Posts Tagged ‘Russian government’

Russian Hackers Stole NSA Data on U.S. Cyber Defense

October 5, 2017

The breach, considered the most serious in years, could enable Russia to evade NSA surveillance and more easily infiltrate U.S. networks

The National Security Agency campus in Fort Meade, Md. An NSA contractor took highly sensitive data from the complex and put it on his home computer, from which it was stolen by hackers working for the Russian government, people familiar with the matter said.
The National Security Agency campus in Fort Meade, Md. An NSA contractor took highly sensitive data from the complex and put it on his home computer, from which it was stolen by hackers working for the Russian government, people familiar with the matter said.PHOTO: PATRICK SEMANSKY/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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WASHINGTON—Hackers working for the Russian government stole details of how the U.S. penetrates foreign computer networks and defends against cyberattacks after a National Security Agency contractor removed the highly classified material and put it on his home computer, according to multiple people with knowledge of the matter.

The hackers appear to have targeted the contractor after identifying the files through the contractor’s use of a popular antivirus software made by Russia-based Kaspersky Lab, these people said.

The theft, which hasn’t been disclosed, is considered by experts to be one of the most significant security breaches in recent years. It offers a rare glimpse into how the intelligence community thinks Russian intelligence exploits a widely available commercial software product to spy on the U.S.

The incident occurred in 2015 but wasn’t discovered until spring of last year, said the people familiar with the matter.

The stolen material included details about how the NSA penetrates foreign computer networks, the computer code it uses for such spying and how it defends networks inside the U.S., these people said.

Having such information could give the Russian government information on how to protect its own networks, making it more difficult for the NSA to conduct its work. It also could give the Russians methods to infiltrate the networks of the U.S. and other nations, these people said.

The breach is the first known incident in which Kaspersky software is believed to have been exploited by Russian hackers to conduct espionage against the U.S. government. The company, which sells its antivirus products in the U.S., had revenue of more than half a billion dollars in Western Europe and the Americas in 2016, according to International Data Corp. By Kaspersky’s own account it has more than 400 million users world-wide.

The revelation comes as concern over Russian infiltration of American computer networks and social media platforms is growing amid a U.S. special counsel’s investigation into whether Donald Trump’s presidential campaign sought or received assistance from the Russian government. Mr. Trump denies any impropriety and has called the matter a “witch hunt.”

Intelligence officials have concluded that a campaign authorized by the highest levels of the Russian government hacked into state election-board systems and the email networks of political organizations to damage the candidacy of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

A spokesman for the NSA didn’t comment on the security breach. “Whether the information is credible or not, NSA’s policy is never to comment on affiliate or personnel matters,” he said. He noted that the Defense Department, of which the NSA is a part, has a contract for antivirus software with another company, not Kaspersky.

In a statement, Kaspersky Lab said it “has not been provided any information or evidence substantiating this alleged incident, and as a result, we must assume that this is another example of a false accusation.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov in a statement didn’t address whether the Russian government stole materials from the NSA using Kaspersky software. But he criticized the U.S. government’s decision to ban the software from use by U.S. agencies as “undermining the competitive positions of Russian companies on the world arena.”

The Kaspersky incident is the third publicly known breach at the NSA involving a contractor’s access to a huge trove of highly classified materials. It prompted an official letter of reprimand to the agency’s director, Adm. Michael Rogers, by his superiors, people familiar with the situation said.

National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers.
National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers. PHOTO: SAUL LOEB/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Adm. Rogers came into his post in 2014 promising to staunch leaks after the disclosure that NSA contractor Edward Snowden the year before gave classified documents to journalists that revealed surveillance programs run by the U.S. and allied nations.

The Kaspersky-linked incident predates the arrest last year of another NSA contractor, Harold Martin, who allegedly removed massive amounts of classified information from the agency’s headquarters and kept it at his home, but wasn’t thought to have shared the data.

Mr. Martin pleaded not guilty to charges that include stealing classified information. His lawyer has said he took the information home only to get better at his job and never intended to reveal secrets.

The name of the NSA contractor in the Kaspersky-related incident and the company he worked for aren’t publicly known. People familiar with the matter said he is thought to have purposely taken home numerous documents and other materials from NSA headquarters, possibly to continue working beyond his normal office hours.

The man isn’t believed to have wittingly worked for a foreign government, but knew that removing classified information without authorization is a violation of NSA policies and potentially a criminal act, said people with knowledge of the breach.

It is unclear whether he has been dismissed from his job or faces charges. The incident remains under federal investigation, said people familiar with the matter.

Kaspersky software once was authorized for use by nearly two dozen U.S. government agencies, including the Army, Navy and Air Force, and the departments of Defense, State, Homeland Security, Energy, Veterans Affairs, Justice and Treasury.

The headquarters of the Russian cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab.
The headquarters of the Russian cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab. PHOTO: SAVOSTYANOV SERGEI/TASS/ZUMA PRESS

NSA employees and contractors never had been authorized to use Kaspersky software at work. While there was no prohibition against these employees or contractors using it at home, they were advised not to before the 2015 incident, said people with knowledge of the guidance the agency gave.

For years, U.S. national security officials have suspected that Kaspersky Lab, founded by a computer scientist who was trained at a KGB-sponsored technical school, is a proxy of the Russian government, which under Russian law can compel the company’s assistance in intercepting communications as they move through Russian computer networks.

Kaspersky said in its statement: “As a private company, Kaspersky Lab does not have inappropriate ties to any government, including Russia, and the company has never helped, nor will help, any government in the world with its cyberespionage efforts.”

Suspicions about the company prompted the Department of Homeland Security last month to take the extraordinary step of banning all U.S. government departments and agencies from using Kaspersky products and services. Officials determined that “malicious cyber actors” could use the company’s antivirus software to gain access to a computer’s files, said people familiar with the matter.

The government’s decision came after months of intensive discussions inside the intelligence community, as well as a study of how the software works and the company’s suspected connections to the Russian government, said people familiar with the events. They said intelligence officials also were concerned that given the prevalence of Kaspersky on the commercial market, countless people could be targeted, including family members of senior government officials, or that Russia could use the software to steal information for competitive economic advantage.

“The risk that the Russian government, whether acting on its own or in collaboration with Kaspersky, could capitalize on access provided by Kaspersky products to compromise federal information and information systems directly implicates U.S. national security,” the DHS said Sept. 13 in announcing the government ban.

All antivirus software scans computers looking for malicious code, comparing what is on the machine to a master list housed at the software company. But that scanning also gives makers of the software an inventory of what is on the computer, experts say.

“It’s basically the equivalent of digital dumpster diving,” said Blake Darché, a former NSA employee who worked in the agency’s elite hacking group that targets foreign computer systems.

Kaspersky is “aggressive” in its methods of hunting for malware, Mr. Darché said, “in that they will make copies of files on a computer, anything that they think is interesting.” He said the product’s user license agreement, which few customers probably read, allows this.

“You’re basically surrendering your right to privacy by using Kaspersky software,” said Mr. Darché, who is chief security officer for Area 1, a computer security company.

“We aggressively detect and mitigate malware infections no matter the source and we have been proudly doing it for 20 years,” the company said in its statement. “We make no apologies for being aggressive in the battle against malware and cybercriminals.”

U.S. investigators believe the contractor’s use of the software alerted Russian hackers to the presence of files that may have been taken from the NSA, according to people with knowledge of the investigation. Experts said the software, in searching for malicious code, may have found samples of it in the data the contractor removed from the NSA.

But how the antivirus system made that determination is unclear, such as whether Kaspersky technicians programed the software to look for specific parameters that indicated NSA material. Also unclear is whether Kaspersky employees alerted the Russian government to the finding.

Kaspersky Lab Chief Executive Eugene Kaspersky. The company said it never would help ‘any government in the world with its cyberespionage efforts.’
Kaspersky Lab Chief Executive Eugene Kaspersky. The company said it never would help ‘any government in the world with its cyberespionage efforts.’ PHOTO: SHARIFULIN VALERY/TASS/ZUMA PRESS

Investigators did determine that, armed with the knowledge that Kaspersky’s software provided of what files were suspected on the contractor’s computer, hackers working for Russia homed in on the machine and obtained a large amount of information, according to the people familiar with the matter.

