March 10th 2018


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COVER STORY Family home in cities soaring further out of reach

EDITORIAL Australia: sleepwalking towards the precipice

CANBERRA OBSERVED Population debate needs development debate

NATIONAL AFFAIRS We need a development bank and a higher population

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Russians were spoilers: U.S. election rap sheet

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Bob Santamaria and free trade agreements

LAW AND FREEDOM Exemptions are far cry from protection of religious freedom

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS China v Professor Brady: intimidation or coincidence?

POLITICS AND SOCIETY Defending biological man and woman from transgenderism

SOUTH AUSTRALIA Swing to minor parties expected in SA poll

ASIA Burma: ignored and misunderstood

HISTORY The improbability of progress

MUSIC Playing the pitch: being in tune is a sometime thing

CINEMA Wonder: Our deeds are our monuments

BOOK REVIEW Exploring our own recent archives

BOOK REVIEW Rising in a society fractured at heart

BOOK REVIEW A dubious thesis but deserves a read

NEWS Pat Byrne elected new NCC president

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Liberals return for second term in Hobart

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Russians were spoilers: U.S. election rap sheet


by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, March 10, 2018

The charge sheet filed by the U.S. Justice Department against 13 Russian nationals and three companies alleged to have interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election contains a number of surprises: no Trump campaign officials are implicated; the Russians apparently supported both Trump and Bernie Sanders, the far-left Democrat, in the party primaries; they sponsored rallies which supported both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton; and they sought to encourage people not to vote in the election.

Businessman Yegeny Progozhin,
here seen failing to please Vladimir
Putin, is among the indicted.

The 37-page indictment was published on the U.S. Department of Justice website.

The picture that emerges from the charges is that the Russians were spoilers, more interested in sowing discord during the election than in backing a particular candidate.

Interestingly, it alleges that just after the election, the Russians sponsored pro-Trump and pro-Clinton demonstrations in New York on the same day!

The indictment makes clear that where Black Americans, Muslims, Republicans and Democrats were co-opted by this online campaign run by the Russians, they did so unwittingly.

While there may be charges related to the actions of some members of the Trump team who had contact with Russians during the campaign, there is no mention of them in this document.

“Information warfare”

In an accompanying statement, the Justice Department said the Russians, from an office in St Petersburg, conducted “information warfare against the United States”, with the stated goal of “spread[ing] distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general”.

It was a sophisticated campaign, centring on use of social media, particularly Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, with fake accounts using both stolen and created identities.

The alleged criminal conduct involved numerous breaches of U.S. law.

To hide the true origin of their activities, the defendants allegedly purchased space on computer servers located within the United States in order to set up a virtual private network.

They then used that infrastructure to establish hundreds of accounts on social media networks such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, making it appear that the accounts were controlled by persons within the United States, thereby breaching U.S. law, which requires foreign agents to register their activities.

They used stolen or fictitious American identities, fraudulent bank accounts, and false identification documents. The Russians posed as politically and socially active Americans, advocating for and against particular political candidates.

They established social media pages and groups to communicate with unwitting Americans. They also purchased political advertisements on social media.

The Russians also recruited and paid real Americans to engage in political activities, promote political campaigns, and stage political rallies. The defendants and their co-conspirators pretended to be grassroots activists.

Quite apart from this campaign, the Russians also used the Kremlin-run RT network to comment on the U.S. presidential campaign on social media. This had previously been the subject of a detailed report by the joint U.S. intelligence agencies in 2017.

While the intelligence report excited a great deal of media attention at the time, because RT supported Donald Trump and criticised Hillary Clinton, RT was doing nothing different from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Al Jazeera, and a number of other government-run networks which strongly endorsed Hillary Clinton.

RT’s influence on the U.S. election, which was decisively won by Trump, was minimal. In fact, the Russians clearly believed – along with most other observers and participants – that Hillary Clinton was going to win the presidency, and they claimed before the vote that the election had been rigged by Mrs Clinton and the Obama administration.

This was probably done to discredit the election process, and the anticipated outcome. These claims stopped immediately after the votes were counted.

The extent of the Russian operation, which certainly cost many millions of dollars, strongly suggests that it was government sponsored, involving the recruitment of many English-speaking Russians, and trips to the United States to set up the virtual private network and social media accounts and establish fake identities; but there is no direct evidence linking the accused to the Russian Government.

After the indictment was published, the Russian Foreign Minister dismissed it. There is no probability that the Russian nationals will ever face an American court, but, if convicted, they could be prevented from ever travelling to the West, as international warrants would certainly be issued for their arrest.

In its media release accompanying the indictment, the U.S. Justice Department said, “There is no allegation in the indictment that any American was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity. There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.”




























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