Project Lakhta – What was the goal?


"We will use the key performance indicators (KPIs) we created in November to measure the level of success enjoyed by the Russian intelligence active measures campaign. The plethora of examples within the indictment serves to confirm much of our analysis, but also shows their successes were more robust than previous analysis had concluded.

KPI 1 – Shape the U.S. election discourse and feed divisiveness into the United States. The efforts in the creation of thousands of online accounts to create, publish and repeat divisive messages, creating slightly nuanced content and otherwise pushing themes that would be most inflammatory has now been documented in the indictment. The DoJ shared an example: “The Russians organized one rally in support of the President-elect and another rally to oppose him, both in New York, and on the same day.”

KPI 2 – Framing the dialogue via ads and fictitious persons. This is where the Russians invested heavily—not only millions in funds which they funneled to social media accounts including Twitter and Facebook, but also in online search ads with Google and Bing. Additionally, their use of email and assuming the identities of real U.S. citizens to infiltrate and provide direct support to various political entities is now well-documented."


 I have no idea what or who "Security Boulevard" may be but I needed a mission statement for Project Lakhta.  A number of people are saying that Lakhta just wasn't professional enough for them to give it much credit.  I disagree.  the program may have been run by Putin's Caterer billionaire friend with a few ex-SVR as cadre and the rest enthusiastic geeks, but IMO the results speak for themselves.  If the goal was to further aggravate divisiveness in the US, this project certainly contributed to US political disarray.

The image of Michael Moore marching in a Project Lakhta anti-Trumo demonstration is just too, too delicious.

The question arises of actual motive on the part of the Russians.  Much of the usual drivel is circulating about Russian hatred of democracy as a commodity.

IMO that is not the root of their behavior in this matter and in all the other IO operations that they seem to be continuing against the US.  No, I think the objective is simply to weaken the US as a self-declared adversary that wishes to see Russia reduced to the status of a mid-sized regional player subject to US oversight and control.

Since the end of the first Cold War and the collapse of the USSR the US has treated Russia with overbearing contempt and hostility.  The Russians appealed to the US to be allowed a more open role in European affairs.  The response was to drive the borders of NATO far to the east, to the borders of what is but a rump of the Russian Empire before WW1.

The Russian response is to use what they see as a legitimate instrument of statecraft against us.  This instrument seeks the weakening of enemies through exploitation of their own defects. 

Our response to this is to adopt a high handed attitude that speaks volumes about us.  We admit that we do the same things to others even as we claim an absolute right to do this because we are the future of humanity, the dwellers in the "city on the hill."

How childish and self absorbed we are!  pl

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42 Responses to Project Lakhta – What was the goal?

  1. JohnH says:

    Our political parties far surpass any Russian effort “to create, publish and repeat divisive messages.” Proof? Just look at all the attack ads aired in before any important election. Lots of the ads come from dark money sources, so who can tell who’s behind them. Maybe Mueller should be investigating that, too…if the integrity of US elections is really the goal, not just opportunistic Russia-bashing.

  2. Lars says:

    I find the idea that we are to blame for what Russia is doing to be rather weak. It ignores centuries of Russian history. Besides, Homo Sovieticus did not just disappear from the scene.
    The Russians, led by Putin, only react to strength, which is one reason they decided to help Trump, who even today projects weakness towards them. Thus, their efforts to weaken the US is working, for now.
    I am not so sure they will like the backlash, when it comes and it will, once the GOP finds a spine. Russia have some serious economic, social and demographic problems that will limit what they will be able to sustain. They may think their problem is coming from the west, but in reality, it will arrive from the east.

  3. jjc says:

    Was the Organization (Internet Research Agency) acting on behalf of the Russian government, or was it a commercial marketing operation with no operational ties to the Russian government? It seems the notion of “sowing discord” or creating chaos within the American body politic is arrived as a means of explaining the lack of internal consistency in the Organization’s methods, but such analysis is predicated on the assumption this was a Russian government operation. Evidence for that assumption is obviously lacking, although that has not prevented such assumption from being presented as flat fact by many.