The breach illustrates the chronic problem the NSA has had with keeping highly classified secrets from spilling out, former intelligence personnel say. They say they were rarely searched while entering or leaving their workplaces to see if they were carrying classified documents or removable storage media, such as a thumb drive.

The incident was considered so serious that it was given a classified code name and set off alarms among top national security officials because it demonstrated how the software could be used for spying. Members of Congress also were informed, said people familiar with the matter.

Then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter and then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper pushed President Barack Obama to remove Adm. Rogers as NSA head, due in part to the number of data breaches on his watch, according to several officials familiar with the matter.

The NSA director had fallen out of White House favor when he traveled to Bedminster, N.J., last November to meet with president-elect Donald Trump about taking a job in his administration, said people familiar with the matter. Adm. Rogers didn’t notify his superiors, an extraordinary step for a senior military officer, U.S. officials said.

Adm. Rogers wasn’t fired for a number of reasons, including a pending restructuring of the NSA that would have been further complicated by his departure, according to people with knowledge of internal deliberations. An NSA spokesman didn’t comment on efforts to remove Adm. Rogers.

Write to Gordon Lubold at Gordon.Lubold@wsj.com and Shane Harris at shane.harris@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/russian-hackers-stole-nsa-data-on-u-s-cyber-defense-1507222108

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Senator Endorses Intel on Russia (Except the Part About Trump)

October 5, 2017
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s update on Kremlin interference wasn’t much of an update.
Bloomberg
They’ve got answers. You’ve got questions.

 Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Leaving aside the bloviating protests of President Donald Trump, there are two ways to understand Russia’s influence campaign against the 2016 election.

The first is obvious. The Russians tried to elect Trump. You don’t need access to top-secret U.S. government documents to reach this conclusion. It happened in real time. Russians hacked the emails of leading Democrats and distributed them on the internet. Trump touted the disclosures in the final weeks of the campaign.

The other explanation of Russian meddling is that it was more insidious. The Russians aimed to undermine the public’s faith in the electoral system itself. This is what former FBI director James Comey told the House Intelligence Committee early this year. He said the Russian hacks were “unusually loud,” and that they “wanted us to see what they were doing.” In this sense, the Russian operation succeeds by persuading voters that the vote was rigged, no matter who wins.

The intelligence community assessment of Russian electoral influence released by the Obama administration on Jan. 6 endorses both views. It says one aim of the Russian operation was to undermine “public faith in the U.S. democratic process.” It also concludes the Russians helped try to elect Trump.

On Wednesday, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, muddied the waters. On the one hand he said, “We trust the conclusions” of the Jan. 6 assessment, though he added the caveat that the committee had not yet closed its consideration of the matter.

On the other hand Burr said he was still agnostic on whether Russia tried to help elect Trump. Indeed, a component of the Russian influence operation — its purchase of advertisements on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter — suggests their main goal was to sow chaos. When asked by a reporter about Russia’s preference for Trump, he said: “We have not come to any determination on collusion or Russia’s preferences. If we use solely the social media we have seen, there is no way you can say this was to help the right side of the political divide or vice versa.”

It’s hard to square that answer with Burr’s remarks that the committee trusts the conclusions of intelligence community assessment. The first bullet point of that document says: “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.”

It’s likely that the Russians initially hoped to simply undermine the election, but then modified their strategy as Trump gained momentum.

There’s an important lesson here for Democrats. Russia’s intelligence agencies have no allegiance to either major U.S. political party. The next candidate Russia decides to help could be one of their own.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-10-04/senator-endorses-intel-on-russia-except-the-part-about-trump

See also POLITICO:

5 things we learned from the Senate’s Russia probe update

http://www.politico.com/story/2017/10/04/warner-burr-senate-russia-investigation-takeaways-243459

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Senate Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Mark Warner (left) and Chairman Richard Burr answer questions after updating the press on the state of the Russia investigation by the panel on Oct. 4. | John Shinkle/POLITICO

There’s Trouble Brewing in Putin’s Heartland

September 13, 2017
With oil prices down, discontent over the economy is growing.
 
Ulyanovsk, Russia.PHOTOGRAPHER: ANDREY RUDAKOV/BLOOMBERG

During Russia’s oil-fueled boom, Rashid Tamayev saw steady pay raises at his auto factory job, helping keep his family in relative comfort—and making him a loyal supporter of President Vladimir Putin. But since a plunge in oil prices three years ago, Tamayev has lost faith in the president. Last spring he and dozens of others at the Ulyanovsk Automobile Plant lodged an appeal with the Kremlin when they were fired after pointing out safety problems. They got no answer. “Putin has forgotten about ordinary people,” Tamayev says as he watches workers from the factory leave after their shifts. “We used to live well.”

Tamayev outside the Ulyanovsk Automobile Plant.
PHOTOGRAPHER: ANDREY RUDAKOV/BLOOMBERG

As Putin prepares to run for a fourth term in elections next March, the plight of his working-class base across the Russian heartland is emerging as a top domestic challenge. He’s almost certain to win, thanks to the Kremlin’s grip on the media and political life, but the discontent threatens Putin’s popularity as the economy continues to sputter. After the longest recession in his 17-year rule, real incomes have fallen 12 percent over the past three years, sparking protests in areas that provided solid backing for Putin in 2012. While demonstrations around the last elections were limited largely to Moscow, this year tens of thousands of people have marched in anti-Kremlin protests in dozens of cities. Russians “are losing patience,” Valery Fyodorov, the head of state-run pollster VTsIOM, said in August. “People don’t want stability anymore. They want change.”

The government is moving fast to ensure the simmering unrest doesn’t grow into something more dangerous. This year’s budget—under pressure because of low oil prices—calls for increases in social spending and cuts in defense. In June, during Putin’s annual call-in show with carefully selected “ordinary Russians,” the president pledged to address complaints about inadequate pensions, dilapidated public housing, and substandard health care. An “alarming” rise in poverty in recent years “is a matter of serious concern,” he said at the start of the four-hour broadcast.

nascent economic recovery and falling inflation seem to be taking the edge off popular dissatisfaction. Two-thirds of Russians say they want to see Putin reelected, according to a July poll from the independent Levada Center. But even if growth meets government forecasts of 2 percent this year, that’s far below the 7 percent average seen in Putin’s first two terms. “There’s a sense of grievance at the gap between rich and poor, Moscow and the regions,” says Carine Clement, a sociology professor at St. Petersburg State University. “People blame the elites.”

In Ulyanovsk, a gritty industrial city 550 miles east of Moscow that’s been in decline since Soviet times, hundreds turned out for antigovernment protests this spring. Roads in the city of 600,000 are scarred with potholes, stores on the outskirts are almost empty and advertise steep discounts, and the most famous landmark—a house where Lenin spent his childhood—looks forlorn and mostly devoid of visitors.

The discontent surfaced in elections last September, when the local communist leader, Alexey Kurinny, got a quarter of the vote for regional governor, almost clinching a spot in a runoff against the pro-Putin incumbent. Kurinny, a member of the national parliament in Moscow, has since taken up the cause of Tamayev and other workers at the auto factory, where one employee lost four fingers when his hand was crushed by a pressing machine. “You can’t live” on the salaries the factory pays, Kurinny says. “Not if you have mouths to feed.”

Ulyanovsk has been in decline since Soviet times.
PHOTOGRAPHER: ANDREY RUDAKOV/BLOOMBERG

Plant workers who have organized protests seeking higher wages to offset inflation won’t speak publicly for fear of reprisal. Dmitry Shestakov, a 37-year-old businessman who runs the campaign office in Ulyanovsk for Alexey Navalny, an opposition candidate for the presidency, says the tax service recently asked him for his landlord’s name and address. A few weeks before Shestakov opened the office in May, the local antiterrorism center called him in for questioning and warned him he may become the target of an attack. “You start to get a little paranoid,” he says.

Management at the plant, which makes an off-road vehicle called the Patriot, dismisses the complaints of angry employees like Tamayev. “You can always find 15 disgruntled people in a workforce of 15,000,” says financial director Mikhail Belobrov. Viktor Bychkov, the head of the plant’s main trade union, is equally unsympathetic. “You can’t expect to get raises for nothing,” he says.

