisive social and political content targeting United States audiences".

The US is concerned about the campaigns "to undermine confidence in democratic institutions and influence public sentiment and government policies", the officials said in a joint statement.

The Justice Department unsealed the latest criminal complaint soon after U.S. intelligence agencies, in a rare public statement, asserted that Russia, China, Iran and other countries were engaged in continuous efforts to influence American policy and voters in the upcoming congressional elections and beyond. The statement, which provided no details about any such efforts, said, "These activities also may seek to influence voter perceptions and decision-making in the 2018 and 2020 USA elections".

The agencies said they now do not have any evidence that voting systems have been disrupted or compromised in ways that could result in changing vote counts or hampering the ability to tally votes in the midterms, which are fewer than 20 days away.

A senior Homeland Security official said on Friday that no state voting system had been successfully hacked ahead of the November elections.

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