Why Trump was briefed on his vulnerability to getting blackmailed

The Daily Beast reports: “For the moment, the most significant story is not the allegations themselves, but the fact they were briefed to the president and president-elect,” Susan Hennessey, a former National Security Agency official, told The Daily Beast. “The intelligence community does not take mere innuendo to the president, so it means that intelligence professionals and law enforcement are at least taking the claims seriously. But that is absolutely not the same as these allegations being verified. There are very specific facts in the document which law enforcement should be able to prove or disprove. So the smart course is not to dismiss this as fake news or assume it is not credible, but to wait for more information to emerge.”

The document is mostly composed of memos prepared by a former British intelligence operative who was hired to do research on Trump, first by his Republican opponents and then by Democrats. USA Today reports that his work on Trump had traveled so widely in Washington that America’s top spies felt a summary of the information needed to be presented to Obama, Trump, and to the eight senators and congressmen who oversee the intelligence community.

“I can picture how difficult a decision this must have been,” former CIA Director Michael Hayden told The Wall Street Journal of the decision to inform Trump. “But if we had this data, others may have had this data too. And regardless of truth or falsity, I can see why they thought the president-elect should know.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump, Putin and the hidden history of how Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election

Newsweek reports: While there was widespread agreement among Western European and American intelligence agencies about the Russian effort — it was the British who first alerted the United States to its scope — there remain subtle disagreements regarding its intent. Over many weeks of debate, American intelligence agencies concluded that the campaign, which they believe was authorized by Putin, was intended to help Trump become president. Some Western European intelligence instead believe the Kremlin’s efforts were motivated not to support Trump, but to hurt Clinton, the Democratic nominee. Some of these overseas agencies also believe the effort was not set in motion by Putin but, once underway, received his support. During Clinton’s time as secretary of state, Putin publicly accused her of interfering in Moscow’s affairs. For example, her statement that Russian parliamentary elections in December 2011 were “neither free nor fair” infuriated him.

The hacking campaign, according to this analysis, was designed to split the Democratic Party so that as president, Clinton would have to spend enormous amounts of time dealing with domestic discord driven by Republicans and progressives tricked into believing that the Democratic National Committee had rigged her nomination. For example, as part of the campaign, Russian hackers obtained emails from the DNC that were then sliced into small bits and put out on the internet through participants in the propaganda effort. In many of these instances, the real documents were misrepresented. For example, WikiLeaks released a number of May 2016 emails on the eve of the Democratic convention that made it appear as if the DNC was solely pulling for Clinton; in many online postings, the date was removed so readers would have no idea unless they searched for the original document that was written at a time when Sanders could not possibly have won the nomination.

Either way, some Western European intelligence agencies have concluded, Putin’s larger goal is to damage NATO so the allied nations would be less likely to interfere either in Russia’s domestic affairs and less capable of responding to the Kremlin’s military campaigns or cyberattacks on neighboring nations.

The American and Western European intelligence agencies do, however, agree on how the campaign worked: Hackers pilfered information from a variety of organizations both inside and outside Western governments; they distributed it to individuals who feed it into what a source told a European intelligence expert was a “pipeline.” This so-called pipeline involved multiple steps before the hacked information was disclosed by a large group of propagandists around the world on social media — in comments sections of websites and other locations online. For example, that source reported that documents in the United States intended to disrupt the American election are distributed through WikiLeaks. However, there are so many layers of individuals between the hackers and that organization there is a strong possibility that WikiLeaks does not know with certainty the ultimate source of these records.

The Russian penetration in the United States is far more extensive than has been revealed publicly, although most of it has been targeted either at government departments or nongovernment organizations connected to the Democratic Party. Russian hackers penetrated the White House, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the State Department. They also struck at organizations with looser ties to the Democratic party, including think tanks such as the Brookings Institution, where some of Clinton’s longtime friends and colleagues work, as well as some organizations connected to the Republican National Committee. [Continue reading…]

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Why Congress needs to launch a bipartisan inquiry into Russia’s intervention in the 2016 election

David Ignatius writes: The allegations about Russian hacking are framed in the unclassified report released last Friday by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., on behalf of the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency. That report made strong charges, but it didn’t provide detailed supporting evidence, which is contained in other, classified reports. The allegations are public, in other words, but not the proof.

That’s a bad mix. Indeed, it’s potentially toxic when Trump has criticized the investigation as a “political witch hunt,” and Reince Priebus, his choice for White House chief of staff, has said the Clapper report is “clearly politically motivated to discredit” Trump’s victory.

Somehow, this allegation of foreign meddling has to be taken out of politics. Otherwise, it’s too incendiary. It could be abused by Trump’s critics, or by Trump himself. An independent inquiry is the best way to safeguard the rule of law, and the insistence that nobody is above it.