Tamayev, 45, at first put his faith in Putin, even submitting a question for the call-in show. But in August, a court issued a second ruling against him in his bid to get his job back. Tamayev says he lost an offer as a technician at a clinic with a monthly salary of up to 40,000 rubles ($660)—slightly less than he was getting at the auto plant—after management failed to provide a reference. He now makes half that at another car factory in town, but vows he’ll keep fighting to get back the job he held for 23 years. And he won’t be voting for Putin. The president, he says, “is useless.” —With Olga Tanas

BOTTOM LINE – Putin’s working-class base is suffering after a prolonged recession, presenting him with a challenge as he prepares for elections next March.
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Trump Attorney Says He Discussed Moscow Tower Deal With Trump During Campaign

August 29, 2017

In an interview, Michael Cohen says he talked with the then-candidate about the licensing deal on three occasions

Michael Cohen, an attorney for President Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York in December.
Michael Cohen, an attorney for President Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York in December. PHOTO: RICHARD DREW/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Updated Aug. 28, 2017 10:07 p.m. ET

Michael Cohen, an attorney for the Trump Organization, discussed a prospective real-estate deal in Moscow with Donald Trump on three occasions during the presidential campaign, Mr. Cohen said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

In 2015, Mr. Cohen said, he informed the then-candidate that he was working on a licensing deal for a Trump Tower in Moscow. He subsequently asked for and received Mr. Trump’s signature on a nonbinding letter of intent for the project in October 2015. And in January 2016, he said, he informed the then-candidate that he had killed the proposal. Mr. Cohen said each conversation was brief.

Mr. Cohen’s communication with the president about the Moscow project may come under scrutiny because of a January 2016 email Mr. Cohen sent to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s top press official to ask for “assistance” in arranging the deal. Mr. Cohen said he didn’t inform Mr. Trump that he had sent the email to the press official, Dmitry Peskov. He didn’t respond when asked why he hadn’t done so.

In the email to Mr. Peskov, Mr. Cohen said communication between the Trump Organization and a Russia-based company that was the prospective developer of the tower had “stalled” and said, “As this project is too important, I am hereby requesting your assistance. I respectfully request someone, preferably you, contact me so that I might discuss the specifics as well as arranging meetings with the appropriate individuals.” The email was sent to a broader press email address but was addressed to Mr. Peskov, according to a person familiar with the email.

The email was reported by the Washington Post on Monday and was confirmed by a person familiar with the exchange.

Mr. Cohen said in the Journal interview that he didn’t recall receiving a response from Mr. Peskov and opted to abandon the project weeks later. Mr. Peskov didn’t return a request for comment.

The White House declined to comment and referred questions to Mr. Cohen’s attorney, who didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Trump associates’ contacts with Russian officials have come under scrutiny as special counsel Robert Mueller investigates Moscow’s efforts to interfere with the U.S. presidential election, as well as whether Trump associates colluded in that effort. Mr. Trump has denied any collusion, and Moscow has denied U.S. intelligence agencies’ assessment that Russia interfered in the election.

According to a January report from U.S. intelligence agencies, Russia’s interference was directed at the highest levels of its government. Its tactics included hacking state election systems; infiltrating and leaking information from party committees; and disseminating through social media and other outlets negative stories about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and positive ones about Mr. Trump, the report said.

Mr. Trump’s awareness of his company’s efforts to procure a business deal in Moscow, as described by Mr. Cohen, came during the campaign when he often praised Mr. Putin.

In December 2015, while his company was still pursuing the Moscow Trump Tower deal, Mr. Trump in an NBC interview compared Mr. Putin more favorably to then-President Barack Obama. “He’s running his country and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. Putin.

Mr. Trump repeatedly denied any business ties to Russia, saying at a news conference in July 2016, “I have nothing to do with Russia.”

A spokesman for the Trump Organization said in a statement that Mr. Cohen abandoned the Moscow proposal in January 2016 and said the prospective deal “was not significantly advanced (i.e., there was no site, no financing, and no development).”

Mr. Cohen in a statement issued earlier Monday said he rejected the proposal “because I lost confidence that the prospective licensee would be able to obtain the real estate, financing, and government approvals necessary to bring the proposal to fruition.”

Mr. Cohen’s email to Mr. Peskov is the latest example to surface of communications between Trump associates and Russian officials during the campaign.

In July 2016, Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, and senior campaign aides attended a meeting with a Russian lawyer to discuss allegedly damaging information about Mrs. Clinton they were told was being offered by the Russian government in support of the elder Mr. Trump’s candidacy. The president’s son said the information provided wasn’t helpful.

Felix Sater, whom Mr. Trump hired in 2010 as an unpaid consultant for the Trump Organization, wrote in a November 2015 email to Mr. Cohen that he planned to enlist the help of Mr. Putin.

“Our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it,” he wrote. “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”

The email was reported by the New York Times on Monday and confirmed by two people familiar with the exchange.

Through an attorney, Mr. Sater confirmed in a statement that he put together a Moscow real estate proposal to build the world’s largest building and approached Mr. Cohen at the Trump Organization.

“During the course of our communications over several months, I routinely expressed my enthusiasm regarding what a tremendous opportunity this was for the Trump Organization. Ultimately, in January 2016 Michael informed me that the Trump Organization decided not to move forward with the project,” Mr. Sater said. He said he would have received no compensation from the Trump Organization if the project had moved forward.

The Trump Organization on Monday turned both email exchanges over to the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating the alleged Russian election meddling, a person familiar with the move said.

In a statement provided to the committee, Mr. Cohen said he had emailed Mr. Peskov at the suggestion of Mr. Sater, “since the proposal would require approvals within the Russian government that had not been issued.”

Mr. Cohen also said Mr. Sater “constantly asked me to travel to Moscow” to move the proposal forward, and also asked him to have Mr. Trump travel to Russia. Mr. Cohen said he told Mr. Sater Mr. Trump “would not travel to Russia unless there was a definitive agreement in place.”

Mr. Cohen also said in the statement that he did not “ask or brief” Mr. Trump or his family members before opting to abandon the proposal. “The decision to pursue the proposal initially, and later to abandon it, was unrelated to the Donald J. Trump for President Campaign,” he said.

Earlier this year, Mr. Sater worked with Mr. Cohen to try to get a Ukrainian parliament member’s proposal for peace with Russia to the White House. The proposal doesn’t appear to have been passed on to Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump last year told the Journal he didn’t know Mr. Sater well but for a time let him pitch deals as a consultant, none of which he liked.

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com

Appeared in the August 29, 2017, print edition as ‘Lawyer Says Trump Told of Moscow Deal.’

https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-attorney-says-they-discussed-moscow-tower-deal-during-campaign-1503955486

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Trump Associate Boasted That Moscow Business Deal ‘Will Get Donald Elected’

By 
The New York Times

Russian-American lobbyist also at Trump Tower Meeting With Donald Trump Jr., Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, The Associated Press Finds

July 15, 2017

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Image may contain: 1 person, suit and indoor

Donald Trump Jr. is interviewed by host Sean Hannity on his Fox News Channel television program, in New York Tuesday, July 11, 2017. (Richard Drew – Associated Press)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A prominent Russian-American lobbyist and former Soviet military officer attended a meeting with President Donald Trump’s son, son-in-law and campaign chairman last year, the lobbyist said Friday, adding a new wrinkle to the Trump team’s evolving explanations about the June 2016 session.

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Rinat Akhmetshin confirmed his involvement to The Associated Press in an interview. He had not been previously identified as a participant in the meeting at Trump Tower in New York, which was billed as part of a Russian government effort to help the Republican’s White House campaign.

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Rinat Akhmetshin

A Russian-American lobbyist says he attended a June 2016 meeting with President Donald Trump’s son, marking another shift in the account of a discussion that was billed as part of a Russian government effort to help Trump’s campaign. (July 14)

The meeting has heightened questions about whether Trump’s associates coordinated with Russia to meddle in the presidential election — to help him and thwart Hillary Clinton — and whether they’ve been forthcoming about their foreign contacts. Federal and congressional investigators are probing possible connections between the campaign and Moscow.

