- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2019

President Trump personally authorized a U.S. military operation that resulted in Russian internet trolls being unable to get online during the 2018 midterm elections, a report said Tuesday.

The Washington Post first reported earlier Tuesday that U.S. Cyber Command conducted a campaign last year that briefly disrupted internet access at the St. Petersburg headquarters of the Internet Research Agency, or IRA, a so-called “troll farm” accused of using social media to sow discord in the U.S. and abroad.

NBC News has now confirmed that President Trump personally signed off on this offensive cyber operation against a Russian troll farm,” NBC News national security reporter Ken Dilanian wrote later on Twitter. “He had authorized the broader campaign, but he also approved this op in particular, per a source with direct knowledge.”

Multiple sources subsequently confirmed that Mr. Trump authorized the operation, NBC News reported.

The White House did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Aided by intelligence collected by the U.S. National Security Agency, CyberCom carried out an operation that effectively blocked internet access at the IRA office during and immediately after Americans voted in the November 2018 midterm races, the Post first reported.

“They basically took the IRA offline,” an individual familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity, The Post reported earlier Tuesday. “They shut ‘em down.”

The operation was part of a larger CyberCom effort, first reported by The New York Times prior to Election Day, aimed at deterring Russians from meddling in the 2018 midterms, the outlets reported.

Russian internet trolls interfered in the 2016 elections by spreading disinformation and propaganda on social media prior to Americans casting ballots, U.S. officials previously concluded. The efforts occurred in tandem with offensive operations conducted by Russian state-sponsored hackers likely authorized personally by President Vladimir Putin, according to U.S. officials. Moscow has denied the allegations.

Dmitry Peskov, Mr. Putin’s spokesman, cast doubt on The Post’s report Wednesday, Rusian media reported.

“I do not know how reliable the data that this newspaper cites,” said Mr. Peskov, Interfax reported. “Because the data is impersonal, so nowadays we must be very careful about them.”

“In general, it can be said that a huge number of cyberattacks are constantly being organized from the territory of the United States to various Russian organizations, legal entities and individuals,” Mr. Peskov added. “This is a reality in which we live.”

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