Members of a hacking group connected to Russia's military intelligence unit, the GRU, began creating fake Facebook accounts to amplify stolen emails as early as June 2016, people familiar with the company's investigation into Russia's use of the platform told The Washington Post.
The accounts linked to the GRU's hacking group, called APT28, or Fancy Bear, reportedly set up an account called DCLeaks and one under the moniker Guccifer 2.0 that helped spread the emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee in late 2015.
RELATED: Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations
Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations
Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations
Paul Manafort signed on as Donald Trump's campaign manager in March 2016. A longtime Republican strategist and beltway operative, Manafort had previously served as an adviser to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich -- a pro-Russia leader who was violently ousted in 2014. Manafort resigned from his campaign position in August 2016 amid questions over his lobbying history in Ukraine for an administration supportive of Russia. The former campaign manager reportedly remained in Trump's circle during the post-election transition period.
Gen. Michael Flynn was named President Trump's national security adviser in November of 2016. Flynn reportedly met and spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December, at one point discussing sanctions. Flynn originally told Vice President Pence he did not discuss sanctions -- a point the Department of Justice said made the national security adviser subject to blackmail. Flynn resigned from his position in February.
Outgoing Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak is the Russian official U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions -- communication Sessions denied during his Senate committee hearing testimony.
Stone is a longtime Republican political consultant who served as a campaign adviser to Trump who continued to talk with the then-GOP candidate after stepping away from his adviser role. Stone claimed last year that he had knowledge of the planned WikiLeaks release of emails pertaining to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Stone recently admitted to speaking via direct message with "Guccifer 2.0" -- an online entity U.S. officials believe is tied to Russia. Stone says the correspondence was “completely innocuous.”
Former U.S. senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama joined Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser in February 2016. Sessions was nominated to be U.S. attorney general by President Trump and was then confirmed by the Senate. Reports then emerged that Sessions had spoken twice with Sergey Kislyak while he was senator -- a fact that he left out of his Senate hearing testimony. Instead, he said in writing that he had not communicated with any Russian officials during the campaign season. Sessions defended himself saying he had spoken with Kislyak specifically in a senate capacity.
Russian President Vladimir Putin
The American intelligence community accused Putin in Jan. 2017 of ordering a campaign to undermine trust in the American electoral process, developing a clear preference for Trump as president. "We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump," the report read.
Comey publicly confirmed in March an FBI inquiry into Russia's involvement in the 2016 election. “The F.B.I., as part of our counterintelligence effort, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 president election,” Comey stated.
Page worked for Merrill Lynch as an investment banker out of their Moscow office for three years before joining Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser. During his time with Merrill Lynch, Page advised transactions for two major Russian entities. Page has called Washington "hypocritical" for focusing on corruption and democratization in addressing U.S. relations with Russia. While Page is someone Trump camp has seemingly tried to distance itself from, Page recently said he has made frequent visits to Trump Tower.
Before Gordon joined the Trump campaign as a national security adviser in March 2016, he served as a Pentagon spokesman from 2005 through 2009. Like others involved in Trump-Russia allegations, Gordon met with ambassador Kislyak in July at the Republican National Convention, but has since denied any wrongdoing in their conversation. He advocated for and worked to revise the RNC language on and position toward Ukraine relations, so it was more friendly toward Russia's dealings in the country.
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Cybersecurity experts believe Fancy Bear was also behind the DNC hack.
Facebook contacted the FBI at the time, according to the Post, but determined upon examining the accounts further that they were financially motivated and did not seem linked to a foreign government.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said shortly after President Donald Trump won the election that it was "crazy" to think his company had been used as a platform for Russian propaganda. But the company began to look again after Zuckerberg was pulled aside by President Barack Obama later that month, who implored him to take the issue seriously, according to the Post.
Aides to Obama and Hillary Clinton analyzed data and shared it with the Senate Intelligence Committee, whose vice-chairman, Sen. Mark Warner, flew out to California to ask Facebook what it had discovered after the French election in May.
By that point, Facebook was still four months away from discovering that Russia-linked accounts had purchased ads targeting certain districts and demographics during the election.
The company still does not know the extent of Russia's advertisement purchases, or whether these unidentified ad buys are still on the site. That is primarily because the Russia-linked entities could have used the site's self-service tool to purchase the ads and bypass the company's employees.
Facebook has since confirmed that Russia-linked groups went further than ad buys and memes, and tried to organize anti-immigrant, anti-Hillary Clinton rallies in Texas and Idaho.
Zuckerberg said in a statement on Thursday that the company is examining how is tools were used by presidential campaigns to promote ads or other content during the election.
In doing so, Facebook will not only look into "foreign actors, including additional Russian groups and other former Soviet states," but also "organizations like the campaigns" to further its "understanding of how they used our tools."
Zuckerberg's comments mark the first time Facebook has indicated that campaign activity on Facebook is being scrutinized alongside that of foreign actors.
Zuckerberg did not refer to Trump's campaign specifically. But congressional intelligence committees are homing in on the Trump campaign's data operation as a potential trove of incriminating information.