  4. turcopolier says:

    very good. Very plausible. pl

  5. “Me thinks the lady doth protest too much”
    The Story was broken and published in 2015. It found the perps were using bots to get
    advert revenues…….. period.
    The indictments are of Russian Nationals for activities and actions taken within Russia.
    Neither Mueller nor the US have jurisdiction.
    It’s a circus, a distraction against the Nunes Memo and investigation by Mueller, a
    compromised individual, if every there was one.
    Mueller is in it for the $$$millions in fees he gets for his office. Period.
    No one who actually tried to skew the election will ever be indicted. That includes,
    Clinton herself, and her husband, the DNC, and the media.

  6. Murali Penumarth says:

    Colonel I totally agree with your analysis, we seem to forget about our adventures in promoting democracy else where. What I think is that the Russians exposed our own corrupt politicians (I can still hear Obama’s preaching about wikileaks and Clinton emails “Never mind the content of those emails, it is a fact they stole our documents, and attacked our democracy). Never mind the same Obama administration brought down the Brazilian President through leaking “Panama Papers”. Unfortunately a clean politician was replaced by a corrupt politician in that country. Thanks

  7. TimmyB says:

    The entire purpose of the First Amendment is to allow for a vigorous public debate. The flaw in the above reasoning is that if the alleged goal of the supposed Russian “interference” was to “aggravate divisiveness” then that Russian troll farm was doing exactly what our founding fathers wanted the press to do, provoke a public debate about issues during an election.
    When we compare these trolls to the New York Times, which admitted it intentionally kept news of Bush’s illegal electronic spying from the American people during the Bush/Kerry election, specifically so it would not be an election issue, the trolls were doing exactly what our founding fathers wanted the press to do, while the NYT was not.
    I believe that these Russian trolls were merely parts of a private profit making Internet advertising firm that had zero to do with election interference and everything to do with generating the most eyeballs for its customers’ advertisements, However, the claim that these trolls were a Russian government operation intended to create “divisiveness” is based on the assumption that opposing Hillary Clinton was somehow divisive. Since when did criticism of a US politician become devisive?
    This is the part I don’t understand. The devisiveness stick can be swung against anyone and anything. My comments here can be seen by some as devisive. Same with the post I’m commenting on, this entire blog and every other person or group exercising their First Amendment rights by debating an issue. So while I believe the whole Russian thing is complete bullshit, the thing I worry about most is that it is being used to demand conformity and squelch our First Amendment rights. Vigorous debate, no matter who or what is sponsoring that debate, doesn’t weaken our country. It only makes it stronger. What is really weakening our country is the current demonizing of free speech via evidence free claims that such speech is hurting the US and helping a supposed enemy country.

  8. “If the goal was to further aggravate divisiveness in the US, this project certainly contributed to US political disarray.”
    So you’re saying that because a commercial fake ad campaign was seized upon by a US government Russian witch-hunt that therefore the fake ad campaign contributed to US political disarray? As opposed to the witch-hunt itself?
    I believe that’s putting the cart before the horse.
    We have Facebook’s head of ads explicitly saying that he’s seen all the ads and they definitely had nothing to do with swaying the election – before he’s forced to recant that statement by Facebook management on the excuse that it insults Mueller.
    Facebook executive apologizes to social media mob after pointing out that Russian ads did “NOT sway” election
    Then we have the journalist who covered the operation back in 2015 debunking the importance:
    “13 Russian trolls” indictment debunked by journalist who profiled the operation in 2015
    Then we have the *Russian* journalist who covered the operation back in 2013 debunking it:
    The Russian journalist who helped uncover election interference is confounded by the Mueller indictments
    In other words, everyone views this as a commercial marketing operation which used the US elections as a vehicle to make money by supporting and denouncing both Trump and Clinton, but you’re convinced it was a real Russian government disinformation operation.
    Based on what? The fact that it had zero impact on the election? Or the fact that by definition it couldn’t possibly have had any significant impact on US divisiveness by comparison with the US media and social media themselves – other than by having been put up by Mueller’s witch hunt as significant? The fact that this operation has zero connections to the Russian government except for this “chef” having some vague connections with Putin?
    Not buying it. This operation in my view had zilch to do with weakening the US in any way, shape or form – except to extract some money from it.

