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Russians Devised Detailed Plan To Influence U.S. Voters, Reuters Says

Apr 20, 2017
Originally published on April 20, 2017 5:31 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Here is some of the evidence that Russia interfered in the U.S. election last year. A Russian think tank reportedly made a plan to interfere in the U.S. election back in 2016. Ned Parker has learned about this. He's a reporter for the Reuters news agency. And he's on the line from New York. Good morning.

NED PARKER: Morning.

INSKEEP: So what is this - what is the document here?

PARKER: Well, the significance of the document is this is not just a think tank in the sense of what we think of a think tank in the United States. This is an internal Russian government think tank whose director is appointed by the Russian president and reports to the presidency, the Cabinet, his national security council. So this is in writing a Russian strategy to influence the U.S. electorate in the last election through media and social media - in writing.

INSKEEP: In writing. And so this is from Vladimir Putin's brain trust essentially?

PARKER: Yeah, a policy shop inside the Kremlin that reports to Vladimir Putin.

INSKEEP: And how closely does this plan match up with what actually happened, so far as we know, during the 2016 campaign?

PARKER: Well, when we spoke to our different sources - four of whom are out of government and three are still in government - the way they described it as this was the final piece in the puzzle. It came in after the election in November. The first document was dated from June. And it said basically the current administration's policies are harmful to the United States and Russia, so we need to influence the U.S. electorate to pick a new administration that will advance policies beneficial to both countries and to do this through media and social media.

And when you look at the election and what happened, the very least we can see that there was a very active campaign including using hacked materials from the Democratic Party and disseminating it on the Internet through Twitter and through news platforms like Russia Today and Sputnik.

INSKEEP: Does the document mention WikiLeaks?

PARKER: It does not. But when you look at some of the outlets that are associated with the Russian government such as Russia Today and Sputnik which have a huge, you know, footprint online, they actively promoted the WikiLeaks docs and including on November 4, Russia Today interviewed Julian Assange about the election. And that - at least as of a few days ago, that had about 2.2 million viewers on YouTube alone.

The other interesting thing is that when we look at these documents - and there are two of them, one from last June and one from last October by the same think tank whose heads are former directors of the Russian foreign intelligence service - there's also - the U.S. government has information about a meeting in March between the Putin presidential administration and different Russian media outlets. Basically, the administration gave instructions for different outlets to begin promoting in March 2016 the Trump campaign.

INSKEEP: So I just want to assemble a timeline here very briefly. March 2016, still during the primaries, you have evidence that Russian outlets were told to begin promoting Trump. June of 2016, you have a document with a plan to further influence the general election. Many things then happen in the general election.

October, you've got another document. And then I think you said in November, U.S. intelligence officials came across all of this. Are you describing the reason that U.S. intelligence officials believe that this campaign was approved at the highest level? Is this the key piece of evidence?

PARKER: Yes, it is the key piece of evidence. When you talk to officials, they'll say there are many, many parts. It's like a huge puzzle and you're trying to fit a piece into the puzzle. And getting these two documents after the election, the fact that they were by the Russian government in writing, it clinched the case according to the different people we spoke with, former and current in the U.S. government.

INSKEEP: Has Russia said anything about what you've reported?

PARKER: They have not. We asked them repeatedly for comment. The only response we got at all was from Sputnik news agency. And they basically accused U.S. media and official sources of repeating lie after lie.

INSKEEP: Can you describe your sources to any extent at all?

PARKER: Well, what I would say is that we spoke with seven different people, none of them connected to each other, all of them current or former officials. And these aren't political types. These are very, I would say, serious people who believe in, you know, serving their country and doing public service.

INSKEEP: OK. Well, Ned Parker, thanks very much.

PARKER: Thank you.

INSKEEP: He's an enterprise reporter with Reuters and revealed the existence of some Russian documents in a story worked on with Jonathan Landay and John Walcott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.