Akhmetshin has been reported to have ties to Russian intelligence, a characterization he dismisses as a “smear campaign.” He’s a well-known Washington presence, lobbying for Russian interests trying to undermine the allegations of a lawyer who died in a Russian prison and is the namesake of a U.S. sanctions law.

Akhmetshin told the AP he served in the Soviet military in a unit that was part of counterintelligence but he was never formally trained as a spy.

In emails posted by Donald Trump Jr. earlier this week, a music publicist said he arranged the meeting because a Russian lawyer wanted to pass on negative information about Democrat Clinton. The go-between stated that the discussion was part of a Russian government effort to help the GOP candidate.

While Trump Jr. has confirmed that Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya was in the meeting, he has not disclosed Akhmetshin’s presence. The president’s son has publicly discounted the meeting, saying he did not receive the information he was promised.

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Natalia Veselnitskaya

In a statement Sunday, Trump Jr. said the attorney had said she had information that people tied to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Clinton, a description that Akhmetshin backed up in his interview with the AP.

In his first public interview about the meeting, Akhmetshin said he accompanied Veselnitskaya to Trump Tower where they met an interpreter. He said he had learned about the meeting only that day when Veselnitskaya asked him to attend. He said he showed up in jeans and a T-shirt.

Veselnitskaya brought with her a plastic folder with printed-out documents that detailed what she believed was the flow of illicit funds to the Democrats, Akhmetshin said. Veselnitskaya presented the contents of the documents to the Trump associates and suggested that making the information public could help the campaign, he said.

“This could be a good issue to expose how the DNC is accepting bad money,” Akhmetshin recalled her saying.

Trump Jr. asked the attorney if she had sufficient evidence to back up her claims, including whether she could demonstrate the flow of the money. But Veselnitskaya said the Trump campaign would need to research it more. After that, Trump Jr. lost interest, according to Akhmetshin.

“They couldn’t wait for the meeting to end,” he said.

Akhmetshin said he does not know if Veselnitskaya’s documents were provided by the Russian government. He said he thinks she left the materials with the Trump associates. It was unclear if she handed the documents to anyone in the room or simply left them behind, he said.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and current White House senior adviser, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort also attended the meeting. Akhmetshin said he recognized Kushner and Trump Jr. He also said he recognized Manafort because they worked in “adjacent political circles” but never together.

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Paul Manafort

He said there were others in the room but he didn’t know them. Publicist Rob Goldstone, who brokered the meeting via email with Trump Jr., has told the AP that he was there.

Asked about Akhmetshin’s participation, Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni declined comment. Trump Jr.’s attorney did not respond to inquiries, nor did a spokesman for Kushner. Veselnitskaya has denied having any ties to the Russian government. When reached by the AP this week, she declined comment. She did not respond to additional attempts to contact her Friday.

The confirmation of Akhmetshin’s participation in the meeting drew swift reaction from the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, who said he wanted Akhmetshin to appear before the committee and provide “any relevant documents and information.”

Image result for Jared Kushner

Jared Kushner

Schiff said whether Akhmetshin is connected to Russian intelligence or not “it is clear the Kremlin got the message that Donald Trump welcomed the help of the Russian government in providing dirt on Hillary Clinton.” Schiff said Trump Jr.’s omission of Akhmetshin’s role in his public account of the meeting and the president’s son’s shifting explanations “paint a portrait of consistent dissembling and deceit.”

Kushner disclosed the meeting on his security clearance paperwork, but Schiff said the Akhmetshin revelation raises questions about how much Kushner disclosed about it. He said he believes Kushner’s clearance should be reviewed, and “if he was not perfectly candid,” the clearance should be revoked.

Akhmetshin, who spoke to the AP while on vacation in France where he said he has been surfing, said the meeting was “not substantive” and he “actually expected more serious” discussion.

“I never thought this would be such a big deal, to be honest,” he said.

The Russian government has denied any involvement or knowledge of the June 2016 meeting. Asked Friday about Akhmetshin, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters: “We don’t know anything about this person.”

Akhmetshin has been identified in media reports as a former officer in Russia’s military intelligence service known as the GRU. He has denied that, saying he served in the Soviet Army from 1986 to 1988 after he was drafted but was not trained in spy tradecraft. He said his unit operated in the Baltics and was “loosely part of counterintelligence.”

Akhmetshin said he has not been contacted by the U.S. special counsel’s office or the FBI about the meeting with Trump Jr. He said he’s willing to talk with the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose chairman has pressed the Justice Department about why Akhmetshin has not registered as a foreign agent.

The chairman, Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said in a March letter that Akhmetshin has “reportedly admitted to being a ‘Soviet counterintelligence officer’ and has a long history of lobbying the U.S. government for pro-Russia matters.”

Akhmetshin said that the Justice Department’s Foreign Agents Registration Act unit sent him a letter in April and told him, “it has come to our attention you should have filed for FARA.” He said he didn’t believe he needed to file. He has previously registered with Congress for the lobbying work, and he plans to raise this issue before Grassley’s committee.

“I think I have a legal right to tell my story,” he said.

Separately on Friday, the data and digital director for Trump’s presidential campaign said he will speak with the House Intelligence committee later this month as part of its own Russia probe.

Brad Parscale said in a statement that he is “unaware of any Russian involvement” in the data and digital operations but will voluntarily appear before the panel.

___

Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Stephen Braun and Julie Pace contributed to this report.

___

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Rob Goldstone from his Facebook page

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Donald Trump Jr: Former Soviet counterintelligence officer confirms he attended Russian lawyer meeting

Mr Trump Jr has dismissed the controversy as a ‘big yawn’

The Independent

A Russian former military operative with links to counterintelligence also attended Donald Trump Jr’s notorious meeting with a Russian lawyer about obtaining possibly incriminating information about Hillary Clinton.

Rinat Akhmetshin, a dual Russian-American citizen and lobbyist who has been accused of acting as “an unregistered agent for Russian interests” and with ties to Russian military intelligence service, or GRU, has confirmed he attended the meeting with lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.

Also participating in the meeting was a US-based Russian translator, Anatoli Samochornov, who had worked previously for Ms Veselnitskaya and the US State Department at various points.

Mr Akhmetshin said he accompanied Ms Veselnitskaya to Trump Tower on 9 June 2016. Although he had known and worked with Ms Veselnitskaya for a number of years, he said he had only learned about the meeting that day when she asked him to attend. He said he showed up in jeans and a T-shirt.

Mr Trump Jr’s account of the meeting, which has shifted several times, failed to mention the presence of Mr Akhmetshin, or the translator. Mr Trump Jr said he had agreed to the meeting, also attended by Mr Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and campaign manager Paul Manafort, because he was told Ms Veselnitskaya had material damaging to Ms Clinton that was “high level and sensitive information [and] is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump”.

Mr Akhmetshin said Ms Veselnitskaya brought a plastic folder with her, containing printed documents that detailed what she believed could potentially be the flow of illicit funds to the Democratic National Committee. Ms Veselnitskaya presented the contents of the documents to the Trump associates and suggested that making the information public could help the Trump campaign, he said.

Mr Trump Jr asked the lawyer if she had all the evidence to back up her claims, according to Mr Akhmetshin, including whether she could demonstrate the flow of the money. But Ms Veselnitskaya allegedly claimed the Trump campaign would need to research it more.

After that exchange, Mr Trump Jr lost interest, Mr Akhmetshin said. “They couldn’t wait for the meeting to end,” he told the Associated Press.

Mr Akhmetshin said he does not know if Ms Veselnitskaya’s documents were provided by the Russian government. He said he thinks she left the materials with the Trump associates. It was unclear if she handed the documents to anyone in the room, or simply left them behind, he said.

Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, said that the reports about Mr Akhmetshin add “another deeply disturbing fact about this secret meeting”.

Mr Trump Jr has insisted the meeting did not amount to much, that he was offered no information on Ms Clinton and that in truth Ms Veselnitskaya wanted to talk about the Magnitsky Act, a piece of US legislation that sanctions a handful of Russians the US believes might be linked to the 2009 death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

Ms Veselnitskaya has denied offering any information to Mr Trump Jr and working for the Russian state.

natalia-veselnitskaya3-0.jpg
Ms Veselnitskaya has denied working for the Russian government (AP)
.