  9. Don says:

    Scott Adams
    does a white board presentation where he compares the theoryof Russians helping Trump with the theory of Russians as someone else who wanted anybody but Hillary.
    Scott has been right about quite a few things before and has written the book “How to win biggly in a world where facts don’t matter” explaining trumps style and persuasion methods.

  10. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Col. Lang:
    In my opinion, what is absent in “we are the future of humanity, the dwellers in the “city on the hill.” etc. is a plausible way for the rest of mankind to reach the gates of that “City on the Hill” – let alone entering it.
    There is now way There from Here – is Kwa-Zulu someday going to be just like Maine?
    Will Cairo be like New York City in the ripeness of time?
    Will New Delhi become a mega version of San Ramon or Walnut Creek?
    By the way, in the City on the Hill, what would happen to those Richmond ladies?

  11. blue peacock says:

    Col. Lang
    We don’t need the Russians to “sow discord” among our polity. We do it rather well ourselves. TDS, Birtherism, BLM, #MeToo, pro-choice/pro-life, safe spaces, and all the PCness and identity politics is just that, more grist for the discord mill.
    The hysteria over the Russian trolling shows how far into madness we’ve fallen. My personal hunch however is that Russiagate is a giant smokescreen to obfuscate a conspiracy at the highest levels of the Obama administration to interfere in the elections in a partisan manner and when the electorate chose otherwise to discredit a duly elected POTUS. Russia just happened to be roadkill in that plot.

  12. Peter AU says:

    In researching and trying to gain an understanding of the current Russia in the months after MH17, I gained the impression that many shady to straight out criminal characters could also be extremely patriotic.
    A piece from cluborlov that james linked to at b’s blog…
    “The accusation is a lot like accusing somebody of despoiling an outhouse by crapping in it, along with everyone else, but the outhouse in question had a sign on its door that read “No Russians!” and the 13 Russians just ignored it and crapped in it anyway”
    On the other hand is the piece written (I think before the US election) by Scott Humor at the Saker blog on this same scam organisation and same identities being rounded up sent to court and jailed, which if true The entire Mueller indictment may be based on western propaganda pieces to come up with something quickly, rather than any type of investigation.

  13. turcopolier says:

    A lot of you armchair sleuths are creating your own reality on an unwarranted basis proceeding from a desire to think that because Mueller is embarked on a voyage to Gulliver’s various lands, all his results are false. This is a fallacy. The first amendment? The framers never intended that it should protect people acting either directly or indirectly on behalf of a foreign power. Their reaction to the Citizen Genet case shows that clearly. The British did things like this on a sustained basis for the purpose of luring the US into WW2. Why do you think they made that effort a covert campaign? A covert political action on behalf of a foreign power would never have been thought by the framers to deserve first amendment protection. A commercial venture? Once again, you don’t know what you are talking about. If you had ever written a business plan for a new venture you would know that a competent entrepreneur would have looked at the “pro forma” financial projections in the plan and decided that the trivial possible revenues would never recover the capital invested in the scheme and would have decided against proceeding. Have you never watched “Shark Tank?” Some of the operatives involved did travel to the US to work some of the street demonstration capers. The indictment says that in September of last year, they concluded that the FBI was closing in on them and left the country rather than be apprehended. pl

