'Our task was to set Americans against their own government': Details emerge on Russia's troll farm

Recently-revealed details about how an infamous Russian "troll farm" operated and its role in Russia's disinformation campaign shed new light on Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential race.

One former troll, who was interviewed by the independent Russian news outlet Dozhd and went by "Maxim," or Max, spoke of his experience working for the Internet Research Agency, a well-researched Russian "troll farm" located in St. Petersburg, whose function is to spread pro-Russian propaganda and sow political discord in nations perceived as hostile to Russia.

The secretive firm is bankrolled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, CNN reported, a Russian oligarch and close ally of President Vladimir Putin.

Up to a third of the IRA's staff was tasked with interfering in US political conversation during the 2016 election, according to an investigation conducted by Russian news agency RBC and detailed by Meduza.

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Key Trump officials, advisers of note in the Russia probe
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Key Trump officials, advisers of note in the Russia probe

Tom Barrack

The close friend to Donald Trump and CEO of private equity firm Colony Capital recommended that Trump bring in Paul Manafort for his presidential campaign.

R. James Woolsey

Woolsey, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), has cooperated with Mueller's investigation and worked with Michael Flynn and was present at a meeting where they discussed removing the controversial Turkish Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen from US soil. 

(Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The former senior Trump campaign official and White House adviser was present and crucial during the firings of Michael Flynn and James Comey.

The former head of the Trump transition team following the 2016 election has said previously that he believes he was fired due to his opposing the hiring of Michael Flynn as national security adviser.

Jeff Sessions

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.

Paul Manafort

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.

Michael Flynn

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.

Donald Trump

2016 election winner Donald Trump is at the center of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russia's handlings.

Sam Clovis

Clovis, a former member of the Trump campaign, arrives on at the U.S. Capitol December 12, 2017 to appear before a closed meeting of the House Intelligence Committee. Clovis worked with George Papadopoulos, a former Donald Trump campaign foreign policy advisor who struck a plea deal on charges of lying to the FBI.

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Roger Stone

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.”

Carter Page

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.

J.D. Gordon

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.

Former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo (L)

Caputo waves goodbye to reporters after he testified before the House Intelligence Committee during a closed-door session at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center July 14, 2017 in Washington, DC. Caputo resigned from being a Trump campaign communications advisor after appearing to celebrate the firing of former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Denying any contact with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign, Caputo did live in Moscow during the 1990s, served as an adviser to former Russian President Boris Yeltsin and did pro-Putin public relations work for the Russian conglomerate Gazprom Media.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Stephen Miller, White House Senior Advisor for Policy

Jason Miller
Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer
Eric Trump
Donald Trump Jr.
Ivanka Trump
White House Senior adviser Jared Kushner
Executive assistant to Donald Trump Rhona Graff
White House Communications Director Hope Hicks
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The IRA, Max told Dozhd, consisted of a "Russian desk" and a "foreign desk." The Russian desk was primarily made up of bots and trolls, which used fake social-media accounts to flood the internet with pro-Trump agitprop and made-up news throughout the campaign, especially in the days leading up to the election.

The foreign desk had a more sophisticated purpose, according to Max, who worked in that department. "It’s not just writing ‘Obama is a monkey’ and ‘Putin is great.’ They’ll even fine you for that kind of [primitive] stuff," he told Dozhd. In fact, those who worked for the foreign desk were restricted from spreading pro-Russia propaganda. Rather, Max said, their job was more qualitative and was geared towards understanding the "nuances" of American politics to "rock the boat" on divisive issues like gun control and LGBT rights.

"Our goal wasn’t to turn the Americans toward Russia," he added. "Our task was to set Americans against their own government: to provoke unrest and discontent, and to lower Obama’s support ratings."

The IRA had an entire department, called the "Department of Provocations," that was dedicated to that goal: its primary objective was to disseminate fake news and sow discord in the West, according to CNN.

The troll farm also had its own "Facebook desk," whose function was to relentlessly push back against the platform's administrators who deleted fake accounts as they began gaining traction. When IRA employees argued against having their accounts deleted, Max said, Facebook staffers would write back, "You are trolls." The trolls would in turn invoke the First Amendment right to free speech — occasionally, they won the arguments.

Facebook is currently at the center of congressional and FBI Russia probes, which are examining the extent to which Russia utilized social-media platforms to influence American political opinion.

