USA Really Implicated in Russian Troll Indictment

Russian accountant Elena Khusyaynova was just indicted for allegedly assisting attempts to interfere in US elections. Now US-Russian news organisation USA Really says Khusyaynova is its chief financial officer

A US-Russian media venture flagged by cybersecurity experts earlier this year has been implicated in the indictment of Russian national Elena Khusyaynova, who is accused of assisting attempts to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election and 2018 US midterm elections.

USA Really, a Moscow-based news website headed by Russian government media adviser Alexander Malkevich, has drawn significant scrutiny since its launch in May, including close comparisons to the Robert Mueller-indicted Internet Research Agency, better known as the Russian troll factory.

Alexander Malkevich (source)

Articles on the USA Really website highlight hot-button social, cultural, and political issues using charged language, including reporting about Donald Trump, the Mueller probe, US elections, neo-confederate movements, and unsubstantiated conspiracy theories. For example, last month an article with the title “New Shocking Facts About Michelle Obama’s Gender” recycled bogus claims originated by InfoWars founder Alex Jones—once described by New York Magazine as “America’s leading conspiracy theorist”—that former first lady Michelle Obama was born a man.

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USA Really is overseen by the Federal News Agency (FAN), a pro-Kremlin news agency identified by the Department of Justice (DOJ) as belonging to a network of Russian entities allegedly controlled by “Putin’s chef,” Yevgeny Prigozhin, one of 13 Russian nationals indicted in February in connection with the now-infamous troll factory.

In an indictment released yesterday, Khusyaynova is accused of helping to manage and obscure payments to FAN and other entities allegedly involved in Project Lakhta, a political and electoral influence campaign waged on US social media networks going back to 2014.

Malkevich has previously dismissed questions about who funds USA Really, even claiming the existence of a deep state conspiracy to falsely link the website to Russian troll operations. Those claims reemerged in two anonymously penned articles published earlier today on the USA Really website, which described Khusyaynova as the victim of a “Big American Witch Hunt” perpetrated by the DOJ in cooperation with Facebook and Twitter.

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“There are just two weeks left before the election, so all the dirtiest political techniques are being used,” Malkevich is quoted as saying in one of the articles.

A second article tagged as an “Exclusive” made no attempts to conceal Khusyaynova’s relationship to USA Really, even claiming that the indicted accountant currently works as USA Really’s chief financial officer—information not mentioned anywhere in the DOJ’s indictment.

“The truth is that Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova is CFO of the USA Really news agency and its parent organization, Federal News Agency,” the article explained, before launching into a stream-of-consciousness diatribe describing the indictment as a “disgusting, monstrous octopus stretching its arms to choke free speech and independent journalism panicked upon hearing USA Really’s voice of truth that it tries to hush up through the hegemony of conventional American media.”

The tirade ended with an appeal to readers, including agents of the US federal government, to submit evidence of US interference in other countries via a writing contest on the USA Really website, which includes an award named The Pepe The Frog “Best Meme” Award. Pepe the Frog is a comic book character created by Matt Furie that was recently adopted as a mascot by white nationalist groups.

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It’s unclear if Malkevich or USA Really will be named in any future indictments. A spokesperson for the National Security Division of the DOJ declined to comment.

Trolling the Electorate

— A Russian troll factory-linked media campaign headed by a Putin-approved government consultant claims to have an office facing the White House 

For the past month, I’ve blogged extensively about “Wake up, America!”a mysterious “Russian ops” campaign that recently made headlines after it attempted to organise a flash mob event at the White House to celebrate Donald Trump’s upcoming 72nd birthday.

The event was advertised via USAReally.com, a disinformation website that called on “every patriot” to “come up to the White House on June 14th at 2:00 p.m. to congratulate America.”

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According to a press release published in April, USA Really was created by the Federal News Agency (FAN), a pro-Kremlin Russian media company that says it has an office “in the White House business center opposite the US president’s residence.”

Organisers appeared to cancel the event—which would have included a symphony orchestra—after mistakenly applying for a film permit instead of the proper rally permit, although an article published earlier this week on the FAN website claims the cancellation came as a result of a conspiracy by US authorities to censor its free speech rights (banners advertising the rally are still up on the USA Really website).

FAN has been digitally traced to the Mueller-indicted Internet Research Agency (IRA)better known as the Russian troll factoryby US cyber-security firm FireEye and open-source researcher Lawrence Alexander, among others. In 2015, Adrian Chen of The New York Times even visited the IRA’s offices in St. Petersburg and found that FAN was operating out of the same building.

