The U.S. Justice
Department released the below information:
A criminal complaint
was unsealed in Alexandria, Virginia, today charging a Russian national for her
alleged role in a Russian conspiracy to interfere in the U.S. political system,
including the 2018 midterm election. Assistant Attorney General for National Security
John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger of the Eastern District of
Virginia, and FBI Director Christopher Wray made the announcement after the
charges were unsealed.
allege that Russian national Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova conspired with others
who were part of a Russian influence campaign to interfere with U.S.
democracy,” said Assistant Attorney General Demers. “Our nation is built upon a
hard-fought and unwavering commitment to democracy. Americans disagree in good
faith on all manner of issues, and we will protect their right to do so.
Unlawful foreign interference with these debates debases their democratic
integrity, and we will make every effort to disrupt it and hold those involved
“The strategic goal of
this alleged conspiracy, which continues to this day, is to sow discord in the
U.S. political system and to undermine faith in our democratic institutions,”
said U.S. Attorney Terwilliger. “This case demonstrates that federal law
enforcement authorities will work aggressively to investigate and prosecute the
perpetrators of unlawful foreign influence activities, and that we will not
stand by idly while foreign actors obstruct the lawful functions of our
government. I want to thank the agents and prosecutors for their determined
work on this case.”
“This case serves as a
stark reminder to all Americans: Our foreign adversaries continue their efforts
to interfere in our democracy by creating social and political division,
spreading distrust in our political system, and advocating for the support or
defeat of particular political candidates,” said Director Wray. “We take all
threats to our democracy very seriously, and we’re committed to working with
our partners to identify and stop these unlawful influence operations.
Together, we must remain diligent and determined to protect our democratic
institutions and maintain trust in our electoral process.”
allegations in the criminal complaint, Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, 44, of St.
Petersburg, Russia, served as the chief accountant of “Project Lakhta,” a
Russian umbrella effort funded by Russian oligarch Yevgeniy Viktorovich
Prigozhin and two companies he controls, Concord Management and Consulting LLC,
and Concord Catering. Project Lakhta includes multiple components, some
involving domestic audiences within the Russian Federation and others targeting
foreign audiences in the United States, members of the European Union, and
Ukraine, among others.
managed the financing of Project Lakhta operations, including foreign influence
activities directed at the United States. The financial documents she
controlled include detailed expenses for activities in the United States, such
as expenditures for activists, advertisements on social media platforms,
registration of domain names, the purchase of proxy servers, and “promoting
news postings on social networks.” Between January 2016 and June 2018, Project
Lakhta’s proposed operating budget totaled more than $35 million, although only
a portion of these funds were directed at the United States. Between January
and June 2018 alone, Project Lakhta’s proposed operating budget totaled more
than $10 million.
conspiracy, in which Khusyaynova is alleged to have played a central financial
management role, sought to conduct what it called internally “information
warfare against the United States.” This effort was not only designed to spread
distrust towards candidates for U.S. political office and the U.S. political
system in general, but also to defraud the United States by impeding the lawful
functions of government agencies in administering relevant federal
allegedly took extraordinary steps to make it appear that they were ordinary
American political activists. This included the use of virtual private networks
and other means to disguise their activities and to obfuscate their Russian
origin. They used social media platforms to create thousands of social media
and email accounts that appeared to be operated by U.S. persons, and used them
to create and amplify divisive social and political content targeting U.S.
audiences. These accounts also were used to advocate for the election or
electoral defeat of particular candidates in the 2016 and 2018 U.S. elections.
Some social media accounts posted tens of thousands of messages, and had tens
of thousands of followers.
allegedly used social media and other internet platforms to address a wide
variety of topics, including immigration, gun control and the Second Amendment,
the Confederate flag, race relations, LGBT issues, the Women’s March, and the
NFL national anthem debate. Members of the conspiracy took advantage of
specific events in the United States to anchor their themes, including the shootings
of church members in Charleston, South Carolina, and concert attendees in Las
Vegas; the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally and associated violence;
police shootings of African-American men; as well as the personnel and policy
decisions of the current U.S. presidential administration.
alleged activities did not exclusively adopt one ideological view; they wrote
on topics from varied and sometimes opposing perspectives. Members of the
conspiracy were directed, among other things, to create “political intensity
through supporting radical groups” and to “aggravate the conflict between
minorities and the rest of the population.” The actors also developed playbooks
and strategic messaging documents that offered guidance on how to target
particular social groups, including the timing of messages, the types of news
outlets to use, and how to frame divisive messages.
The criminal complaint
does not include any allegation that Khusyaynova or the broader conspiracy had
any effect on the outcome of an election. The complaint also does not allege
that any American knowingly participated in the Project Lakhta operation.
The investigative team
received exceptional cooperation from private sector companies, such as
Facebook and Twitter.
Attorney Jay V. Prabhu and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Alex Iftimie are
prosecuting the case, with assistance of Trial Attorneys Matthew Y. Chang and
Patrick T. Murphy of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and
Export Control Section.
A copy of this press
release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern
District of Virginia. Related court documents and information is located on the
website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER
by searching for Case No. 1:18-mj-464.
A criminal complaint
contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is
presumed to be innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a
court of law.