Speed Reads

Things that make you go hmmm

Russia has been gathering information about ordinary Americans, and no one knows why

As Russian agents were working to influence the 2016 presidential election, they were also quietly harvesting data about ordinary Americans and small businesses, The Wall Street Journal reports. Using fake Facebook and Instagram accounts associated with activist or interest groups like the Black Lives Matter movement or "Southern heritage," Russian "trolls" collected names, phone numbers, email addresses, websites, and even videos of Americans who believed they were simply joining databases or earning free promotion.

"Russian intelligence services … can sit back and collect from thousands of miles away," explained Leo Taddeo, the chief information security officer of the cybersecurity firm Cyxtera Technologies. "The more they know about us, and what we care about, the better they can sharpen their influence campaigns."

Only, it isn't precisely clear what exactly the Russians plan to use the information for. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe has suggested "Russian operators used stolen American identities to open bank and PayPal accounts, create fake driver's licenses, post messages online, and buy political advertisements before the 2016 election," The Wall Street Journal writes, adding that "the operators allegedly kept a list of more than 100 Americans and their political views to 'monitor recruitment efforts.'"

In one particularly startling case, an Orlando-based fitness instructor was paid $700 by the puppet group Black4Black to teach self-defense lessons and turn over videos, phone numbers, and email addresses of the people who showed up. The instructor said he turned over photos and videos but didn't pass on contact information, and he eventually cut ties with Black4Black when it pushed him to teach more "aggressive" lessons, like offensive combat. Read more about the efforts to gather Americans' personal data at The Wall Street Journal.