U.S. investigating potential covert Russian plan to disrupt November elections

The Washington Post reports: U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies are investigating what they see as a broad covert Russian operation in the United States to sow public distrust in the upcoming presidential election and in U.S. political institutions, intelligence and congressional officials said.

The aim is to understand the scope and intent of the Russian campaign, which incorporates cyber-tools to hack systems used in the political process, enhancing Russia’s ability to spread disinformation.

The effort to better understand Russia’s covert influence operations is being coordinated by James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence. “This is something of concern for the DNI,” said Charles Allen, a former longtime CIA officer who has been briefed on some of these issues. “It is being addressed.”

A Russian influence operation in the United States “is something we’re looking very closely at,” said one senior intelligence official who, like others interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter. Officials also are examining potential disruptions to the election process, and the FBI has alerted state and local officials to potential cyberthreats.

The official cautioned that the intelligence community is not saying it has “definitive proof” of such tampering, or any Russian plans to do so. “But even the hint of something impacting the security of our election system would be of significant concern,” the official said. “It’s the key to our democracy, that people have confidence in the election system.”

The Kremlin’s intent may not be to sway the election in one direction or another, officials said, but to cause chaos and provide propaganda fodder to attack U.S. democracy-building policies around the world, particularly in the countries of the former Soviet Union. [Continue reading…]

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Russian hackers targeted Arizona election system

The Washington Post reports: Hackers targeted voter registration systems in Illinois and Arizona, and the FBI alerted Arizona officials in June that Russians were behind the assault on the election system in that state.

The bureau described the threat as “credible” and significant, “an eight on a scale of one to 10,” Matt Roberts, a spokesman for Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan (R), said Monday. As a result, Reagan shut down the state’s voter registration system for nearly a week.

It turned out that the hackers had not compromised the state system or even any county system. They had, however, stolen the username and password of a single election official in Gila County.

Roberts said FBI investigators did not specify whether the hackers were criminals or employed by the Russian government. Bureau officials on Monday declined to comment, except to say that they routinely advise private industry of cyberthreats detected in investigations. [Continue reading…]

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FBI says foreign hackers penetrated state election systems

Michael Isikoff reports: The FBI has uncovered evidence that foreign hackers penetrated two state election databases in recent weeks, prompting the bureau to warn election officials across the country to take new steps to enhance the security of their computer systems, according to federal and state law enforcement officials.

The FBI warning, contained in a “flash” alert from the FBI’s Cyber Division, a copy of which was obtained by Yahoo News, comes amid heightened concerns among U.S. intelligence officials about the possibility of cyberintrusions, potentially by Russian state-sponsored hackers, aimed at disrupting the November elections.

Those concerns prompted Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to convene a conference call with state election officials on Aug. 15, in which he offered his department’s help to make state voting systems more secure, including providing federal cyber security experts to scan for vulnerabilities, according to a “readout” of the call released by the department. [Continue reading…]

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FBI investigates whether Russia hacked New York Times reporters

The Associated Press reports: The FBI is investigating cyber intrusions targeting reporters of the New York Times and is looking into whether Russian intelligence agencies are responsible for the acts, a US official said Tuesday.

The cyberattacks are believed to have targeted individual reporters, but investigators don’t believe the newspaper’s entire network was compromised, according to the official, who was briefed on the investigation but was not authorized to discuss the matter by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.

CNN first reported the FBI’s investigation.

It was not immediately clear how many reporters may have been affected, nor how many email accounts were targeted. [Continue reading…]

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Turkish evidence for Gulen extradition pre-dates coup attempt

The Washington Post reports: Turkey’s request for U.S. extradition of self-exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen refers only to his alleged activities before last month’s failed coup attempt, for which the Turks have not yet provided any evidence of his involvement, a senior administration official said.

“It’s actually tied to allegations of certain alleged criminal activities that pre-date the coup,” the official said of the request now being examined by the Justice Department. “At this point, Turkish authorities have not put forward a formal extradition request based on evidence that he was involved in the coup” attempt.

