Last month, a federal grand jury in the Middle District of Florida returned a superseding indictment charging three Russian nationals and four U.S. citizens with a conspiracy to conduct a malign influence campaign in the United States. The activities described in the indictment are significant in a number of respects. In particular, they represent a blending of old and new tactics in Russia’s active measures campaign in the United States. On the one hand, Russia’s targets here harken back to the tried-and-true active measures playbook of the KGB; at the same time, the focus on local election interference as a means to lay the groundwork for interference on a larger scale demonstrates that Russia is learning how to exploit new American political vulnerabilities.
The indictment alleges that the U.S. citizens, who were affiliated with three U.S. political groups – the African People’s Socialist Party and the Uhuru Movement (the APSP) located in Florida, the Black Hammer Organization in Georgia, and an unnamed political organization in California – engaged in a conspiracy to act as unregistered foreign agents of a Kremlin-funded group called the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia (AGMR). The goals of the conspiracy, which spanned from 2014 to 2022, were to sow discord in the United States and further Russia’s narratives concerning the war in Ukraine. AGMR was run by a Moscow resident charged in the indictment, who was directed and supervised by two Moscow-based intelligence officers also named in the indictment. The indictment alleges that these three Russian nationals also funded and directed the political campaign of an unnamed candidate in a local election in St. Petersburg, Florida in 2019, as a precursor to broader election interference in 2020.
There is more in the indictment which I have not covered here, including Russian defendants funding a demonstration in support of the secession of California from the United States, organizing a protest against a(n unnamed) media company which had restricted posts supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and directing Black Hammer to hold a rally in front of an Atlanta-based media company in honor of Russian Victory Day in 2022. The Russian defendants also enlisted APSP’s assistance and cover in protesting Russia’s partial ban from the 2016 Olympic games in Rio. In fact, the sheer breadth of activities undertaken by the relatively few defendants in this one complaint and in this one setting suggests that this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of Russia’s ongoing operations in the United States.