Justice Dept. indicts 12 Russian spies over 2016 DNC hack

(Image: file photo)

The Justice Department has indicted the hackers thought to be responsible for the 2016 cyberattack on the Democratic National Committee. Twelve indictments were filed by the office of US special counsel Robert Mueller, who was brought on last year to investigate Russian interference with the 2016 US presidential election. Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, made the announcement Friday.

The charges relate to an attack on the systems of the DNC. The hackers launched a successful spearphishing attack against senior officials for the Hillary Clinton campaign and released over 19,000 confidential emails and files through WikiLeaks. Read also: US officially accuses Russia of political cyber attacks

Former FBI director James Comey said during congressional testimony last year he had “no doubt” the Russian government was behind the DNC hack. According to the Justice Dept., all the alleged hackers work at the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), the country’s foreign intelligence service.

The charges include counts of criminal conspiracy, aggravated identity theft, conspiracy to launder money, and conspiracy to hack into the computers of state boards and elections. The indictments accuse officials from the GRU’s so-called Unit 26165, which is dedicated to hacking and cryptoanalysis, of targeting DNC staff, stealing usernames and passwords, and using those credentials to gain a great foothold into the committee’s email accounts and other systems.

US prosecutors accuse the Russian intelligence officials of creating a fictitious, public-facing persona, dubbed “Guccifer 2.0,” to serve as a conduit for the stolen DNC data and others prior to the 2016 election. Read also: Did Russia’s election hacking break international law? It’s believed several people contacted Guccifer 2.0 to obtain documents and data, including Roger Stone, a former Trump campaign aide, who has admitted talking to Guccifer 2.0 and acted as a go-between for the hacker and Trump’s presidential campaign.

The indictment also said a “candidate for US Congress” contacted Guccifer 2.0 to obtain the files — though the candidate was not named, nor is it known if the candidate won. According to Rosenstein, the Russian intelligence officials also hacked the website of a state election board and stole information from about 500,000 voters, including names, addresses, partial social security numbers, dates of birth, and driver’s license numbers. The department did not say which state board was affected.

“When we confront foreign interference in American elections, it is important for us to avoid thinking politically as Republicans or Democrats and instead to think patriotically as Americans. Our response must not depend on who was victimized,” said Rosenstein in remarks Friday. Read also: How Russian Facebook ads targeted US voters in 2016 election – CNET

Mueller’s office did not comment. But the Justice Dept., said there is “no allegation” any American was a knowing participant in the Russian’s alleged unlawful activities. Clinton’s campaign has long claimed the hacks were an effort to sabotage her campaign against then-candidate Donald Trump.

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