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‘Follow the trail of dead Russians’ if you want to crack 2016 election interference: Senate intel witness

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Counterterrorism expert Clint Watts at the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Russian interference in the 2016 election (Screen capture)

Terrorism and espionage expert Clint Watts told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday that if they want to understand Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, then they need to “follow the trail of dead Russians.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) asked Watts at the hearing, “How can the committee track this fuzzy line between the Russian oligarchs, Russian organized crime and the Russian government?”

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Watts began by pointing out that he is not an expert on Russia, but a counterterrorism specialist, then explained that the Russian attack on the U.S. election had two components, the virtual or internet component and an actual physical real-world component.

The virtual assault, Watts said, came from a “disproportionate number of fake news outlets” in Eastern Europe, “conspiratorial web sites that are run from there that are English-speaking editors that are pro-Russian. Trained in Russia sometimes. How are they funded? That would be one component.”

“My hypothesis, working in the intelligence field,” he continued, “is that there is some sort of Russian intel asset that is funding them in one way or another through some sort of scheme.”

“The other part that I think we should be looking at is: Follow the trail of dead Russians,” Watts said. “There’s been more dead Russians in the past three months that are tied to this investigation who have assets in banks all over the world. They are dropping dead, even in western countries. We have seen arrests in I believe it’s Spain and different computer security companies that are based in Russia, which provide services to the United States. These are all huge openings to understand how they are funded by the Russian government. I don’t have the capability to do that from where I sit, but I think that’s a huge angle.”

Watts is a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and a specialist in the Islamic State (ISIS) and cyber terrorism.

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