Russians indicted by Mueller visited Colorado, talked of targeting state, indictment says

Posted at 12:30 PM, Feb 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-16 19:58:32-05

DENVER – Two of the 13 Russian nationals indicted Friday by special counsel Robert Mueller and charged with interfering in the 2016 U.S. elections discussed with an unwitting American targeting Colorado during their operation, and traveled to the state to gather intelligence, according to the indictment.

The indictment accuses two Russians, who were allegedly working for Russia’s Internet Research Agency, often referred to as the “troll farm,” of exchanging intelligence after a trip through the U.S., which included a stop in Colorado.

The two Russians, Aleksandra Yuryevna Krylova and Anna Vladislavovna Bogacheva, received visas and traveled to Nevada, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Louisiana, Texas and New York to “gather intelligence,” according to the indictment.

After exchanging intelligence, the two allegedly continued to pose as Americans and contacted American political and social activists, the indictment says.

It further says that the Russians “learned from the real U.S. person that they should focus their activities on ‘purple states like Colorado, Virginia & Florida.’” After the directive, the Russians often referred to targeting “purple states” in their ongoing operations, the indictment alleges.

It goes on to say that the Russians created a fake American persona on Facebook called “Matt Skiber,” and that the account wrote to an American tied to a Texas grassroots organization who had previously given them the directive about meddling in “purple states” like Colorado.

Among those states targeted was Florida, where the Russians are accused of organizing several political rallies in favor of then-candidate Donald Trump. They are also accused of organizing several pro-Trump rallies in New York, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

The Department of Homeland Security told Colorado’s secretary of state last September its election system was scanned for possible points of weakness ahead of last year’s election, but that it was not breached.

“According to Homeland Security, we were not attacked, probed, breached, infiltrated or penetrated. This was a scan and many computer systems are regularly scanned. It happens hundreds if not thousands of times per day,” Secretary of State Wayne Williams said. “That’s why we continue to be vigilant and monitor our systems around the clock.”

In June, Williams and his office said they hadn’t been notified that any voter systems were compromised after The Intercept published a leaked National Security Agency document showing Russian hackers phished their way into some U.S. elections systems that were using a company called VR Systems.

Williams' office said Friday it was aware of the indictment, but that the office wouldn't be able to provide further insight until next Tuesday.

Williams and his top cybersecurity official are in Washington this week and weekend for classified briefings from the Director of National Intelligence, DHS, and the FBI regarding the ongoing risks to national election systems. An office official said they would learn exactly where the cybersecurity threats to elections systems came from and what they entailed—information that had previously been unable to be released because of its classified nature.

Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said the news was a reminder that the Mueller probe "should be of the utmost importance to all Americans, regardless of political party."

"Ensuring integrity of elections, preventing foreign interference and combating damaging trends in our civil discourse all are parts of preserving our democracy," she added. "That said, some will surely try to mask today's development with the same techniques used in 2016: troll farms, 'news' reports from unreliable and foreign-financed outlets, and stoking partisanship in order to undermine our unity as a nation. We must push back against all that."

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., said the indictments concerned him.

"They clearly wanted to influence our political process and were involved between swing states like Colorado," Coffman said. "It is really disconcerting, and it says something about that we really need to be vigilant for the upcoming election."

He said he worried that Colorado, as a swing state, could be subject to similar attempts to interfere in the future.

"This is a threat from the Russia government to the United States to destabilize our political system. The threats are real, and we need to respond according to it," Coffman said.

Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado and Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Colorado both said the indictments showed it was clear Russia interfered in the election.

"Today's indictments again prove that Putin interfered in 2016 election," Bennet tweeted. "There's no good explanation for why admin hasn't imposed a single sanction for election interference. @POTUS must stop taking Putin's denials at face value & work to deter future interference in our democracy."

"It's been clear for over a year that Russia tried to influence the '16 election," Perlmutter tweeted. "This investigation has now resulted in 15 indictments & 3 other guilty pleas. I hope today's news puts an end to the attacks on this investigation so we can learn what happened."

Denver7's Jennifer Kovaleski contributed to this report.