Now for the latest twist in the story: According to a video published Tuesday on FAN’s YouTube channel, the “Wake up, America!” campaign is being headed by the deputy chairman of the Russian government’s Commission on Mass Media and Mass Communications, Alexander Malkevich.

Alexander Malkevich (source)

The video appears to have been filmed from inside USA Really’s Russian office, which is adorned by US and Confederate flags, a colour-coded map of the US, and a framed picture of Donald Trump.

The Commission on Mass Media is a branch of the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation (OPRF), which was created by Russian president Vladimir Putin in 2004 to facilitate “interaction between the federal government, the local governments, and the people of Russia in order to ensure that their interests are taken into account, and that their rights and freedoms are protected when creating and implementing government policy.”

The composition of the chamber was personally approved by Putin himself.

USA Really HQ? (source)

Despite OPRF’s claim that it helps “strengthen civil society institutions as democracy institutions,” the chamber has been described by Russian critics as a “smokescreen” intended to “distract the public’s attention from what is a real diminishment of democracy,” and “a calculated move to diminish the power of parliament and strengthen the Kremlin’s centralization of power.”

Yesterday, Malkevich used the OPRF website to publish an anti-US screed complaining about the negative attention “Wake up, America!” has received in the US, and demanding that the Russian government take legislative action against US news and social media platforms.

Here is his post in full (courtesy of Google Translate):

Our Commission has talked a lot about the discriminatory approach that applies to the Russian media in Europe and the United States. And we have repeatedly made proposals on this topic that Russia needs more mass media in order to fight back in the world information war.

In May, in a test mode, a group of enthusiasts launched the information resource “USA Really”. Objective media, young, sincere media. It was honestly and officially announced that he would work in the English-speaking zone, no media outlets violated any laws, only official information, proven materials, no fictions, open real journalism was published. And what happened?

After the site worked for several days in a test mode (ie without advertising campaigns and mass mailings about the opening of the resource, it was simply debugging work processes), the Facebook account was completely destroyed, Twitter introduced a number of restrictions: in fact, journalists can not He publish publications with direct links to his site.

But there was a blog in LiveJournal (I want to emphasize that this social network is run by a Russian company), which began to develop, Twitter missed direct links to LJ posts, but it did not last long, for a maximum of 24 hours, after which this blog was also blocked.

It is clear that this is illegal and this is arbitrary, since the administrators of the blog received no warning messages from the management of the social network. And this makes you ask a whole series of questions.

First, there is no vaunted democracy and freedom of speech in the US. The American authorities, without ceremony, without giving any reasons, clean out the information field from everything they disagree with and from all those who do not cuddle or crouch before them.

But, once again, why does the Russian company support US sanctions? A law on counter-sentences has been introduced, at the highest level, the introduction of criminal responsibility for those who are ready to support these sanctions on the territory of our country is being discussed.

Does this mean that the leadership of SUP media should go to jail for supporting the policy that the US authorities are leading against Russia?

With the so-called “freedom of the media” in America everything is clear, because it simply does not exist. But it is fully present in Russia – only in some perverted forms. On the territory of our country, not only the American media that regularly publish libel, but also their subsidiaries, who tell us very coolly and with a spark that Siberia should secede from Russia, that the Crimea is not Russian land and so on. They work in the Russian legal field, they quietly conduct their groups in Russian social networks, they are not blocked, although there is a violation on violation and violation drives.

It turns out that Americans can work for us quietly, but we do not. There is discrimination, and with this you need to do something at the highest governmental level. We, both as a journalistic community and as public figures, are certainly outraged by this imbalance – and we are asking the State Duma, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, the Government to support the interests of the media, which are insolently flouted by American companies, and the US authorities, which dictate to them, and to all of us, thus, our will.

In a separate post, FAN’s editor-in-chief Yevgeny Zubarev called on Russia’s state media regulator Roskomnadzor to censor “foreign social networks such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.”

According to Russia’s business index, Zubarev is FAN’s founder and proprietor. He is also a key figure in Adrian Chen’s NY Times Magazine piece on the IRA, sending a photographer to follow Chen to his hotel and later publishing an article attempting to link Chen to Moscow neo-Nazis.

Although Zubarev refused to disclose the names of FAN’s investors, a 2017 investigation by Russian media group RBK found evidence that FAN might be funded by “Putin’s chef” Yevgeny Prigozhin, one of 13 Russian nationals indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller in February for allegedly attempting to interfere in the 2016 US election.

Prigozhin has hired lawyers and is fighting the charges in US court.

Update, June 10, 2018: USA Really is holding an event hosted by Alexander Malkevich at WeWork White House on June 15. The event is titled “’Fake News’ in the ‘Digital Technology Age.’ WeWork White House is located one block from the White House.

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