Mr Akhmetshin has been closely associated with Ms Veselnitskaya for several years and has worked with her in an effort to overturn the Magnitsky Act. Mr Samochornov did translation for Ms Veselnitskaya in relation to her lobbying and legal work in the US.

In 2016, Ms Veselnitskaya’s client, Denis Katsyv, head of the company Prevezon, registered a nonprofit company in Delaware called the Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation (HRAGIF) in February 2016, which says its aim is to overturn an adoption ban on impacting American couples but which many believe is a front to lobby against the Magnitsky Act, the passage of which is said to have infuriated Vladimir Putin.

The HRAGIF’s registered lobbyist was Mr Akhmetshin, who took UK citizenship in 2009.

Earlier this year, Senator Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he wanted to learn more about Mr Akhmetshin’s activities.

In a letter to the Department of Homeland Security in April, Mr Grassley wrote: “I write to obtain information regarding Mr Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian immigrant to the United States who has been accused of acting as an unregistered agent for Russian interests and apparently has ties to Russian intelligence.”

He added: “Mr Akhmetshin is a Russian immigrant to the US who has admitted having been a ‘Soviet counterintelligence officer’. In fact, it has been reported that he worked for the GRU and allegedly specialises in ‘active measures campaigns, subversive political influence operations often involving disinformation and propaganda.”

rinat-akhmetshin1.jpg
Rinat Akhmetshin has worked as a lobbyist on behalf of various Russia-related issues for a number of years (Bill Browder)
.

Mr Akhmetshin has denied that he worked for the GRU, saying he served in the Soviet Army from 1986 to 1988 after he was drafted but was not trained in spy tradecraft. He said his unit operated in the Baltics and was “loosely part of counterintelligence”.

The development has infuriated President Trump, who had hoped to get away from the Russia story, even as special prosecutor Robert Mueller continues a probe into possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia’s alleged effort to interfere in the 2016 election.

Mr Akhmetshin said he has not been contacted by Mr Mueller’s office or the FBI about the meeting with Mr Trump Jr. He said he is willing to talk with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Earlier this week, Mr Trump was obliged to defend his eldest son, saying that “anyone” would have taken the meeting.

Speaking in France, where he was meeting with President Emmanuel Macron, he said: “I do think this, that taken from a practical standpoint … most people would’ve taken that meeting. It’s called opposition research, or even research into your opponent. I’ve only been in politics for two years, but I’ve had many people call up, ‘Oh gee, we have information on this factor or this person,’ or, frankly, Hillary.”

He added: “That’s very standard in politics. Politics is not the nicest business in the world.”

Mr Akhmetshin did not respond to repeated inquiries from The Independent. President Trump’s lawyers also failed to respond.

Elsewhere, a former Trump campaign adviser, Michael Caputo, said after he testified to the House Intelligence Committee in closed session on Friday that he had no contact with Russians and never heard of anyone in the campaign “talking with Russians”.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/donald-trump-jr-russia-meeting-societ-counter-intelligence-officer-jared-kushner-hillary-clinton-a7841386.html

Russian Officials Overheard Discussing Trump Associates Before Campaign Began

July 13, 2017

It isn’t clear whether Mr. Trump’s associates had any connection to his presidential aspirations

Updated July 12, 2017 9:26 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—Investigators are re-examining conversations detected by U.S. intelligence agencies in spring 2015 that captured Russian government officials discussing associates of Donald Trump, according to current and former U.S. officials, a move prompted by revelations that the president’s eldest son met with a Russian lawyer last year.

In some cases, the Russians in the overheard conversations talked about meetings held outside the…

https://www.wsj.com/articles/russian-officials-overheard-discussing-trump-associates-before-campaign-began-1499890354

New York Times Reports that Donald Trump Jr Was Told of Kremlin Efforts to Help Trump Win Election

July 11, 2017

Reuters and France 24

© Mandel Ngan, AFP | This file photo taken on November 7, 2016 shows Donald Trump, Jr., (L) and his father the then Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-07-11

Donald Trump Jr. was told before meeting a Russian lawyer who he thought had information damaging to Hillary Clinton that the material was part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s presidential campaign, the New York Times said Monday.

Citing three people with knowledge of the email, the newspaper said publicist Rob Goldstone indicated in an email to U.S. President Donald Trump’s eldest son that the Russian government was the source of the potentially damaging information, according to the Times.

The email is likely to be of high interest to investigators probing whether any of Trump’s associates colluded with the Russian government to sway last year’s election, the Times said.

Trump Jr. hired a lawyer on Monday to represent him in the Russia-related investigations as prominent Republicans voiced concern about the meeting between the president’s son and a Russian.

Allegations of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia have cast a shadow over the Republican president’s first months in office and sparked investigations by congressional committees and a federal special counsel, Robert Mueller, into whether Russia interfered in the election and colluded with the Trump campaign.

Moscow denies interfering and Trump, who became president on Jan. 20, says there was no collusion.

“It’s a very serious development,” Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told MSNBC of the Times report. “It all warrants thorough investigation. Everyone who was in that meeting ought to come before our committee.”

Dumping of stolen emails began in July 2016. If Don Jr. learned of Kremlin intent to help Trump in June, that was well before public knew. https://twitter.com/nytimes/status/884580641433690112 

Trump Jr. hired New York lawyer Alan Futerfas, who specializes in criminal defense and whose clients have included alleged organized crime figures, a Russian computer hacker and white-collar criminals.

“I look forward to assisting Donald Jr. and, quite frankly, there is nothing to all of the media buzz about the June 9th, 2016 meeting,” Futerfas told Reuters. “That will be proven to be the case.”

Futerfas would not say when he was retained or whether he played any part in the statements Trump Jr. made during the weekend about his June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in New York with a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, during the presidential election campaign.

Trump Jr. said he agreed to meet Veselnitskaya, described by the New York Times as having links to the Kremlin, after being promised damaging information about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Obviously I’m the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent… went nowhere but had to listen. https://twitter.com/DRUDGE_REPORT/status/884390823881719808 

Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Trump’s then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, also attended, the Times said.

It called the encounter the first confirmed private meeting of members of Donald Trump’s inner circle with a Russian national during the campaign.

A Republican member of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, Susan Collins, called on Trump Jr. to testify before the panel, which is looking into accusations of Russian meddling in the election.

“Our intelligence committee needs to interview him and others who attended the meeting,” she told reporters at the U.S. Capitol.

(REUTERS)

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Trump Jr. Was Told in Email of Russian Effort to Aid Campaign

WASHINGTON — Before arranging a meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer he believed would offer him compromising information about Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump Jr. was informed in an email that the material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s candidacy, according to three people with knowledge of the email.

The email to the younger Mr. Trump was sent by Rob Goldstone, a publicist and former British tabloid reporter who helped broker the June 2016 meeting. In a statement on Sunday, Mr. Trump acknowledged that he was interested in receiving damaging information about Mrs. Clinton, but gave no indication that he thought the lawyer might have been a Kremlin proxy.

Mr. Goldstone’s message, as described to The New York Times by the three people, indicates that the Russian government was the source of the potentially damaging information. It does not elaborate on the wider effort by Moscow to help the Trump campaign.

There is no evidence to suggest that the promised damaging information was related to Russian government computer hacking that led to the release of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails. The meeting took place less than a week before it was widely reported that Russian hackers had infiltrated the committee’s servers.

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Defiant President Trump Insists There Was “No Collusion” — As Former FBI Director Robert Mueller to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election

May 18, 2017

Robert S. Mueller III, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), speaks at the International Conference on Cyber Security (ICCS) on August 8, 2013 in New York City. The ICCS, which is co-hosted by Fordham University and the FBI, is held every 18 months; more than 25 countries are represented at this year's conference

  • The Justice Department has named a special to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election
  • Longtime former FBI Director Robert Mueller will lead the probe
  • Democrats and others have been demanding an independent probe that would be free from possible interference
  • Inquiry to probe any links ‘between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump’ 
  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said he will recuse himself from election investigations, after his own undisclosed meetings with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. were revealed 
  • Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the move 
  • He said Mueller would have ‘all appropriate resources’ 
  • News broke as Trump was interviewing candidates to be the new FBI director – who will no longer oversee the Russia probe

A defiant President Trump again proclaimed that there were no ties between his presidential campaign and Russia on the heels of a Justice Department announcement that a special counsel would take over the probe.

