Government offers award for information on election interference

KYIV – When Artyom Vysokov received a text message offering him up to $ 10 million for information about Russian election interference from a number used primarily for the distribution of spam and phishing messages, he thought it was a “kind of fraud”.

But then he saw reports from several Russian media outlets of other people receiving similar messages on their cellphones and realized that they were coming soon after the US State Department broke news. campaign to defend the US presidential election from foreign assailants.

“I realized I was wrong and it’s really true,” Vysokov, who maintains a blog on website monetization, told BuzzFeed News. “But sending such text messages through a service that usually sends spam was not the best idea.”

On Thursday, the Russians shared screenshots of SMS messages apparently sent by the State Department with the offer of huge monetary rewards for information about hackers trying to interfere with the November presidential election. Many of them – of Vladivostok residents in the Far East and Yekaterinburg at the foot of the Ural Mountains in Vysokov in Volzhskiy in the south of the Volgograd region – were collected and shared by the Russian technological information site TJournal.

And they weren’t the only ones. According to ReutersThe Iranians received the same messages on their cell phones. Written in Russian and Farsi, the texts read: “The United States pays up to $ 10 million for any information about foreign interference in the American elections.” They include a link to the US Rewards for Justice (RFJ) program, which offers cash rewards in exchange for information about threats to US national security. For Russians, the link points to a verified Twitter account with the State Department logo created in February. The, Tweets in Russian provide readers with more information about the program.

The texts came after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday said the United States was now offering up to $ 10 million “for information leading to the identification or location of anyone who, acting under the direction or control of a foreign government, interferes with US Elections by engaging in certain cyber criminal activities. “

While many people who received the texts questioned their legitimacy, a State Department spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that they were in fact real. “This is a global campaign in multiple languages,” the spokesperson said. “RFJ has used this post and a variety of other posts to educate the public about its awards and program.”

In one Facebook messageRussian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova mocked Pompeo’s announcement, joking that many people would like to take advantage of the offer. “From now on, the State Department site will stop denouncing its neighbors,” she wrote.

As word of the texts spread on Thursday, she posted another statement. “By calling on people to speak out for the money of meddling in the US elections, US special services are unceremoniously intruding into our lives,” Zakharova wrote. She accused Washington of targeting the Russians in a manner similar to what US intelligence officials accused Moscow of doing. “What is it if not a real hybrid attack?” she says.

The State Department’s general text message campaign comes after Russia’s attempts to intervene in the 2016 election, which cast a shadow over Donald Trump’s presidency.

Ahead of the November election, Democratic lawmakers have sounded the alarm over what they call active attempts by Russia to interfere and called on the FBI to share information about the effort.

Of particular concern to Democrats is an investigation by Republican Ron Johnson, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, which examines the work Joe Biden’s son Hunter did in Ukraine while Biden was the contact person of the Obama administration in the country.

Democrats claim Johnson uses disinformation of pro-Russian Ukrainians to in his investigation, an accusation that the Republican senator denies.

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