In a major development to the alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections, the US justice department has indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers for ‘hacking’ the Democratic National Committee, BBC reported.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was quoted as saying that the 12 Russians accused of hacking the committee used spear phishing emails and malicious software in their purported cyber attacks. The investigation, which is being carried out by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, has already indicted 20 people and three companies.
The indictment mentions that a dozen of Russian intelligence officers began their cyber attacks in March 2016 to hack the email accounts of volunteers and employees involved in the presidential campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Rosenstein told BBC that the defendants corresponded with several Americans during the conspiracy to manipulate the elections but there is no direct allegation that any US citizen indulged in criminal activity. The deputy attorney general added that the defendants worked for two units of the Russian intelligence service, the GRU.
The 12 Russian intelligence officers allegedly hacked into the computer network of the Democratic Congressional Committee as well as Democratic National Campaign Committee. “The defendants covertly monitored the computers, implanted hundreds of files containing malicious computer code, and stole emails and other documents,” he was quoted as saying. Rosenstein further informed that the conspirators created fictitious online identities, such as “DCLeaks” and “Guccifer 2.0”.
They allegedly exploited these identities to release thousands of stolen emails and other documents beginning as early as in June 2016. “We know that the goal of the conspirators was to have an impact on the election,” he told BBC.
“What impact they may have had, what their motivation may have been independently of what’s required to prove this offence, is a matter of speculation. That’s not our responsibility,” he added.
The deputy attorney general also stated that he had briefed President Donald Trump about the indictments earlier this the week. Trump, who is in the UK, has repeatedly dismissed the investigation a ‘witch hunt’.
The inquiry is looking into US intelligence findings if the Russians conspired to favour the election in Trump’s victory, and whether any of his campaign associated were involved in the conspiracy.
(With Inputs from British Broadcasting Corporation)