Recall what the intelligence chiefs alleged in the Clapper report: “We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. . . . We also assess Putin and the Russian government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”

How did Putin organize and implement this manipulative campaign? What funds were used, and from what source? Were any Americans involved in the effort? Did any Americans meet improperly with Russian operatives, in the United States or abroad? Does Russia believe it has any leverage over Trump, financial or otherwise? Are remnants of the Russian network still in place?

On any such details of the alleged “influence campaign,” the report is silent. That’s understandable, in terms of protecting sources and methods, but frustrating for those who want hard facts to combat the “post-truth” environment in which people are skeptical of any assertion that lacks proof.

At the top of each page of Clapper’s report is a reminder: “Conclusions are identical to those in the highly classified assessment but this version does not include the full supporting information on key elements of the influence campaign.”

I’d argue that there is a genuine public “need to know” more of the supporting information, even if that carries risks. [Continue reading…]

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Russian hackers gained ‘limited’ access to RNC, Comey says

The New York Times reports: The director of the F.B.I., James B. Comey, told lawmakers at a Senate hearing on Tuesday that Russian hackers had penetrated the Republican National Committee’s computer records, but he called it a “limited penetration of old R.N.C.” computer systems that were “no longer in use.”

Mr. Comey’s statement was significant because the Republican National Committee has said it did not lose data to the Russians because of its strong cybersecurity. President-elect Donald J. Trump has repeated that assertion, and has also said weaknesses in Democratic National Committee systems had allowed them to be hacked.

While Mr. Comey did not go into detail, he appeared to be referring to a Russian-led attack on a contractor in Tennessee used by the Republican committee.

Federal investigators, speaking on background, have said that a single email server used by that contractor had been penetrated. But it was going out of service, and contained outdated material that the Russians probably found of little value. People with direct knowledge of the server’s contents said it had been used by Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain. [Continue reading…]

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Russia’s DNC hack was only the start

Robby Mook, who managed the Clinton campaign, writes: Imagine the headlines if, in 2015, Russian agents had leapt out of a van at 2 a.m. in Southeast Washington and broken into the Democratic National Committee offices using sophisticated tools and techniques to steal tens of thousands of documents, including the names and Social Security numbers of donors and employees, and confidential memorandums about campaign strategy for the presidential election.

The world would have been aghast. It would have been, people would say, worse than Watergate.

Something similar did, in fact, happen at the D.N.C. two years ago, and it was worse than Watergate. This wasn’t just one party spying on the other; these were hackers under orders from President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia who were trying to “undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process,” according to a report released Friday by the office of the director of national intelligence. But the immediate reaction to the break-in was nothing like what followed Watergate.

That’s because most of us don’t think of hacking as a crime like breaking and entering. Before the D.N.C. break-in, I thought of hacking as a prank by mischievous tech-savvy people to get revenge. When North Koreans hacked Sony Pictures in 2014 in retaliation for making the satire “The Interview,” I was much more disturbed by the embarrassing things the movie executives said in emails to one another than by how easy it was for a dictator to punish critics in the United States. It wasn’t until I lived through the Russian hackings of Democratic staff members and organizations that I realized how dangerous such an attitude could be. [Continue reading…]

Glenn Greenwald insists that “there is no evidence” that Putin instigated the DNC hacking. As a lawyer, Greenwald must know that when he says this, he is lying — not mispeaking, not being mistaken, not confused, but lying. Why so?

It’s perfectly legitimate to argue that evidence, if it exists, should be presented to the public so that Americans are not being asked to accept the claims of the intelligence agencies simply in good faith. Just because James Clapper says something happened doesn’t make it true.

But there is a huge difference between protesting against the fact that we have not seen the evidence and claiming that such evidence does not exist.

What Greenwald is doing, is what the Russians themselves are doing by dismissing these accusations as baseless speculation.

The line distinguishing between the presentation of evidence and the existence of evidence is purposefully being obscured. It is being obscured in order to deceive an audience that lacks the discernment to spot the difference.

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Russian hackers find ready bullhorns in Western media

Max Fisher writes: As the dust settles on Russian interference in the United States election, journalists are confronting an aspect that has received less scrutiny than the hacking itself but poses its own thorny questions: Moscow’s ability to steer Western media coverage by doling out hacked documents.

Reporters have always relied on sources who provide critical information for self-interested reasons. The duty, tricky but familiar, is to publicize information that serves the public interest without falling prey to the source’s agenda.

But in this case, the source was Russia’s military intelligence agency, the G.R.U. — operating through shadowy fronts who worked to mask that fact — and its agenda was to undermine the American presidential election.

By releasing documents that would tarnish Hillary Clinton and other American political figures, but whose news value compelled coverage, Moscow exploited the very openness that is the basis of a free press. Its tactics have evolved with each such operation, some of which are still unfolding.

