Russia

The US government formally accuses the Russian government of hacking and publishing emails related to US political entities.

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James Clapper (Credit: Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper releases a statement in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security claiming that leaked emails that have appeared on a variety of websites “are intended to interfere with the US election process. … We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.”

The New York Times comments that the statement does “not name President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, but that appear[s] to be the intention.”

Many thousands of emails and other documents have been posted in recent months on the WikiLeaks website, but WikiLeaks won’t say where their leaks come from. Two newly created websites attributed to DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 have also posted leaks. Both groups claim to have no ties to the Russian government, but the US government claims otherwise.

The statement adds that US intelligence agencies are less certain who is responsible for “scanning and probing” online voter registration lists in various US states in recent months. Those “in most cases originated from servers operated by a Russian company,” but the statement doesn’t assert that the Russian government is responsible.

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Kerry (left) and Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov meet in Geneva to discuss the Syrian crisis on September 9, 2016. (Credit: Agence France Presse)

The Times notes that the “announcement [comes] only hours after Secretary of State John Kerry called for the Russian and Syrian governments to face a formal war-crimes investigation over attacks on civilians in Aleppo and other parts of Syria. Taken together, the developments mark a sharp escalation of Washington’s many confrontations with [Russia] this year.”

US officials had debated for months whether or not to formally accuse Russia, and if so, when. An unnamed “senior administration official” says that with only about a month to go before the November presidential election, President Obama was “under pressure to act now,” in part because the closer the declaration would be to election day, the more political it would seem.

It is unclear what action the US will take in an attempt to punish Russia, if any. A range of options are being considered, including economic sanctions and covert cyber attacks against Russian targets. (The New York Times, 10/7/2016)

September 17, 2016 – Obama State Dept officials Victoria Nuland and Jonathan Winer plan a face-to-face meeting on the “Russia matter”

Victoria Nuland and Jonathan Winer (Credit: public domain)

“Judicial Watch and The Daily Caller News Foundation today released 84 pages of documents, including a September 2016 email exchange between then-Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and Special Coordinator for Libya Jonathan Winer, a close associate of dossier author Christopher Steele, discussing a “face-to-face” meeting on a “Russian matter.”

(In June 2016 Nuland permitted a meeting between Steele and the FBI’s legal attaché in Rome. Nuland told CBS News that the State Department knew about the Steele dossier by July 2016.)

According to an op-ed Winer wrote for The Washington Post in 2018, also in September 2016, “Steele and I met in Washington and discussed the information now known as the “dossier… I prepared a two-page summary and shared it with Nuland, who indicated that, like me, she felt that the secretary of state needed to be made aware of this material.”

A September 17, 2016email exchange between Nuland and Winer – that was classified in the interest of national defense or foreign policy – discusses the political situation in Libya, but also brings up a “Russian matter:”

From: Nuland, Victoria J
Sent: Saturday, September 17, 2016 1:31 PM
To: Winer, Jonathan
Subject: Re. Libya Update

In ny face to face?

From: Winer, Jonathan
Sent: September 17, 2016 at 1:56:05 PM EDT
To: Nuland, Victoria J
Subject: Re: Libya Update

Yes that was [sic] be good.

From: Nuland, Victoria J
Sent: Saturday, September 17, 2016 1:58 PM
To: Winer, Jonathan
Subject: Re. Libya Update

Good. I’ll reach out when im there Sunday. [Redacted]

Other emails show senior State Department personnel using unsecure BlackBerrys to transmit classified information even after the Clinton email scandal became public.” (Read more: Judicial Watch 7/18/2019)

Clinton is “concerned” about Russian election-rigging in Trump’s favor.

Clinton holds an in-flight press conference on September 5, 2016. (Credit: Andrew Harnik / The Associated Press))

Clinton holds an in-flight press conference on September 5, 2016. (Credit: Andrew Harnik / The Associated Press))

Clinton comments about allegations of Russian hacking of US political entities: “I’m really concerned about the credible reports about Russian government interference in our elections … The fact that our intelligence professionals are now studying this, and taking it seriously… raises some grave questions about potential Russian interference with our electoral process.”