  14. Joe100 says:

    jjc –
    With Col Lang’s forbearance on posting an except in this case, the following excerpt from John Helmer’s current blog post ( provides some insight into that has been driving the “Organizations” activities:
    “Russian sources believe Prigozhin’s organization has contracted for domestic Russian operations paid for by Russian corporations and local politicians. Some of the operations are believed to be conventional positive advertising of events, products, campaigns, and ideas. Some reportedly involve the circulation of kompromat against business and election rivals; some to defend against botnet and denial of service attacks on corporate websites and communication systems; some to attack the websites of business adversaries or investigative journalists, Russia-based or Russia-related.
    Investigations by Russian media and government regulators have been reporting for some time allegations that Prigozhin has been diverting money from state procurement contracts for himself, and for clandestine purposes approved by state officials and state company executives. For a sample of the details, start in 2014 with the St. Petersburg website Fontanka’s investigation of Mikhail Bystrov and Mikhail Burchik, the second and third defendants in the Mueller indictment. Fontanka said it had uncovered evidence that paying clients of the Prigozhin, Bystrov and Burchik organization included a youth group of the Russian Orthodox Church, the St. Petersburg municipal authorities, and a Gazprom media promotion company. The payroll of the organization was reported in mid-2014 to be Rb180,000 per month (about $5,500).
    Russian sources believe Prigozhin’s Project Lakhta was ordered by someone in a position to exercise a call on Prigozhin’s cashflow. They exclude Russian officials on the Kremlin Security Council — Sergei Ivanov, Sergei Lavrov, Sergei Shoigu, Anton Vaino, Nikolai Patrushev, Sergei Naryshkin – and dismiss the possibility that Project Lakhta had either President Putin’s or Russian intelligence service support.
    The suspicion of Russian sources is that the American campaign element in Project Lakhta was “so hare-brained there is only one official who could have considered Prigozhin’s project worth the money and the attempt – Dmitry Peskov”. Peskov is officially titled Deputy Chief of the Presidential Executive Office and Presidential Press Secretary. From the Kremlin he supervises the budgets for the state television broadcaster RT, the state news agency Sputnik, and special US-targeted propaganda programmes, such as the Valdai Discussion Club for academics and the Oliver Stone films”
    So this appears to me to be primarily a “commercial for hire to make something happen through the web” model for arrange of potential corporation and political clients. I find it interesting that the one possible “sufficiently hare-brained” suspect is Peskov who oversees the budgets of Russia’s state owned “open” US-targeted information programs..

  15. turcopolier says:

    You want the mastermind to be Peskov? Fine. It matters not in the context of my argument. pl

  16. Col. I agree with you that the objective would be to weaken and confuse the US. Possibly without much hope of strategic gain, just to see what could be done tactically. After all, this is interesting stuff! A documentary called “HyperNormalisation” makes the case that Putin uses these tactics inside Russia to defuse his domestic political opposition, too. It’s possible that there was an possible added bonus, if Trump were to be elected, and if Putin possesses kompromat — embarrassing secrets about Trump’s business operations, business associates, and/or other behavior (such as the “salacious” kind). That would make things even more interesting! But still, it’s all for short-term gain, if any. If Putin is behind it, he would already know that the Americans will finally put up safeguards, and that the chances of pulling it off twice are remote.

  17. SmoothieX12 says:

    The piece in NYT certainly broke through the bottom. But then again, I learned today from Adam Schiff that Russians love 2nd Amendment because they love nothing more than Americans killing each-other. It shouldn’t take long before Russian are blamed for 9-11 and Great Depression. A complete dehumanization of Russia and Russians is gaining a full steam.

  18. steve says:

    “The Russian response is to use what they see as a legitimate instrument of statecraft against us. This instrument seeks the weakening of enemies through exploitation of their own defects. ”
    I have always thought that this makes sense. It would have been incredibly passive and an abdication of responsibility for the Russians to not respond. You can argue about the particulars on exactly what they did or did not do, but it never made sense to think that they were not acting in their own best self-interests in response to provocation.

  19. Barbara Ann says:

    I think the following excerpt from Helmer’s piece is more relevant here:

    The unofficial Russian reaction towards Prigozhin’s activities in the US is more quizzical, and under the American pressure, more private. It acknowledges that Prigozhin is a commercial operator, and for every outlay he has a paying client. Who that client was for Project Lakhta is the object of speculation so far unreported in the Russian press.

    So finding the client would seem to be critical to both the ‘Russian government involvement’ and ‘Trump team colluded’ allegations.