Thomas Rid, a professor of security studies at King’s College London who is tracking the Russian influence campaign, said it goes well beyond hacking: “It’s political engineering, social engineering on a strategic level.” [Continue reading…]

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In election hacking, Julian Assange’s years-old vision becomes reality

Jim Rutenberg writes: From the start, Mr. Assange said WikiLeaks’ prime directive was to expose hidden data sets that “reveal illegal or immoral behavior” in government and big business.

But in the essay [published in 2006, the year Assange founded Wikileaks] he also wrote in more ambitious terms about forcing regime change through data and technology rather than through the old, barbaric means of assassination.

As Mr. Assange saw it, power was held by vast networks of conspirators who shared vital information in secret, giving them a superior understanding of reality that enabled them to hold on to power. The technology revolution, he wrote, was providing the conspirators with the means to achieve what he called an even “higher total conspiratorial power.”

But it was also making them more vulnerable to sabotage, so that a governing conspiracy could be “slowed until it falls, stupefied; unable to comprehend and control the forces in its environment.”

As an example, he pointed to “two closely balanced and broadly conspiratorial power groupings,” the Democratic and the Republican Parties in the United States.

“Consider what would happen if one of these parties gave up their mobile phones, fax and email correspondence — let alone the computer systems,” he wrote. “They would immediately fall into an organizational stupor and lose to the other.”

The essay got new attention when WikiLeaks, working in tandem with The Guardian, The New York Times and other outlets, released extensive diplomatic cables in 2010, making WikiLeaks more of a household name.

No one seemed to grasp what Mr. Assange was hinting at more clearly than the conservative writer John Sexton, who foresaw the events of 2016 in a post that was published on Breitbart News and his own blog in 2010.

“You can take his example further by imagining what would happen to, say, the D.N.C., if it suffered a massive Wikileak of secret data,” Mr. Sexton wrote, referring to Mr. Assange’s essay. “It seems entirely possible that a leak of the contents of their email for one month would be exceedingly damaging to them.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump voters mostly indifferent about Russian interference in U.S. election

The New York Times reports: “Sour grapes,” explained Bob Marino, 79, weighing in on the recent spycraft bombshell from the corner table of a local McDonald’s.

“Sour grapes,” agreed Roger Noel, 65, sitting next to him.

“Bunch of crybabies,” Reed Guidry, 64, offered from across the table.

The subject of conversation was the report released by United States intelligence chiefs on Friday informing President-elect Donald J. Trump of their unanimous conclusion that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia ordered an extensive, but covert, cyberoperation to help Mr. Trump win the election. The Russians had hacked and leaked emails, unleashed “trolls” on social media and used their “state-run propaganda machine” to spread stories harmful to Hillary Clinton.

In Washington, the report was viewed as extraordinary, both for its timing, raising sharp questions about the president-elect’s legitimacy on the verge of his taking office, and for its assertions, describing the operation as Russia’s boldest effort yet to meddle with American elections, to spread discontent and to “undermine the U.S.-led democratic order.”

But interviews with Trump supporters here in Louisiana, a state the president-elect won by 20 points, and in Indiana, a state he won by nearly the same margin, found opinions about the report that ranged from general indifference to outright derision.

“From the parts of the report I’ve seen,” said Rob Maness, a retired Air Force colonel who twice ran for Senate here as Tea Party favorite, “it seems silly.”

There are genuine concerns about Russia’s cyberoperations, he said, but the notion that they changed the outcome of the election was absurd. (The report made no determination on how they affected the election.)

Of the comments he had seen from fellow Trump supporters on Facebook and in emails, he added, “90 percent of them are like, ‘What’s the big deal?’”

The Russians may have very well gotten involved, several people said. They added that kind of interference should be combated. But many assumed that foreign actors had long tried to play favorites in American elections, and that the United States had done the same in other countries’ elections. Even if the Russians did do it — which some were more willing to concede than others — what difference did it make? People did not need the Russians to make up their minds about Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Trump’s election opponent. Blaming her loss on the Russians was, as one Trump supporter here said, “just being sore losers.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump cited Wikileaks 164 times in last month of election but now claims this didn’t influence a single voter

Judd Legum writes: President-elect Trump says that information published by Wikileaks, which the U.S. intelligence community says was hacked by Russia, had “absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election.” This was not the view of candidate Trump, who talked about Wikileaks and the content of the emails it released at least 164 times in last month of the campaign.

ThinkProgress calculated the number by reviewing transcripts of Trump’s speeches, media appearances and debates over the last 30 days of the campaign.

Trump talked extensively about Wikileaks in the final days of a campaign that was ultimately decided by just 100,000 votes in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania combined.