Clinton voices suspicions that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s could be colluding with Russia: “We’ve never had the nominee of one of our major parties urging the Russians to hack more… I think it’s quite intriguing that this activity has happened around the time Trump became the nominee… I often quote a great saying that I learned from living in Arkansas for many years: If you find a turtle on a fence post, it didn’t get there by itself.” (Politico, 9/5/2016)

 

Obama claims the US has “had problems with cyber intrusions from Russia.”

US President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet at the G-20 summit in China.

Obama and Putin have a pull-aside meeting at the G20 Summit in China on September 5, 2016. (Credit: Hamari Web)

Obama and Putin have a pull-aside meeting at the G20 Summit in China on September 5, 2016. (Credit: Hamari Web)

When Obama is questioned by reporters about accusations that Russia has been behind the hacking of US political entities, he answers: “I will tell you’ve had problems with cyber intrusions from Russia in the past and from other countries in the past.”

He adds, “the goal is not to duplicate in the cyber area the cycle of escalation,” and his intent is “instituting some norms so that everybody’s acting responsibly.” (The Hill, 9/5/2016)

Putin denies that Russia was involved in the DNC hack.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says in an interview about accusations of Russian government in the hacking of Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails: “Listen, does it even matter who hacked this data? The important thing is the content that was given to the public …. There’s no need to distract the public’s attention from the essence of the problem by raising some minor issues connected with the search for who did it. … But I want to tell you again, I don’t know anything about it, and on a state level Russia has never done this.”

However, an internal probe conducted by CrowdStrike Inc. traced the source of the hack to two Russian hacking groups connected with Russian intelligence, “Cozy Bear” and “Fancy Bear.”

John Lewis (Credit: public domain)

James Lewis (Credit: public domain)

James Lewis, a cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, claims that Russia has engaged in state hacking in the past and that Putin’s denials are “not credible.”

Putin continues: “You know how many hackers there are today? They act so delicately and precisely that they can leave their mark — or even the mark of others — at the necessary time and place, camouflaging their activities as that of other hackers from other territories or countries. It’s an extremely difficult thing to check, if it’s even possible to check. At any rate, we definitely don’t do this at a state level.” (Bloomberg News, 9/1/2016)

July 27, 2016 – Trump: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,”

Donald Trump addresses a news conference in Miami, FL on July 27, 2016. (Credit: CNBC)

“Former CIA Director Leon Panetta blasted Donald Trump Wednesday night from the stage of the Democratic National Convention, calling his recent comment that Russia should “find” Hillary Clinton’s emails “irresponsible” and “inconceivable.”

Panetta’s comments were largely disrupted by the crowd chanting “No more war,” but he continued his remarks.

Earlier Wednesday, Trump urged Russian agents to “find” Clinton’s emails and release them, an unprecedented move by a candidate for president encouraging such a foreign breach.

“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” the GOP presidential nominee said at a news conference in Miami on Wednesday. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

Trump was referring to the ongoing controversy surrounding the private server Clinton used while secretary of state.” (Read more: NPR, 7/27/2016)

The following day, the New York Times reports Trump was encouraging Russia and “essentially urging a foreign adversary to conduct cyberespionage against a former secretary of state.” (Read more: New York Times, 7/28/2016)

A cybersecurity group claims to have new evidence that Guccifer 2.0 is actually a team of Russian hackers.

Threat Connect Logo (Credit: public domain)

Guccifer 2.0 is a hacker who claims he broke into the Democratic National Committtee (DNC) computer network and then gave the emails he found to WikiLeaks. He also claims to be an East European with no connection to Russia.

However, the cybersecurity research group ThreatConnect claims to have new evidence linking Guccifer 2.0 to an Internet server in Russia and to a digital address that has been linked to previous Russian online scams. They conclude that Guccifer 2.0 is actually an “apparition created under a hasty Russian [denial and deception] campaign” to influence political events in the US.

Their report concludes, “Maintaining a ruse of this nature within both the physical and virtual domains requires believable and verifiable events which do not contradict one another. That is not the case here.” For instance, Guccifer 2.0 claims to have broken into the DNC network in the summer of 2015 using a software flaw that didn’t exist until December 2015.