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who served a decade and was then reappointed by President Obama, will take over the executive branch investigation.

‘As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know – there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity,’ Trump said in a statement released several hours after the news broke Wednesday night.

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 14:  FBI Director Robert Mueller III testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee during a oversight hearing on Capitol Hill December 14, 2011 in Washington, DC. Mueller testified on the over 2,500 open cases the FBI Corporate and Securities is probing for fraud after they are up close to 50 percent from 2008.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – DECEMBER 14: FBI Director Robert Mueller III testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee during a oversight hearing on Capitol Hill December 14, 2011 in Washington, DC. Mueller testified on the over 2,500 open cases the FBI Corporate and Securities is probing for fraud after they are up close to 50 percent from 2008. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The Justice Department announced that Mueller would serve as special counsel, and would have ‘all appropriate resources’ to carry out the probe – during a week when Donald Trump‘s White House was battered by disclosures about his contacts with the Russians and his firing of former FBI Director James Comey.

The White House has spent weeks batting back efforts to install an independent outsider to lead the Russia probe, saying there are already sufficient probes. As Special Counsel, Mueller will have a wide berth to follow the investigation where he sees fit, and set his own terms for how much information he wants to reveal or withhold.

Democrats in Congress have been pushing for an independent investigation that would be free from interference from Trump administration officials, as well as a special congressional commission that might probe deeper into charges that Russia tried to sway the election through hacking and other means.

It wasn’t immediately clear how or whether Trump’s contacts with Comey and reported efforts to either steer or inquire about the FBI’s Russia probes played a role in the decision.

The White House had repeatedly an independent investigation wasn’t needed.

Wednesday night, Trump said he hoped the investigation would be speedy.

‘I look forward to this matter concluding quickly,’ he said. ‘In the meantime, I will never stop fighting for the people and the issues that matter most to the future of our country.’

President George W. Bush appointed Mueller to lead the FBI in 2001. He was reappointed by President Obama 10 years later to serve an addition two years. He has a reputation among members of both parties for probity.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the move Wednesday evening, after getting grilled during his own confirmation hearings about under what circumstances he would be willing to appoint a special counsel.

‘In my capacity as acting Attorney General, I determined that it is in the public interest for me to exercise my authority and appoint a Special Counsel to assume responsibility for this matter,’ Rosenstein said.

‘My decision is not a finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted. I have made no such determination. What I have determined is that based upon the unique circumstances, the public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command,’ he continued.

Rosenstein added, ‘Each year, the career professionals of the U.S. Department of Justice conduct tens of thousands of criminal investigations and handle countless other matters without regard to partisan political considerations.’

He continued: ‘I have great confidence in the independence and integrity of our people and our processes. Considering the unique circumstances of this matter, however, I determined that a Special Counsel is necessary in order for the American people to have full confidence in the outcome.’

‘Our nation is grounded on the rule of law, and the public must be assured that government officials administer the law fairly. Special Counsel Mueller will have all appropriate resources to conduct a thorough and complete investigation, and I am confident that he will follow the facts, apply the law and reach a just result,’ he added.

A letter appointing Mueller as special counsel charges him with investigating links 'between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump'

A letter appointing Mueller as special counsel charges him with investigating links ‘between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump’

Sen. John McCain compared Trump scandals to Watergate in scope in comments Tuesday, where he also referenced Iran-Contra

Sen. John McCain compared Trump scandals to Watergate in scope in comments Tuesday, where he also referenced Iran-Contra

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, US President Donald Trump, and Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak (L-R) talking during a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, US President Donald Trump, and Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak (L-R) talking during a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House

In this Sept. 4, 2013, file photo, then-incoming FBI Director James Comey talks with outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller before Comey was officially sworn in at the Justice Department in Washington

In this Sept. 4, 2013, file photo, then-incoming FBI Director James Comey talks with outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller before Comey was officially sworn in at the Justice Department in Washington

Rosenstsein’s letter tasks Mueller with investigating links ‘between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.’

The wide scope also includes ‘any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation’ – which would appear to include any efforts Trump may have made to interfere with the FBI’s investigation of National Security Advisor Mike Flynn.

‘I accept this responsibility and will discharge it to the best of my ability,’ Mueller said in a statement.

Rosenstein didn’t inform the White House or the Attorney General of the decision until after he had signed the order, CNN reported.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions was spotted at the White House about 5 pm Wednesday, about an hour before the news broke.

It wasn’t immediately clear what Sessions was doing at the White House. In response to an inquiry from DailyMail.com, a DOJ official said: The White House was informed after the order was signed as was the attorney general.

In Mueller, the department has tapped a counsel with a reputation for probity.

The soon-to-be special counsel was born outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and earned degrees from Princeton, New York University and the University of Virginia.

A decorated war veteran, he served as a Marine in Vietnam and came home with a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry and two Navy commendation medals.

Mueller took over the helm of the FBI in 2001. In July, after he was nominated by then President George W. Bush, the Justice Department announced that he had prostate cancer and would undergo surgery.

That surgery was scheduled for three days after his confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

His nomination passed unanimously on the Senate floor on August 2, 2001, 98-0.

Mueller didn’t fully step into the job until September 4, 2001, a week before the Sept. 11, terror attacks.

Democrats have been calling for an independent probe of Moscow’s alleged election interference since the existence of the FBI’s Russia probe was reported and then confirmed by ex FBI Director Mueller during Trump’s first 100 days in office.

The calls only increased after Trump sacked Comey last week. The president said in an NBC interview that the FBI’s Russia probe, which he has called a ‘hoax,’ was on his mind when he decided to fire Comey.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that according to a memo written by Comey, Trump had asked Comey to back off in the FBI’s probe of ex national security advisor Mike Flynn, whose own Russia connections are under investigation.

Flynn and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort have emerged as key figures in the sprawling FBI investigation, NBC News reported.

Although Republicans have provided considerable cover for Trump, there were early stirrings of more aggressive oversight on Wednesday.

House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, speaks during a press conference after a classified meeting of the committee in which they reviewed documents related to former national security adviser Michael Flynn in the Capitol on Tuesday, April 25, 2017

House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, speaks during a press conference after a classified meeting of the committee in which they reviewed documents related to former national security adviser Michael Flynn in the Capitol on Tuesday, April 25, 2017

House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, who has been criticized by committee Democrats for not taking an aggressive investigative stance toward the Trump administration, wrote the FBI on Tuesday seeking copies of ‘any and all documentation the fired FBI director James Comey kept of his communications with President Donald Trump.’

The Senate Intelligence Committee, which has its own investigation of alleged Russian election interference, also wants Comey to appear in closed and open session.

It asked acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe to hand over any notes Comey has of conversations between the White House and Justice Department officials about the Russia probe.

Still another panel, the Senate Judiciary Committee, is also seeking documents.

Panel chair Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa and ranking Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California wrote the Justice Department and the White House on Wednesday seeking documents.

Democrats, for the most part, greeted the development positively.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder, who worked under President Obama, called Mueller ‘Incorruptible.’

‘As long as his charter is appropriate defined and he is properly resourced, this is a good move.’

Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware sent out a bevvy of tweets praising Mueller.

‘Director Mueller helps restore confidence in the independence and integrity of the ongoing investigation into Russian interference,’ he wrote, calling the ex-FBI head a ‘strong choice.’

Some Democratic lawmakers, while praising the choice of Mueller, again pointed a finger at the Trump administration and demanded that the probe be given proper resources.

‘And now that the Justice Department has rightly turned the reins of the investigation over to an independent special prosecutor, it is critical that former Director Mueller is given the resources he needs to get to the bottom of Russia’s attack on our democracy, without any interference from the Trump administration,’ said Sen. Al Franken, a Democrat from Minnesota.

Republicans’ responses were more mixed.

Sen. Lamar Alexander praised Mueller’s ‘independence and integrity’ while working with both Presidents Bush and Obama.