Turkey has blamed Gulen’s followers for orchestrating the attempted toppling of the government, and has arrested tens of thousands of alleged sympathizers in purges of the military, the judiciary and the media, even as it has closed down hundreds of schools and business enterprises operated by alleged Gulen backers. Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, is a permanent U.S. resident. [Continue reading…]

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Feds investigate Manafort firm as part of Ukraine probe

CNN reports: FBI and Justice Department prosecutors are conducting an investigation into possible US ties to alleged corruption of the former pro-Russian president of Ukraine, including the work of Paul Manafort’s firm, according to multiple US law enforcement officials.

The investigation is broad and is looking into whether US companies and the financial system were used to aid alleged corruption by the party of former president Viktor Yanukovych.

Manafort, who resigned as chairman of Donald Trump’s campaign Friday, has not been the focus of the probe, according to the law enforcement officials. The investigation is ongoing and prosecutors haven’t ruled anything out, the officials said.

The probe is also examining the work of other firms linked to the former Ukrainian government, including that of the Podesta Group, the lobbying and public relations company run by Tony Podesta, brother of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. considers sanctions against Russia in response to hacks of Democratic groups

The Wall Street Journal reports: U.S. officials are discussing whether to respond to computer breaches of Democratic Party organizations with economic sanctions against Russia, but they haven’t reached a decision about how to proceed, according to several people familiar with the matter.

Levying sanctions would require the White House to publicly accuse Russia, or Russian-backed hackers, of committing the breach and then leaking embarrassing information. The U.S. has frequently opted not to publicly release attribution for cyber-assaults, though Washington did openly accuse North Korea of carrying out an embarrassing breach of Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. in 2014.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. intelligence agencies have been studying the Democratic hacks, and several officials have signaled it was almost certainly carried out by Russian-affiliated hackers. Russia has denied any involvement, but several cybersecurity companies have also released reports tying the breach to Russian hackers.

On Thursday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) told reporters, regarding a breach of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which spearheads the Democratic House campaigns: “I know for sure it is the Russians” and “we are assessing the damage.”

She added, “This is an electronic Watergate…The Russians broke in. Who did they give the information to? I don’t know. Who dumped it? I don’t know.” [Continue reading…]

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FBI said to have taken months to warn Democrats of suspected Russian role in hack

Reuters reports: The FBI did not tell the Democratic National Committee that U.S officials suspected it was the target of a Russian government-backed cyber attack when agents first contacted the party last fall, three people with knowledge of the discussions told Reuters.

And in months of follow-up conversations about the DNC’s network security, the FBI did not warn party officials that the attack was being investigated as Russian espionage, the sources said.

The lack of full disclosure by the FBI prevented DNC staffers from taking steps that could have reduced the number of confidential emails and documents stolen, one of the sources said. Instead, Russian hackers whom security experts believe are affiliated with the Russian government continued to have access to Democratic Party computers for months during a crucial phase in the U.S. presidential campaign, the source said.

As late as June, hackers had access to DNC systems and the network used by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a group that raises money for Democratic candidates and shares an office with the DNC in Washington, people with knowledge of the cases have said. [Continue reading…]

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FBI probes hacking of another Democratic Party group

Reuters reports: The FBI is investigating a cyber attack against another U.S. Democratic Party group, which may be related to an earlier hack against the Democratic National Committee, four people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The previously unreported incident at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, or DCCC, and its potential ties to Russian hackers are likely to heighten accusations, so far unproven, that Moscow is trying to meddle in the U.S. presidential election campaign to help Republican nominee Donald Trump.

The Kremlin denied involvement in the DCCC cyber-attack. Hacking of the party’s emails caused discord among Democrats at the party’s convention in Philadelphia to nominate Hillary Clinton as its presidential candidate.

The newly disclosed breach at the DCCC may have been intended to gather information about donors, rather than to steal money, the sources said on Thursday.

It was not clear what data was exposed, although donors typically submit a variety of personal information including names, email addresses and credit card details when making a contribution. It was also unclear if stolen information was used to hack into other systems.

