A group of Russian military intelligence officers indicted Friday as part of an ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election allegedly used bitcoin to fund their operations.
In the just-released indictment, prosecutors assert that the 12 named intelligence officers hacked computer networks and email accounts owned and used by the U.S. Democratic Party, including the presidential campaign of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
The details were included under a charge of conspiracy to launder money. According to the indictment, the defendants “conspired to launder the equivalent of $95,000 through a web of transactions structured to capitalize on the perceived anonymity of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.”
“In an effort to pay for their efforts around the world … the defendants paid for it with cryptocurrency,” deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said during a press briefing.
While the defendants allegedly used other currencies, including the U.S. dollar, “they principally used bitcoin when purchasing servers, registering domains, and otherwise making payments in furtherance of hacking activity.”
Payments are said to have been made to companies in the U.S., with some of those funds being traced to a bitcoin mining operation.
The indictment explains:
“In addition to mining bitcoin, the Conspirators acquired bitcoin through a variety of means designed to obscure the origin of the funds. This included purchasing bitcoin through exchanges, moving funds through other digital currencies, and using pre-paid cards. They also enlisted the assistance of one or more third-party exchanges who facilitated layered transactions through digital currency exchange platforms providing heightened anonymity.”
The defendants allegedly used multiple “dedicated email accounts” to both track bitcoin transaction information and facilitate payments, the release added. Further, the indicted officials transferred bitcoin using the same computers that they used in hacking various email accounts
The indictment is the latest to come out of the ongoing – and politically explosive – investigation into Russian election meddling and the possible involvement of members of the presidential campaign of U.S. President Donald Trump.
Robert Mueller, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation director, was appointed in May 2017 to lead the special counsel investigation, which has drawn the ire of Trump, who has vehemently denied any collusion on election meddling.
Rod Rosenstein image via DOJ