Furthermore, the Guccier 2.0 entity is “a Russia-controlled platform that can act as a censored hacktivist. Moscow determines what Guccifer 2.0 shares and thus can attempt to selectively impact media coverage, and potentially the election, in a way that ultimately benefits their national objectives.” (The Daily Beast, 7/26/2016)

President Obama suggests Russians could be behind the hack that led to the WikiLeaks release of DNC emails.

President Obama is asked if Russia could be behind hacks that led to 20,000 Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails getting released by WikiLeaks. He says the FBI is still investigating but also “experts have attributed this to the Russians.”

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Obama (left) is interviewed by Today’s Savannah Guthrie on July 26, 2016. (Credit: NBC)

He adds, “What we do know is is that the Russians hack our systems. Not just government systems, but private systems. But you know, what the motives were in terms of the leaks, all that — I can’t say directly. What I do know is that Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed admiration for Vladimir Putin.”

Asked if he’s suggesting that Russian leader Vladimir Putin could be motivated to help Trump win the November 2016 election, Obama replies, “I am basing this on what Mr. Trump himself has said. And I think that — Trump’s gotten pretty favorable coverage­­­ — back in Russia.” (Politico, 7/26/2016)

He stops stopped short of accusing Russia of trying to manipulate the election, but says “anything’s possible.” He also claims that “on a regular basis, [the Russians] try to influence elections in Europe.” (The New York Times, 7/26/2016)

US intelligence agencies have “high confidence” that the Russian government is behind the hack of DNC emails.

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Emblem of the Russian Federal Security Service (Credit: public domain)

The New York Times claims this is according to unnamed “federal officials who have been briefed on the evidence.” But these officials are uncertain if the hack is part of “fairly routine cyberespionage” or part of an effort to manipulate the 2016 US presidential election. The DNC (Democratic National Committee) emails were  published by WikiLeaks on July 22, 2016, causing political turmoil for Democrats and resulting in the resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, from her position as DNC chair.

The federal investigation, involving the FBI and other intelligence agencies began in April 2016, when the hack was first detected. It has concluded that the Russian Federal Security Service (Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti or FSB) entered the DNC’s computer network in the summer of 2015. (This corresponds with previous reports of a hacking by a Russian group known as Cozy Bear or APT 29.) The Rusian Main Intelligence Directorate (Glavnoje Razvedyvatel’noje Upravlenije or GRU) independently penetrated the same network later. (This corresponds with previous reports of a hacking by a Russian group known as Fancy Bear or APT 28.) Investigators believe the GRU has been playing a larger role in publicly releasing the emails.

The Times says the intelligence community’s conclusion puts pressure on President Obama to publicly accuse Russia of orchestrating the hacking, which could negatively impact the diplomatic relationship between the US and Russia in general. (The New York Times, 7/26/2016)

Russia denies any role in hacking the DNC’s emails and claims to be neutral in the US presidential election.

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (Credit: public domain)

On July 26, 2016, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov strongly dismisses suggestions that the Russian government could have been behind the hacks that led to the public release of 20,000 Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails.  He says, “I don’t want to use four-letter words.”  (The New York Times, 7/26/2016)

Two days later, Russian government spokesperson Dmitry Peskov says accusations of Russian involvement in the hacking of the emails border on “total stupidity” and are motivated by anti-Russian sentiment. “As regards these [email] batches, that is not our headache. We never poke our noses into others’ affairs and we really don’t like it when people try to poke their nose into ours. … The Americans need to get to the bottom of what these emails are themselves and find out what it’s all about.”

Peskov also says Russia won’t change what he claims has been a neutral stance on the US 2016 presidential election. “We know perfectly well that candidates in the heat of a preelection struggle say one thing, but that later, when under the weight of responsibility, their rhetoric becomes more balanced.”

Some US analysts claim that the Russian media, which is heavily influenced by the Russian government, has shown a clear tilt in favor of Trump. (Reuters, 7/28/2016)