The DCCC raises money for Democrats running for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The intrusion at the group could have begun as recently as June, two of the sources told Reuters. [Continue reading…]

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Karen Greenberg on the making of the modern security state

Brian O’Neill writes: For people not intimately involved in national security debates, and who haven’t closely followed how we arrived at the modern security state, the decade-and-a-half following the surreal terror of September 11 have felt like an unmoored drift, a country floating aimlessly, if recklessly, down a river of indecision. The internet’s rising ubiquity, followed by the dominance of social media, allowed many of us to unwittingly shrug off privacy concerns, while simultaneously ignoring others’ indefinite detention, the torture of strangers, and sky-borne assassination overseas, until we looked around and the sky was speckled with revelations. It’s easy to feel like the new relationship we have with our government “only just happened.”

In Rogue Justice, Karen Greenberg, the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University School of Law, puts that feeling of aimless drift mostly to rest. This detailed and meticulously researched book shows how the willingness to make every citizen a suspect, and to give the executive branch immense powers to surveil, detain, torture, and murder were not just a product of collective fear and indifference, but the deliberate actions of a surprisingly small group of people. I say “mostly” because the decisions were made by officials within the Bush and (to a lesser extent) Obama administrations, but they were also enabled by the assumed (and granted) complicity of many others.

This complicity came from careerists worried about rocking the boat, politicians in both parties worried about being painted as weak on terror (with notable and noble exceptions), and to an uncomfortable extent, the general public. The terrorist attacks in 2001 made everyone realize that anyone could be a target, but we didn’t see — or didn’t want to see — that in a very real way, we also became a target of the government. Many of the policies enacted in the wake of 9/11 made everyone a suspect as much as a target. Through official secrecy aided by general indifference, we allowed ourselves to be passively dragooned into being on both sides of a war. [Continue reading…]

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56 percent of Americans disapprove of FBI decision to exonerate Hillary Clinton

The Washington Post reports: A majority of Americans reject the FBI’s recommendation against charging Hillary Clinton with a crime for her State Department e-mail practices and say the issue raises concerns about how she might perform her presidential duties, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Six in 10 voters say the outcome will have no impact on their vote this November, even as those who do largely say it discourages them from backing the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Last week’s decision by FBI Director James B. Comey resulted in the Justice Department’s decision that Clinton would not face criminal prosecution which could have derailed her presidential bid. But Comey’s sharp critique of Clinton’s email practices and systematic dismantling of her public defenses stocked critics with fresh ammunition for the general election campaign. [Continue reading…]

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Might the content of Hillary Clinton’s emails matter more than the location of her email server?

The Washington Post reports: FBI Director James B. Comey said Tuesday that his agency will not recommend criminal charges against Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server as secretary of state but called Clinton and her staff “extremely careless” in handling sensitive material.

The announcement means that Clinton will not have to fear criminal, legal liability as her campaign moves forward, though Comey leveled sharp criticism at the past email practices of the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and called into question many of the defenses she has raised in recent weeks. [Continue reading…]

Karoli Kuns, managing editor of Crooks and Liars, who says that in 2008, she was “one of the most ardent Hillary Clinton haters on the planet,” decided last year to read her emails during their “slow-drip release.” In January, using the pseudonym Anna Whitlock, she wrote: In those emails, I discovered a Hillary Clinton I didn’t even know existed.

I found a woman who cared about employees who lost loved ones. I found a woman who, without exception, took time to write notes of condolence and notes of congratulations, no matter how busy she was. I found a woman who could be a tough negotiator and firm in her expectations, but still had a moment to write a friend with encouragement in tough times. She worried over people she didn’t know, and she worried over those she did.

And everywhere she went, her concern for women and children was clearly the first and foremost thing on her mind.

In those emails, I also found a woman who seemed to understand power and how to use it wisely. A woman of formidable intellect who actually understood the nuances of a thing, and how to strike a tough bargain.

I read every single one of the emails released in August, and what I found was someone who actually gave a damn about the country, the Democratic party, and all of our futures. [Continue reading…]

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