  20. Grazhdanochka says:

    Just to add one more Aspect that should be considered…
    Russian Press has repeatedly covered the Topic of Troll Farm, RBK/RBC late last Year again covered it last Year –
    In other Article –
    It is noted that Prigozhin had previously tried to take another Russian Company – Yandex (Equivalent of Google for Russia) to Court to have his Name removed from Search Results that connected his Name with Search Query, before eventually backing down….
    This points out an obvious Dilemma to many Critiques of Russia, the all Powerful Russian Government whom between apparently personally controlling all Business, nor does it allow a free Press neither forced Yandexs Hand in having those results Removed, nor did it prevent RBC/RBK from publishing their Report on the ‘Troll Farm’ which if to be believed was a vital Part of their Political Interference…
    Which way does it go? Do they suddenly have to admit that Press is maybe the more Free than imagined? Or does the Government simply not extend any interest in hiding its ‘Operation and Assets’… Or is it that simply – It has no Hand in this and thus no interest?
    All of this goes back to the Points others have clearly made very well above – That of this being about Commercial Interests and Motivations not a super Secret Plot that clearly is not being hidden..

  21. Grazhdanochka says:

    To add one more Aspect to what I mean by ‘Commercial Interests’ – This does not have to mean Directly… Favorable Patronage if the right People are pleased with you can leverage Profits through further Contracts and Opportunities..
    The Trick is gaining said Patronage

  22. Joe100 says:

    Col Lang –
    I am not pushing Peskov and basically agreeing with jjc’s post that evidence that this was a Russian government is lacking (at least so far).
    And while the outcome, regardless of who funded this operation, has contributed to US political disarray, it seems this outcome has primarily been driven by HRL’s loss, plausible (but not yet proven) DOJ, FBI and White House illegal election and post-election interventions and the desperate efforts by Democratic party types and their tribal supporters to believe that HRC was robbed of her rightful Presidency. Absent this context – which was clearly not created by the IRA operation – it is hard to see that this operation would be getting any attention.

  23. Norbert M Salamon says:

    An Alternate to your thesis is that the object of Lakhta is to make Russia Great Again.
    It appears with every US inspired sanction Russia recovers after a brief pause, and advances her economy far beyond what was foreseen but a few years ago:
    1., agriculture -greatest wheat exporter in 2017, rather than importer.
    2., replacing slowly all the software from the west with either homegrown
    product or Chinese goods
    3., the famous Kremlin List might force lot of offshore Russian wealth to go home, lest it be expropriated by the US Treasury.
    4., you, Sir, can add other 9oservations based on facts of Russia’s recovery since the sanctions stsrted.

  24. Barbara Ann says:

    Re the KPI’s to “measure the level of success enjoyed by the Russian intelligence active measures campaign”:
    I was taught that performance measures are meaningless unless they can quantify a commodity which equates to ‘success’. The examples given here seem to fall well within that category IMHO. Discord and divisiveness may be a valid goal, but how much was sown? There was plenty around, but it is surely next to impossible to assess the impact of Lakhta in a meaningful way. So Moore went to a Lakhta rally, rather than what, perhaps a different anti Trump rally? Is the net effect better or worse and by how much?
    The second KPI is not even a KPI – how is dialog framing a valid goal? The text describes the significant investment made (the other side of the equation) and the methods used – this is meaningless re any assessment of supposed ‘success’.

  25. LondonBob says:

    Average salary in St Pete would be around USD1000 a month so the costs are not much, maybe more if they had English language skills. Wouldn’t be many fixed/startup costs at all. Also not just click bait advertising but the opportunity to take a contract to run a PR campaign.
    I am still undecided. This organisation has been well known and received coverage in the western press for years so I assume the relevant people have poked around their, likely poorly protected, systems. Two things to remember is Russia is a pretty anarchic place with different factions and people doing their own thing. Generally Russians can still be pretty incompetent at things, these guys seem to be a good example of that. Others would be a better judge of whether this smacks of an organised Russian intelligence operation, or just one of Russia’s many incompetent private companies. Creating a little mischief can be fun as well. I can’t be bothered to look fully in to everything but actual real examples of attempts to cause mischief are too few, and the evidence sufficient to convict has not been presented.
    As for British activities before WWII, I have always been of the opinion the success of that was due to important power centres, the people Lindbergh listed in his Des Moines speech, although I would include white Southerners, in the US consciously turning a blind eye. The inference would be that this was so insignificant and ineffectual that it wasn’t picked up, or dismissed if it was.

