In first, Russian woman charged with interference in US midterm elections
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In first, Russian woman charged with interference in US midterm elections

Elena A. Khusyaynova of St. Petersburg is accused of creating thousands of social media and email accounts appearing to belong to US citizens

Election assistant Wayne Martin helps volunteers string lights as they set up voting booths at a polling station inside the library at Robert F. Kennedy Elementary School in Los Angeles on June 5, 2018 (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)
Election assistant Wayne Martin helps volunteers string lights as they set up voting booths at a polling station inside the library at Robert F. Kennedy Elementary School in Los Angeles on June 5, 2018 (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

The US accused a Russian woman Friday of a sweeping effort to sway American public opinion through social media in the first federal case alleging foreign interference in the 2018 midterm election.

Elena A. Khusyaynova of St. Petersburg is accused of creating thousands of social media and email accounts appearing to belong to US citizens, NBC News reported.

Topics discussed included gun control, gay rights, the women’s march, and the debate over NFL players kneeling during the national anthem, the outlet reported, as well as talking about the Las Vegas shooting and the Charlottesville rally.

The accounts also attacked politicians including John McCain, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Mitch McConnell, and former US President Barack Obama.

The content adopted several viewpoints, the court documents reportedly said.

Prosecutors said the accused is the chief accountant for a Russian venture named Project Lakhta, funded by a Russian oligarch whose Concord companies were named in Robert Mueller’s July indictment regarding attempted interference in the 2016 election.

A security guard speaks on the phone outside the Concord Catering office in St. Petersburg, Russia, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018 (AP Photo/Mstyslav Chernov

According to NBC, the oligarch is Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is known as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “chef” and who ran the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency.

The Internet Research Agency “tampered with, altered, or caused a misappropriation of information with the purpose or effect of interfering with or undermining election processes and institutions,” specifically the 2016 US presidential race, the Treasury Department said earlier this year.

Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin gestures at the Konstantin palace outside St. Petersburg, Russia, on August 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

The Justice Department unsealed the latest criminal complaint soon after US 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 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. “These activities also may seek to influence voter perceptions and decision-making in the 2018 and 2020 US elections.”

The two-page statement about foreign influence was issued just weeks before the Nov. 6 elections by the Office of the Department of National Intelligence, the Justice Department, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.

Foreign countries are using social media to amplify divisive issues in American society by sponsoring content in English-language media, such as Russia’s RT and Sputnik news outlets, the statement said. They also distribute propaganda and plant disinformation against political candidates, the departments said.

They statement did not provide specific examples of foreign interference.

Voting booths stand ready in downtown Minneapolis on Sept. 20, 2018, for Friday’s opening of early voting in Minnesota (AP Photo/Steve Karnowski)

The agencies said they currently 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.

But they said, “Some state and local governments have reported attempts to access their networks, which often include online voter registration databases, using tactics that are available to state and nonstate cyber actors.”

So far, they said, state and local officials have been able to prevent access or quickly mitigate these attempts.

President Donald Trump has often cast doubt on US intelligence findings that Russia interfered with the 2016 election, as special counsel Robert Mueller investigates potential ties between Russia and Trump’s campaign.

In this photo from June 21, 2017, special counsel Robert Mueller departs after a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

But Trump recently accused China of meddling in the midterms, and Vice President Mike Pence said in a speech this month that Russia’s actions in 2016 pale in comparison to the covert and overt activities by China to interfere in the current elections and counter Trump’s tough trade policies against Beijing.

China has denied that it is interfering in US affairs.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said recently that his country has no intention to interfere in the midterm elections in the US or meddle elsewhere.

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