Russia, With Bitcoin Playing Bit Part, Tried to Hack 2016 US Election, Senate Report Finds

Bitcoin may have been the salacious pretext to Marina Butina's fling with Patrick Byrne.

Aug 18, 2020 at 4:32 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 9:45 a.m. UTC

The U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence highlighted bitcoin's limited role in Russia's 2016 election hacking campaign in a report that reaffirmed the U.S. intelligence community's conclusion the Kremlin worked to put Donald J. Trump in the White House in 2016.

  • Released Tuesday in redacted form, the final report added new details and accusations to U.S. authorities' broad-based belief that Russia used disinformation, hacking and tactical leaks to bolster then-candidate Trump's presidential bid.
  • But it also revealed the sometimes salacious role cryptocurrency played in helping the Russians execute their influence campaign.
  • For example, the report suggests jailed Russian spy Maria Butina, whose fling with Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne led to the crypto booster's August 2019 ouster, may have attended a 2015 libertarian convention discussion on bitcoin that Byrne led.
  • "[Byrne's] remarks about the coming 'electronic' changes in our 21st century economy were exciting," read a draft email between businessman Paul Erickson and Butina that the committee obtained.
  • Butina told the committee that "someone was talking about bitcoin, and there were some ideas that I wanted to discover" at the conference, but never specifically named Byrne.
  • The write-up also reiterated crypto allegations previously revealed in past reports and indictments, including those released in the wake of the report by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller.
  • Bitcoin payments paid for the "DCLeaks.com" domain that hosted leaked DNC emails, as well as the virtual private servers Russia's GRU used during their spear-phishing campaign, the report said.
  • That bitcoin was new, too: The Russians are said to have mined it themselves.
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