For months, Trump insisted that Russia was not responsible for hacks targeting Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic Party. In a December interview on Fox News, for example, Trump called intelligence linking Russia to the hacks as “ridiculous,” adding “I don’t believe it.” During the campaign Trump had suggested that the hacks could have been the work of “someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 lbs.”

On Friday, Trump received a classified briefing from the FBI, CIA, NSA and the DNI laying out the case that Russia was responsible for the hacks and then funneled the information through Wikileaks as part of a propaganda campaign intended to swing the election to Trump. (A declassified version of the report was released to the public.)

After the briefing, Trump moderated his stance. In a statement, Trump did not explicitly say the hacks were the work of Russian operatives, but also did not deny their involvement.

Instead, Trump honed in on a different argument: Whoever was responsible, the information that was hacked and then distributed through Wikileaks had “absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election.”

Trump claims this is the view of the intelligence community. That is false. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. spy report blames Putin for hacks, but doesn’t back it up

The Daily Beast reports: U.S. spy chiefs presented their case at Trump Tower on Friday that Russia was behind the hacks that rocked the 2016 presidential election. But they didn’t help themselves by releasing a strongly-worded report that is scant on new evidence—and is, in some cases, a literal rehash of outdated information.

“There was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines,” President-elect Trump said in a statement right after he met with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director John Brennan, FBI Director Jim Comey, and NSA chief Adm. Michael Rogers.

“Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election [and with]… a clear preference for President-elect Trump,” the intelligence chiefs announced through an unclassified report released after the meeting that sounded like it was coming from an alternate universe.

The night-and-day report and reaction hint at either a difficult relationship to come between the president and America’s spies, or a cagey response by a future commander in chief who is only beginning to realize how the chess masters in the Kremlin play the game of geopolitics.

The unclassified report is unlikely to convince a single skeptic, as it offers none of the evidence intelligence officials say they have to back it up—none of those emails or transcripts of phone calls showing a clear connection between the Russian government and the political intrusions. The reason—revealing how U.S. spies know what they know could endanger U.S. spy operations. [Continue reading…]

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How the U.S. hobbled its hacking case against Russia and enabled truthers

Kevin Poulsen writes: Sometimes, in his covert influence campaign against America, Vladimir Putin need do nothing but sit back and chuckle mirthlessly while U.S. officials shoot themselves in the foot. Such was the case last week when the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI released a technical exposé of Russia’s hacking that industry experts are slamming as worse than useless—so jumbled that it potentially harms cybersecurity, so aimless that it muddies the clear public evidence that Russia hacked the Democratic Party to affect the election, and so wrong it enables the Trump-friendly conspiracy theorists trying to explain away that evidence.

“At every level this report is a failure,” says security researcher Robert M. Lee. “It didn’t do what it set out to do, and it didn’t provide useful data. They’re handing out bad information to the industry when good information exists.” At issue is the “Joint Analyses Report” released by DHS last Thursday as part of the Obama administration’s long-awaited response to Russia’s election hacking. The 13-page document was widely expected to lay out the government’s evidence that Russia was behind the intrusions into the Democratic National Committee’s private network, and a separate attack that exposed years of the private email belonging to Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta.

Instead, the report is a gumbo of earnest security advice mixed with random information from a broad range of hacking activity. One piece of well-known malware used by criminal hackers, the PAS webshell, is singled out for special attention, while the sophisticated Russian “SeaDuke” code used in the DNC hack barely rates a mention. A full page of the report is dedicated to listing names that computer security companies have assigned to Russian malware and hacking groups over the years, information that nobody is asking for. [Continue reading…]

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Putin ordered ‘influence campaign’ aimed at U.S. election, report says

The New York Times reports: American intelligence officials have concluded that the president of Russia, Vladimir V. Putin, personally “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election,” and turned from seeking to “denigrate” Hillary Clinton to developing “a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”

The conclusions were part of a declassified intelligence report, ordered by President Obama, that was released on Friday. Its main determinations were described to President-elect Donald J. Trump by the nation’s top intelligence officials earlier in the day, and he responded by acknowledging, for the first time, that Russia had sought to hack into the Democratic National Committee’s computer systems. But he insisted that the effort had no effect on the election, and he said nothing about the conclusion that Mr. Putin, at some point last year, decided to aid his candidacy.

The report, a damning and surprisingly detailed account of Russia’s efforts to undermine the American electoral system and Mrs. Clinton in particular, went on to assess that Mr. Putin had “aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”

The report described a broad campaign that included covert operations, including cyberactivities and “trolling” on the internet of people who were viewed as opponents of Russia’s effort. While it accused Russian intelligence agencies of obtaining and maintaining “access to elements of multiple U.S. state or local electoral boards,” it concluded — as officials have publicly — that there was no evidence of tampering with the tallying of the vote on Nov. 8. [Continue reading…]

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