The Russian government used a Gmail back channel with US Treasury Department officials to seek financial information on its enemies in the United States and abroad.
The Gmail back channel arose during the final year of Obama’s second term during what US intelligence agencies allege was a Kremlin campaign to interfere with the 2016 presidential election, according to a Buzzfeed report.
Russian agents, under the guise of tracking ISIS, requested sensitive financial documents on Daniel, Dirk, and Edward Ziff, billionaire investors who had invested in funds managed by William F. Browder, a fierce Kremlin enemy. Mr. Browder was the driving force behind the 2012 Magnitsky Act, which imposed sanctions on Russian officials for human rights abuses.
The Russians allege Browder used Ziff money to support Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president in 2016.
The Russians’ request was made weeks before the infamous Trump Tower meeting between the Trump campaign and a Russian lawyer, in which dirt was offered on Hillary Clinton as well as her supposed connection to the Ziff brothers.
Documents show that Treasury officials communicated with agents via private Gmail and Hotmail accounts set up by the Russians instead of the secure network used to communicate with other countries, according to Buzzfeed.
Employees within the Treasury Department used the Gmail and Hotmail accounts into 2017 despite warnings in 2016 from analysts within the department. The analysts feared Russians were “manipulating the system” to conduct “fishing expeditions” and possibly compromising the agency’s internal systems via viruses contained in emails from the unofficial Russian accounts.
The analysts also repeatedly issued warnings that Russian agents might seek financial records, including bank account information and Social Security numbers, in order to “spy on, endanger, or recruit targets in the West,” according to the Buzzfeed report.
The Treasury Department has refused to comment on the allegations.
“Treasury does not discuss or comment on confidential communications with foreign governments, including to confirm whether or not they have occurred. We have notified our Office of the Inspector General of these allegations,” said a Treasury Department spokesperson in a statement.
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Robin Cramer is a News Writer at Hill Reporter. With a degree in journalism and hankering for all things political, she strives to provide balanced coverage of breaking news. You can reach her at Robin@HillReporter.com.