  26. Security Boulevard is an aggregation of cyber-security bloggers. Christopher Burgess, the author of this article, retired from the CIA in 2005 with 30+ years. He worked as a security advisor for Cisco and in several other security related companies. I don’t remember ever hearing about him. I looked at some of his writing about the Russia thing going back to before the election. Our views largely coincide and I recognize the terminology he uses. I chalk that up to his background. He certainly was aware of some of the same experiences in foreign cyber-espionage and IO that I dealt with. These key performance indicators are from an article he did back in November 2017.

  27. jonst says:

    It is not in the interests, to say the least, of Russia to weaken the US. And Putin, above most, knows this. Maybe tweak us a bit…but weaken us? Why? He is going to need us against China. We have no natural geopolitical antipathy (hostility) with Russia. We may thrust ourselves into that position, at times, in Eastern Europe or the Middle East. However it is not organic to our relationship. On the other hand, such antipathy (hostility) does exist between China and Russia. And it is not just , organic, geopolitical, but racial was well. Although we’re not supposed to talk like that anymore. Putin might not talk it…but he is thinking it.

  28. turcopolier says:

    YOU may not have any antipathy toward Russia but Washington and New York and the media drip with it and our actions since the fall of the USSR would not look like friendship to any neutral observer. pl

  29. turcopolier says:

    The thing about British activities in the US before WW2 is laughable and rather self-serving. So, you think that 1.25 million US a month was trivial, eh? Have you ever funded a business? pl

  30. turcopolier says:

    Barbara Ann
    “I was taught that performance measures are meaningless unless they can quantify a commodity which equates to ‘success’. ” You were taught poorly. Nothing in international policy operations can be meaningfully quantified. Only social science idiots thank that this is possible. pl

  31. LondonBob says:

    Wasn’t the USD1.25m a month the budget for the whole organisation, including Russian activities? I haven’t looked in to it in enough detail.
    Self serving but true.

  32. turcopolier says:

    You have CIA on the brain, something like water on the knew and have seen too many movies. you have no idea how difficult it would be to construct an operation like this in a police state like Russia if you were foreign. pl

  33. turcopolier says:

    And then there were a few British capers like the Zimmerman telegram and the BS about German atrocities in Belgium in WW1. Oh, yes and the lies told about the Boers in the S. Africa War.

  34. shepherd says:

    Barbara Ann,
    He seems not to be using KPI in the traditional way, but it could be a terminology difference between intelligence and business uses. Substitute the word “goal” and you’re fine.

  35. turcopolier says:

    you prefer b’s opinion? Go there and abide. pl

  36. turcopolier says:

    Norbert S. Solomon
    Do you really think that Russia sees its relations with the US as other than a zero sum game? How could they see it any other way given the way the US has acted toward them? pl

  37. turcopolier says:

    I didn’t say the Russian project created the aura of animosity. The US is falling apart politically. The Russian project originators perceived this and sought to exacerbate it, and succeeded. pl

  38. turcopolier says:

    So, you think this project was put up on “spec” like building something in the hope that someone will buy it and redeem your costs. Have you ever done that? pl

  39. shepherd says:

    I concur on Burgess. The graphic in the article you cite is pretty good, though it doesn’t mention the “seeding and feeding” use of bots and commenters in blog and media platform threads to influence the discussion. But I think that’s inferred by the use of the term “computational propaganda.” I’ve never seen that before, but I like it. In psychology, it is called the “availability heuristic.” The idea is that if you make the same claim or idea appear again and again, people will eventually become convinced it’s true. So if you can swarm the Internet with many instances of the same falsehood or argument, people will come to believe it’s true.
    In case anyone’s curious, this is the same tactic employed by GEICO in the US.

  40. Barbara Ann says:

    With respect Colonel, my point was that the use of KPI’s in this context is indeed meaningless. Thus the authors are discredited in my view by using & abusing the term.
    This report reads no different to many others to me – allegations that the mission was to sow discord. So is this a new Pearl Harbor or a laughably tiny contribution to the immense discord extant already. My own gut feel is that it is likely well towards the latter end of the scale.

  41. turcopolier says:

    Barbara ann
    You are quibbling over words. I never said Lakhta had a significant effect. My piece dealt only with intentions and goals. pl

  42. turcopolier says:

    Russophobic bigotry and based on what? your reading of Russian history? pl

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