Twelve Russian intelligence officers charged over US election hacking
Twelve senior Russian intelligence officers have been charged with hacking into Democrat computers in a bid to sabotage the 2016 US presidential election.
The charges were brought as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether there was any collusion between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia.
It was also alleged that Russian agents stole information on 500,000 US voters after hacking a state US election board.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the charges at the US Department of Justice in Washington.
It comes days before Mr Trump’s Helsinki meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, casting a major shadow over the encounter.
Mr Rosenstein said he had briefed Mr Trump ahead of time about the development in recent days.
He said: "I briefed the president. It’s important for the president to know what evidence we have of foreign interference."
He said agents had acted "without reference to politics" and there was "evidence to justify the charges".
The Russians were accused of hacking into the computer networks of the Democratic National Committee and the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, targeting key email accounts, and then releasing the information on the internet,
The charges were announced as Mr Trump met the Queen at Windsor Castle.
Mr Rosenstein said there were no allegations that US citizens were involved in the alleged crimes.
He said: "The indictment charges 12 Russian military officers by name with conspiring to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.
"The internet allows foreign adversaries to attack Americans in new and unexpected ways. Free and fair elections are hard-fought and contentious and there will always be adversaries who work to exacerbate domestic differences and try to confuse, divide and conquer us."
The Russians all belonged to the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency.
According to the indictment they were members of Unit 26165 and Unit 74455 of the Russian government’s Main Intelligence Directorate.
Eleven of them were charged with conspiring to hack into DNC networks, and those of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
The final person was charged with conspiring to hack into computer systems that were used to administer elections. That included a state elections board website.
The Justice Department said the GRU in "official capacities engaged in a sustained effort to hack into the computer networks".
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They then released the hacked emails on the internet under the guises of DCLeaks and Gufficer 2.0.
Mr Rosenstein said they used the cryptocurrency bitcoin to cover their tracks.
It was not alleged that any vote tallies in the US election were altered by hacking.
Mr Rosenstein added: "Our resposne must not depend on which side was victimtised. We need to hold the perpetrators responsible."
Hours before the announcement Mr Trump said the special counsel’s investigation was complicating his efforts to forge a better working relationship with Russia.
Speaking in the UK he said: "We do have a political problem where in the United States we have this stupidity going on. Pure stupidity.
"But it makes it very hard to do something with Russia. Anything you do, it’s always going to be, ‘Oh, Russia, he loves Russia.’"
Before Friday 20 people, and three companies, had been charged in the Mueller investigation.
That included 13 Russians accused over a social media campaign designed to to sway opinion during the US eletion.
It also included four former Trump campaign or White House aides, three of whom have pleaded guilty to different crimes and agreed to cooperate with Mr Mueller.