Facebook has turned over more than 3,000 Russian-bought ads to Congress. RBC's investigation found that in 2016, Russia's propaganda network on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter could have reached 30 million people per week, and a Columbia University social-media analyst published research which found that Russian propaganda may have been shared billions of times on Facebook alone.

RELATED: A look at congressional hearings into Russia's role in 2016 election

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Senate Judiciary subcommittee hears testimony on Russian meddling in the 2016 election
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Senate Judiciary subcommittee hears testimony on Russian meddling in the 2016 election
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 8: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) holds up a copy of 'The Kremlin Playbook' as Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) listens at a hearing of the Senate Judicary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill May 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. Before being fired by U.S. President Donald Trump, Yates testified that she had warned the White House about contacts between former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Russia that might make him vulnerable to blackmail. (Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 8: Former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates leaves a hearing of the Senate Judicary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill May 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. Before being fired by U.S. President Donald Trump, Yates testified that she had warned the White House about contacts between former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Russia that might make him vulnerable to blackmail. (Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 08: Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (L) shakes hands with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) (R) at the conclusion of a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism hearing about Russian intereference in the 2016 election in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill May 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. Before being fired by U.S. President Donald Trump, Yates had warned the White House about contacts between former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Russia that might make him vulnerable to blackmail. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 8: Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (L) and former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates leave a hearing of the Senate Judicary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill May 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. Before being fired by U.S. President Donald Trump, Yates testified that she had warned the White House about contacts between former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Russia that might make him vulnerable to blackmail. (Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 08: Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (L) and former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates shake hands after testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill May 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. Before being fired by U.S. President Donald Trump, Yates had warned the White House about contacts between former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Russia that might make him vulnerable to blackmail. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 8: Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (L) and former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates testify before the Senate Judicary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill May 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. Before being fired by U.S. President Donald Trump, Yates testified that she had warned the White House about contacts between former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Russia that might make him vulnerable to blackmail. (Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 8: Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (L) and former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates testify before the Senate Judicary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill May 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. Before being fired by U.S. President Donald Trump, Yates testified that she had warned the White House about contacts between former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Russia that might make him vulnerable to blackmail. (Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 8: Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (L) and former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates testify before the Senate Judicary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill May 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. Before being fired by U.S. President Donald Trump, Yates testified that she had warned the White House about contacts between former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Russia that might make him vulnerable to blackmail. (Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images)
James Clapper, former director of national intelligence, listens during a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism hearing with former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, not pictured, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, May 8, 2017. Yates is expected to be questioned about how blunt a warning she gave the incoming administration that Lieutenant General Flynn had provided a misleading account of a telephone conversation with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. during Trump's transition to the White House. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 08: Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (L) and former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates are sworn in before testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill May 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. Before being fired by U.S. President Donald Trump, Yates had warned the White House about contacts between former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Russia that might make him vulnerable to blackmail. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, USA - MAY 8: (From L to R) Senator John Cornyn, Senator Lindsey Graham, and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse before the start of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Elections and former Trump advisor Ret. General Michael Flynn in Washington, United States on May 8, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, USA - MAY 8: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse questions former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Elections and former Trump advisor Ret. General Michael Flynn in Washington, United States on May 8, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, makes an opening statement during a hearing with former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, not pictured, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, May 8, 2017. Yates is expected to be questioned about how blunt a warning she gave the incoming administration that Lieutenant General Flynn had provided a misleading account of a telephone conversation with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. during Trump's transition to the White House. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 08: The Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism ranking member Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) delivers opening remarks during a hearing about Russian interference in the 2016 election in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill May 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. Before being fired by U.S. President Donald Trump, Yates testified that she had warned the White House about contacts between former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Russia that might make him vulnerable to blackmail. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 08: Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill May 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. Before being fired by U.S. President Donald Trump, former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates said she had warned the White House about contacts between former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Russia that might make him vulnerable to blackmail. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (L) and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates arrive to testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on ?Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election? on Capitol Hill in Washington, U .S., May 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
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In addition to spreading fake news, Russian Facebook accounts went one step further by organizing events, rallies, and protests, some of which galvanized dozens of people. To be sure, RBC found that the IRA hired 100 American activists over the internet to hold 40 rallies across different US cities. Those people did not know they were working for a Russian organization, according to the investigation.

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