Bitcoin plays a starring role in the indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers accused of interfering with the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, according to an indictment signed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller today.
Detailed in the 29-page document, the officers are accused of stealing information on 500,000 voters by illegally accessing the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s computers and tricking a number of close aides to then-Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton into handing over access to the information.
Among the multiple instances of cryptocurrency being allegedly used to undermine Clinton’s campaign, the lengthiest allegations include a conspiracy to launder more than $95,000 using bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
While the role cryptocurrency might have played in many alleged crimes is certainly of note, the bigger story is the role the news could have on a meeting planned next week between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump, who appears to have benefitted from the alleged meddling.
From the documents:
“The object of the conspiracy was the hack into protected computers of persons and entities charged with the administration of the 2016 U.S. elections in order to access those computers and steal voter data and other information stored on those computers.”
Eleven of the defendants are charged with conspiring to break into computers and releasing documents they believed would influence the U.S. election. A twelfth defendant is charged with conspiring to infiltrate organizations responsible for administering the actual elections, including state boards of election, secretaries of state, and companies that supply software and other technology used in the elections.
In total, eleven counts are listed in the documents, with the tenth, conspiracy to launder money, providing the most detail into how “cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin” were allegedly used by the Russian officers. While a number of currencies are reported to have been used, in the laundering of more than $95,000 the alleged conspirators “principally used bitcoin when purchasing servers, registering domains, and otherwise making payments in furtherance of hacking activity,” according to the document.
As a result, on July 22, 2016 the Russian officers allegedly released over 20,000 emails and other documents stolen from the Democratic National Committee offices. Altogether, over 50,000 stolen documents are said to have been released.
Speaking from prepared remarks, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein explained the role cryptocurrency played in the alleged conspiracy.“In an effort to conceal their connections to Russia, the defendants used a network of computers located around the world, and paid for it using cryptocurrency.”
While a statement released by the Department of Justice shows that some of the funds were obtained through a process called “mining” in which bitcoin is obtained by committing computing power to audit the bitcoin network, the documents themselves also indicate that another “online cryptocurrency service” was used to purchase the domain dcleaks.com.
“Before it shut down in or around March 2017, the site received over one million page views,” according to the report. “The Conspirators falsely claimed on the site that DCLeaks was started by a group of “American hacktivists,” when in fact it was started by the Conspirators.”
The same mining operation believed to have been controlled by someone using the name Daniel Farell was used to purchase servers and domains used in the operations.
While the indictments from the much-watched Mueller investigation have long been anticipated by some Clinton supporters, Trump supporters have argued the work was little more than a witch hunt to undermine the U.S. President’s authority.
The case was investigated with the help of multiple FBI’s cyber teams and the National Security Division. Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation is ongoing, and no further comments from him are currently expected, according to the statement. The White House is yet to release a formal response.