Head of Russian Disinfo Website Sanctioned by U.S. Treasury

— In June I scooped a story about attempts by Russian government media adviser Alexander Malkevich to set up a troll factory-linked propaganda website in Washington, D.C. Yesterday Malkevich was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury for “attempted election interference”

Since April, I’ve been doing original reporting on USA Really, a now-infamous disinformation website aimed at U.S. readers.

USA Really was created by Moscow’s Federal News Agency (FAN), which U.S. federal prosecutors recently linked to election interference campaigns carried out by the Robert Mueller-indicted Internet Research Agency (IRA), better known as the Russian troll factory.

USA Really EIC Alexander Malkevich (source)

In a press release yesterday, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned USA Really and its Editor-in-Chief Alexander Malkevich for their alleged involvement in Project Lakhta, a Kremlin-backed social media influence campaign which, according to prosecutors, aimed “to sow division and discord in the U.S. political system,” and which both FAN and the IRA allegedly participated in.

From the press release:

Today, [OFAC] designated several entities and individuals related to Project Lakhta, a broad Russian effort that includes the IRA, designated previously under E.O. 13694, as amended, which has sought to interfere in political and electoral systems worldwide…

Within weeks after the designation of the IRA, the Federal News Agency LLC — an entity utilized by Project Lakhta to obscure its activities that was also designated today — announced that it was creating a new Russian-funded, English-language website called USA Really. USA Really, which is operated by Alexander Aleksandrovich Malkevich (Malkevich), engaged in efforts to post content focused on divisive political issues but is generally ridden with inaccuracies. In June 2018, USA Really attempted to hold a political rally in the United States, though its efforts were unsuccessful. As of June 2018, Malkevich was a member of Russia’s Civic Chamber commission on mass media, which serves in a consultative role to the Russian government. Based on this activity, USA Really was designated pursuant to E.O. 13694, as amended, for being owned or controlled by the Federal News Agency LLC, while Malkevich was designated pursuant to E.O. 13694, as amended, for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, USA Really.

The press release mirrors my earlier reporting on USA Really and Malkevich, starting with a story I wrote in April about FAN’s attempts to recruit “English-speaking journalists” to write for the USA Really website. That story was subsequently picked up by The Daily Beast, Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire, and Press Pool with Julie Mason.

The following month I scooped McClatchy and D.C.-based cybersecurity company FireEye to a story about USA Really’s plans to stage a flash mob event at the White House to celebrate Donald Trump’s 72nd birthday. The story was subsequently featured on The Rachel Maddow Show, although I didn’t receive credit for that one.

source

USA Really caught the attention of major U.S. news outlets in June, after a story I wrote about Malkevich’s ties to the Russian government, his involvement in the USA Really website, and his disastrous attempts to carry out the Trump-hailing flash mob event, was picked up by The Daily Beast, Politico, and The Washington Post. Despite an unpersuasive attempt by someone at USA Really named Michael to suppress that information, the story took off, with articles appearing in The New York Times, NBC News, NPR, and Foreign Policy, among others. Having failed to contain the story, Michael wrote me again to let me know he wasn’t happy with me.

By September, USA Really had become ensnared in the F.B.I.’s probe into Russian election interference with the indictment of Project Lakhta’s alleged financier, St. Petersburg accountant Elena Khusyaynova. In the indictment, prosecutors identified FAN as one of a number of Russian entities that allegedly “employed hundreds of individuals in support” of the nefarious multi-million dollar scheme. As reported in an article I co-authored with Lachlan Markay for The Daily Beast, USA Really subsequently boasted that Khusyaynova was its chief financial officer.

Last month, Malkevich returned to the U.S. to cover the midterm elections for FAN. During his stay he gatecrashed a Nov 6. election night party at the National Press Club in D.C. On Nov. 9, he was reportedly detained at a Washington airport and told that USA Really must register in the U.S. as a foreign agent, according to Russia’s Foreign Ministry.

The U.S. Justice Department’s National Security Division has repeatedly declined to comment on USA Really and Malkevich.

Update, December 22, 2018: The Kremlin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, has denounced the “illegal” sanctions in a statement in support of FAN and USA Really.

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