‘Which are exactly the qualities needed to pursue the Russia investigation to its conclusion,’ Alexander said.

The Tennessee lawmaker also urged the Senate to continue its investigation and bring ex-FBI director Comey before Congress.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said nothing to Mueller’s character, but pledged the Senate’s probe would go on, and said appointing a special prosecutor ensures the FBI’s investigation ‘will continue.’

House Speaker Paul Ryan said, ‘My priority has been to ensure thorough and independent investigations are allowed to follow the facts wherever they may lead.’

 ‘That is what we’ve been doing here in the House,’ he continued. ‘The addition of Robert Mueller as special counsel is consistent with this goal, and I welcome his role at the Department of Justice.’

The House’s ‘important ongoing bipartisan investigation,’ Ryan also said, will continue.

MUELLER’S ROLE IN WASHINGTON’S MOST-TOLD STORY ABOUT JIM COMEY

During Mueller’s tenure at the top of the FBI, he was involved in one of the most memorable parts of his successor Comey’s biography.

As the story goes, Comey – whose firing last week by President Trump teed of the White House’s most recent troubles – received a call in 2004 informing him that President Bush’s White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and Chief of Staff Andrew Card were heading to the intensive care unit where Comey’s boss, John Ashcroft, the attorney general, lay ill.

Gonzales and Card wanted Ashcroft to sign off on a reauthorization of President Bush’s warrantless eavesdropping program, which the Republican president had signed off on in the aftermath of 9/11.

The Justice Department had just deemed the program illegal.

Comey, serving as the deputy attorney general, alerted Mueller and then rushed to Ashcroft’s hospital bed, barely beating Gonzales and Card, according to an account from the Washington Post.

Ashcroft, at that time, refused to sign.

The White House officials eventually stood down, when Bush relented, after both Mueller and Comey, along with Ashcroft, threatened to resign.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4516640/Justice-names-special-counsel-lead-Russia-probe.html#ixzz4hQEHIycy
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 (Wall Street Journal)

Mysterious hacking collective called ‘The Shadow Brokers’ stole NSA superweapon and caused global cyber attack that has shut hospitals, hit FedEx and is causing chaos in 99 countries

May 13, 2017

The NHS has been hit by a major cyber attack hitting computers, phones and emergency bleepers in hospitals and GP surgeries - and pop-ups like this one have appeared demanding a ransom
  • Hackers hit dozens of countries on Friday by exploiting a stolen tool used by the US National Security Agency  
  • The cyber attack rapidly spread and infected computers across the globe 
  • Hackers are believed to have exploited the NSA tool, which was stolen and released to the world by a group known as the Shadow Brokers last month
  • British hospitals, the Russian government and German railways were among those affected by the cyber attack 
  • Victims have been reported in 99 countries including Germany, Spain and USA

A global cyber attack using hacking tools widely believed to have been developed by the US National Security Agency and leaked online by a group called the Shadow Brokers has caused chaos around the world.

British hospitals, the Russian government, German railways and big companies like FedEx were among those affected on Friday when they were crippled by the ‘ransomware’ that rapidly spread across the globe and infected tens of thousands of computers in 99 countries.

Security experts say the malicious software behind the onslaught appeared to exploit a vulnerability in Microsoft Windows that was identified by the US National Security Agency for its own intelligence-gathering purposes.

The NSA documents were stolen and then released to the world last month by a mysterious group known as the Shadow Brokers.

The hackers, who have not come forward to claim responsibility, likely made it a ‘worm’, or self spread malware, by exploiting a piece of NSA code known as Eternal Blue, according to several security experts.

The Shadow Brokers released Eternal Blue last month as part of a trove of hacking tools that they said belonged to the US spy agency. It has stoked fears that the spy agency’s powerful cyber weapons had been stolen and repurposed by hackers with nefarious goals.

The malicious software was blocking access to computers and demanding payments of as much as $600 to restore access and scrambling data. It is thought to have impacted at least 75,000 computers, including machines in the Russian government.

Scroll down for video

This map released by cybersecurity experts, shows the impact of the ransomware around the world - with affected countries shown in orange and red. Russia is thought to be the worst affected

This map released by cybersecurity experts, shows the impact of the ransomware around the world – with affected countries shown in orange and red. Russia is thought to be the worst affected

The NHS has been hit by a major cyber attack hitting computers, phones and emergency bleepers in hospitals and GP surgeries - and pop-ups like this one have appeared demanding a ransom

The NHS has been hit by a major cyber attack hitting computers, phones and emergency bleepers in hospitals and GP surgeries – and pop-ups like this one have appeared demanding a ransom

The technological meltdown began earlier on Friday afternoon in Britain when more than 40 NHS organisations including hospitals and GP surgeries were hit by the virus.

But with the virus spreading at a rate of five million emails per hour, tens of thousands of victims have now been reported in 99 countries including the US, Australia, Belgium, France,Germany, Italy and Mexico.

Russia is thought to have been among the worst hit by the ransomware amid reports that 1,000 computers in the country’s Interior Ministry were affected, but sources say no information was leaked.

Ministry spokeswoman Irina Volk told Russian news agencies it had ‘recorded a virus attack on the ministry’s personal computers controlled by a Windows operating system.’

WHO HAS BEEN AFFECTED BY CYBER ATTACK?

The UK’s National Health Service: British hospitals and clinics were forced to send patients away and cancel appointments.

Russia: The country was believed to be among the worst hit when computers in the interior ministry were hit. Megafon – Russia’s second largest phone network – had also been affected.

German railway stations: Photos surfaced on social media appeared to show ticketing computers at train stations having been affected by the cyber attack.

Spanish companies: Telecoms giant Telefonica, power firm Iberdrola and utility provider Gas Natural all suffered from the virus.

FedEx: The shipping company confirmed they were affected and were implementing remediation steps.

Leading international shipper FedEx Corp was among the companies whose Microsoft Corp Windows systems were affected. They said they were ‘implementing remediation steps’.

The German rail system was also experiencing issues due to the ransomware. Photos surfaced on social media appeared to show ticketing computers at train stations having been affected by the cyber attack.

In Spain, the Telefonica mobile phone network, power firm Iberdrola and utility provider Gas Natural all suffered from the virus.

Some big firms in Spain took pre-emptive steps to thwart ransomware attacks following a warning from the National Cryptology Centre of ‘a massive ransomware attack’.

Iberdrola and Gas Natural, along with Vodafone’s unit in Spain, asked staff to turn off computers or cut off internet access in case they had been compromised.

Security teams at large financial services firms and businesses were reviewing plans for defending against cyber attacks, according to executives with private cyber security firms.

Chris Wysopal, chief technology officer with cyber security firm Veracode, said: ‘Seeing a large telco like Telefonica get hit is going to get everybody worried.

‘Now ransomware is affecting larger companies with more sophisticated security operations.’

A cybersecurity researcher told AFP they appeared to have discovered a ‘kill switch’ that could prevent the spread of the ransomware for now.

The researcher, tweeting as @MalwareTechBlog, said the discovery was accidental, but that registering a domain name used by the malware stops it from spreading.

‘Essentially they relied on a domain not being registered and by registering it, we stopped their malware spreading,’ @MalwareTechBlog told AFP in a private message on Twitter.

The researcher warned however that people ‘need to update their systems ASAP’ to avoid attack: ‘The crisis isn’t over, they can always change the code and try again.’

The German rail system was also experiencing issues due to the ransomware. Photos surfaced on social media showing ticket machines at train stations having been affected

The German rail system was also experiencing issues due to the ransomware. Photos surfaced on social media showing ticket machines at train stations having been affected

Medics have claimed that messages are flashing up on screens saying they must pay cash or terminals are down completely

Medics have claimed that messages are flashing up on screens saying they must pay cash or terminals are down completely

Some hospitals said they were forced to divert emergencies on Friday after a suspected national cyber attack.

Some hospitals said they were forced to divert emergencies on Friday after a suspected national cyber attack.

Several computers at a university in Italy were also randomly targeted in the cyber attack

Several computers at a university in Italy were also randomly targeted in the cyber attack

Computer expert Lauri Love, who is facing extradition to the US over the alleged theft of data from government computers, said the attack is being powered by a ‘top of the range cyber weapon’ used by spies in the US.

