Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR, or Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki Rossiyskoy Federatsii), the successor to the Soviet KGB’s First Chief Directorate, is the keeper of the KGB’s legacy of “active measures.” The group engages in political warfare using subversive operations to weaken the United States and links between NATO allies. And according to a new report from Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff, the SVR played a particularly underhanded role in activities leading up to the 2016 US presidential election in order to create a counter-narrative to the exposure of other Russian intelligence agencies’ hacking operations at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). The SVR wanted to spin a conspiracy theory about the death of DNC staffer Seth Rich—a conspiracy theory that promoted Rich as the source of DNC and Clinton campaign emails published by Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks.
This fabricated narrative had Rich being killed not in a botched robbery, as Washington DC police had found, but by a hit squad hired by Hillary Clinton as retribution for leaking campaign emails to WikiLeaks. This conspiracy theory was planted through various websites and later promoted by InfoWars’ Alex Jones and other “alt-right” media outlets. Ultimately, it was even promoted within the Trump administration as investigations by the Justice Department into the DNC and Clinton email hacks went forward.
Julian Assange suggested that Rich was a source—and was killed as a result—in an interview with Dutch television. He made those suggestions even though he knew that WikiLeaks had received the emails after Rich was killed. Assange’s suggestion spurred additional speculation, which was also fueled by posts from a Twitter account: @TEN_GOP, a fake Tennessee Republican account. @TEN_GOP was one of several accounts run by the Internet Research Agency, the organization in St. Petersburg that ran the Russian social media disinformation campaign leading up to, and in the wake of, the 2016 presidential elections.