Russian held as agent studied US groups’ cyberdefenses

WASHINGTON (AP) — An investigation by The Associated Press details how the Russian accused by federal prosecutors of being a secret agent, Maria Butina, studied the cyberdefenses of U.S. nonprofits as part of her graduate studies in Washington.

Butina’s college assignment called for her to gather information on U.S. nonprofit organizations that champion media freedom and human rights. It was information that could help the groups plug important vulnerabilities, but also would be of interest to the Russian government.

In fact, the Russians previously had in their sights at least two of the groups that she and other students interacted with.

Butina’s involvement in the work study program raised few eyebrows before her July arrest, despite the fact that news reports already had posed questions about her ties with Kremlin officials.