‘It appears the cyber attack affected so many computers in the UK in the NHS and in Spain by taking advantage of a very nasty vulnerability in Microsoft Windows, which was dumped by hacking group Shadow Brokers who obtained it from the NSA in America.’

RANSOMWARE: THE CYBER ATTACK THAT CRIPPLED THE WORLD

What is ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of malicious software that criminals use to attack computer systems.

Hackers often demand the victim to pay ransom money to access their files or remove harmful programs.

The aggressive attacks dupe users into clicking on a fake link – whether it’s in an email or on a fake website, causing an infection to corrupt the computer.

In some instances, adverts for pornographic website will repeatedly appear on your screen, while in others, a pop-up will state that a piece of your data will be destroyed if you don’t pay.

In the case of the NHS attack, the ransomware used was called Wanna Decryptor or ‘WannaCry’ Virus.

What is the WannaCry virus?

The WannaCry virus targets Microsoft’s widely used Windows operating system.

The virus encrypts certain files on the computer and then blackmails the user for money in exchange for the access to the files.

It leaves the user with only two files: Instructions on what to do next and the Wanna Decryptor program itself.

When opened the software tells users that their files have been encrypted and gives them a few days to pay up or their files will be deleted.

It can quickly spread through an entire network of computers in a business or hospital, encrypting files on every PC.

How to protect yourself from ransomware

Thankfully, there are ways to avoid ransomware attacks, and Norton Antivirus has compiled a list of prevention methods:

1. Use reputable antivirus software and a firewall

2. Back up your computer often

3. Set up a popup blocker

4. Be cautious about clicking links inside emails or on suspicious websites

5. If you do receive a ransom note, disconnect from the Internet

6. Alert authorities

In December last year it was revealed about 90 per cent of NHS Trusts were still running Windows XP, two and a half years after Microsoft stopped supporting the system.

Citrix, an American software company, sent a Freedom of Information request to 63 NHS Trusts, 42 of which responded. It revealed that 24 Trusts were unsure when they would even upgrade, The Inquirer reported.

Windows XP was released more than 15 years ago and is now particularly vulnerable to viruses. Microsoft stopped providing virus warnings for the ageing Windows XP in 2015.

A number of UK hospitals continue to run the outdated software, including East Sussex, Sheffield’s Children’s hospital and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust.

Hours after news of the cyber attacks broke, a Microsoft spokesman revealed that customers who were running the company’s free antivirus software and who had enabled Windows updates were ‘protected’ from the attack.

It raises questions about why NHS computers using the operating system were not shielded from the ransomware.

The spokesman said: ‘Today our engineers added detection and protection against new malicious software known as Ransom:Win32.WannaCrypt.

‘In March, we provided a security update which provides additional protections against this potential attack.

‘Those who are running our free antivirus software and have Windows updates enabled, are protected.

‘We are working with customers to provide additional assistance.’

One message circulated online claims the hackers demand 300 US dollars (£230) in the virtual currency bitcoins to relinquish control of their IT systems.

The pop-up contains a countdown clock with a deadline of next Friday. At least 10 payments of around USD$ 300 have been made to Bitcoin accounts that the hackers have asked to be paid on Friday.

But, although all Bitcoin transactions are public, we cannot see who made the payments so cannot know if they have been made by anyone in the NHS.

‘Non urgent’ appointments and operations were postponed across the UK and some hospitals diverted ambulances to neighbouring ones to ensure patient safety.

Computer systems were switched off or immobilised and key services including the bleeper system for doctors were also believed to be down.

In the minutes after the attack one doctor in the UK tweeted: ‘Massive NHS hack cyber attack today. Hospital in shut down. Thanks for delaying emergency patient care & endangering lives. A******s’.

NHS Digital, which is responsible for the health service’s cyber security, says computer systems are believed to have been hit by a ransomware cyber attack using malware called ‘Wanna Decryptor’.  Three hospitals in America were hit in the same way last year.

Ransomware: How do hackers take your data hostage?

Ransomware: How do hackers take your data hostage?

The National Cyber Security Centre is investigating and is working with Britain’s FBI – the National Crime Agency. 

GP surgeries hit in the attack say their phones went down and patients should avoid calling unless ‘absolutely necessary’ and doctors were back to using pen and paper in some areas.

Explaining the fallout, one doctor said in a message shared on Twitter: ‘So our hospital is down. We got a message saying your computers are now under their control and pay a certain amount of money. And now everything is gone.’

A screenshot obtained by the Health Service Journal (HSJ) purported to show the pop-up that appeared on at least one of the computers affected.

It said: ‘Your important files are encrypted. Maybe you are busy looking for a way to recover your files, but do not waste your time.

‘Nobody can recover your files without our decryption service.’

It goes on to demand payment, otherwise the files will be deleted. It gives a deadline of next Friday afternoon, May 19, to pay.

The HSJ said services affected were thought include archiving systems for X-rays, pathology test results, phone and bleep systems, and patient admin systems.

OUR SCREENS WERE ‘WIPED OUT ONE BY ONE’

A shocked worker at Colchester General Hospital described how her office’s computers were ‘wiped out, one by one’.

She said: ‘My computer locked at about 3pm and I couldn’t get anything to work. Then my colleague sat next to me said her computer was down.

‘It swept through the office and everyone was effected and didn’t know what was going on. One by one the computers were wiped out.

‘Nothing was working and switching them off and on did not solve the problems.

The NHS has been hit by a major cyber attack and criminals have taken control of computers and cut off phone lines across England, leaving some departments working with pen and paper

The NHS has been hit by a major cyber attack and criminals have taken control of computers and cut off phone lines across England, leaving some departments working with pen and paper

‘Some of our colleagues from a neighbouring department came in and they’d been told to unplug their internet cables and await further instruction.’

The health worker said the effect of such a hack on modern hospitals would be catastrophic because ‘all the doctors’ notes’ are kept on the computers now.

‘They record their notes to a dictaphone during a consultation but that’s only so the the notes can be typed up and stored on the computer.

‘It’s very worrying that the impact has been so far-reaching in such a short space of time.’

A Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust spokesman, which runs Colchester General, confirmed patients are being warned to told to avoid A&E where possible.

According to a hospital official statement patients are being warned that all non-urgent activity is being postponed.

Hackers demand ransom money in major NHS cyber attack
East and North Herts NHS Trust issued this warning to patients on their website

East and North Herts NHS Trust issued this warning to patients on their website

Blackpool Victoria Hospital is one of many across the country hit - operations have been cancelled and ambulances diverted 

Blackpool Victoria Hospital is one of many across the country hit – operations have been cancelled and ambulances diverted

Ambulances outside the accident and emergency department (stock image)

Ambulances outside the accident and emergency department (stock image)

Fylde and Wyre NHS Trust and Blackpool Hospitals in Lancashire, East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust and Derbyshire Community Health Services NHS Trust have admitted having problems.

Fylde and Wyre NHS Trust and Blackpool Hospitals in Lancashire, East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust and Derbyshire Community Health Services NHS Trust have admitted having problems.

Barts NHS Trust in east London said they are treating it as a ‘major incident’ to ensure they can ‘maintain the safety and welfare of patients’.

A spokesman said: ‘We are experiencing a major IT disruption and there are delays at all of our hospitals.

‘Ambulances are being diverted to neighbouring hospitals. The problem is also affecting the switchboard at Newham hospital but direct line phones are working. All our staff are working hard to minimise the impact and we will post regular updates on the website’.

Fylde and Wyre NHS Trust and Blackpool Hospitals in Lancashire, East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust and Derbyshire Community Health Services NHS Trust have admitted having problems. Colchester University Hospitals Trust is also a victim as is neighbouring Chelmsford in Essex.

York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust which runs York and Scarborough hospitals has confirmed its computers have been affected by the widespread attack.

They have urged people to be patient and avoid calling GP surgeries and hospitals unless ‘absolutely necessary’.

NHS Merseyside said: ‘Following a suspected national cyber attack we are taking all precautionary measures possible to protect our local NHS systems and services’.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4500738/NHS-hack-huge-global-cyber-attack.html#ixzz4gwZ7JYCh
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