Posts Tagged ‘WikiLeaks’

After being told of Russia indictments, Trump still aspired to be friends with Putin (Trump isn’t acting like a guilty man)

July 14, 2018

Before he embarked on a week of transatlantic diplomacy, President Trump sat down with Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who previewed for the boss an explosive development: The Justice Department would soon indict 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking Democratic emails to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

For the first time, the United States would be charging Russian government agents with planning and executing a sustained cyberattack to disrupt America’s democratic process. Yet Trump gave no sign in his commentary in Europe this week that he appreciated the magnitude of what he had been told was coming.

Instead, he repeated his frequent attacks on the integrity of the wide-ranging Russia probe led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III — while offering kind words for Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, who he is slated to meet here in Helsinki on Monday.

By Philip Rucker
The Washington Post

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Trump said Putin should not be considered his enemy but rather his competitor — and after spending some time together here in this vibrant seaside Nordic capital, Trump said he hoped they might quickly become friends.

Trump pledged to ask Putin in their tete-a-tete whether Russia interfered in the election — “your favorite question about meddling,” he said mockingly to a Washington Post reporter. But he said he expected Putin, again, to deny it, and that they then would move on to other subjects.

“There won’t be a Perry Mason moment here, I don’t think,” Trump joked, referring to a witness dramatically reversing his or her testimony to confess a crime.

On Friday, just hours before Rosenstein announced the indictments from Justice Department headquarters in Washington, Trump stood on foreign soil — at a news conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May at her Chequers estate in the English countryside — and denounced the investigation that produced them.

“I would call it the rigged witch hunt,” Trump said of the Mueller probe, which so far has yielded charges or guilty pleas against 32 Russians and Americans, including former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who is in jail.

In the hours after the Justice Department’s indictments were filed, lawmakers from both parties urgently called on Trump to confront Putin, force Russia to change course and guard against another intrusion in future elections.

“These revelations add to a body of evidence confirming an extensive plot by Vladimir Putin’s government to attack the 2016 election, sow chaos and dissension among the American electorate, and undermine faith in our democracy,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in a statement. “If President Trump is not prepared to hold Putin accountable, the summit in Helsinki should not move forward.”

Some Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), said Trump should immediately cancel his Helsinki summit with Putin.

The special counsel’s indictment of 12 Russian military officers is a rebuke of President Trump’s many claims that the DNC hack and the Russia probe are a hoax.

“Glad-handing with Vladimir Putin on the heels of these indictments would be an insult to our democracy,” Schumer said in a statement.

Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee signed a letter to Trump that said, “Unfortunately, due to your constant expressions of sympathy for Vladimir Putin, your conflicts of interest, and your attacks on our closest allies, we do not have confidence that you can faithfully negotiate with the Russian leader, and we urge you to cancel the meeting.”

But as night fell Friday in the United Kingdom, where Trump is staying through the weekend, neither the president nor his White House spokesmen condemned Russia for the allegations detailed in the indictments. The meeting in Helsinki was still on.

When he was asked Thursday by a reporter what he would do if Putin denies Russia’s involvement, Trump said, “He may deny it. I mean, it’s one of those things. So all I can do is say, ‘Did you?’ and ‘Don’t do it again.’”

There was no indication late Friday that Trump was preparing to say anything else in their meeting to hold Putin accountable.

Joyce Vance, who served as a U.S. attorney in Alabama during the Obama administration, said Trump’s apparent indifference to the election attack is “shocking.”

“Cyberspace is the new front of warfare and our country was attacked, but instead of treating this like the real Pearl Harbor moment that it is, the president just wants to have business as usual,” Vance said.

Announcing the indictments, Rosenstein bemoaned the extent to which the Russia probe has divided Americans along partisan lines.

“When we confront foreign interference in American elections, it is important for us to avoid thinking politically as Republicans or Democrats and instead to think patriotically as Americans,” Rosenstein said. “The blame for election interference belongs to the criminals who committed election interference. We need to work together to hold the perpetrators accountable.”

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in October 2016 that Russia orchestrated the hacking of Democratic emails — as well as other tactics, including a campaign to infiltrate social media with fake news — and that the Russian operation was designed explicitly to help Trump defeat Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

The emails, some salacious and damaging to Clinton, were illegally released through WikiLeaks. Trump often discussed their contents in his campaign rally speeches. “I love WikiLeaks,” he told one crowd in Pennsylvania. A couple days later in Florida, he said, “It tells you the inner heart. You gotta read it.”

For many months, Trump refused to believe that Russia was behind the hacked emails.

“The new joke in town is that Russia leaked the disastrous DNC e-mails, which should never have been written (stupid), because Putin likes me,” Trump tweeted in July 2016.

At a fall 2016 debate with Clinton, Trump sought to sow doubt that the Russians were behind the hacking by suggesting that it could have been done by the Chinese or by “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”

It was only after he won the election, at a news conference shortly before his inauguration, that Trump stated publicly that Russia committed the hacking, though he has waffled in his public statements since then.

Trump’s advisers have said he resists acknowledging the election interference because he does not want to attribute his election win to any force other than his skills as a candidate.

Trump and his legal team, led by former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, have aggressively attacked the Mueller investigation in recent months, part of a more combative approach designed in part to turn Trump’s loyal supporters against it and sow doubt in its eventual findings.

Trump regularly tweets the phrase “witch hunt” — sometimes spelled in all-capital letters — to vent about the Mueller operation or to stir up people against it. But Democrats say he is not taking the investigation seriously enough.

John D. Podesta, the former Clinton campaign chairman whose personal email account was among those hacked, told ABC News, “Donald Trump likes to describe this as a ‘witch hunt.’ Well, we just found some witches, and they were indicted.”


Russia, Putin, Hillary Clinton Get Everyone A Lesson in the Need for Cybersecurity: The Russian intelligence agents behind Guccifer 2.0

July 14, 2018

The latest Mueller indictment names the Russian intelligence agents behind the Guccifer 2.0 persona, the public face of the cyber break-in at the Democratic National Committee.

The big picture: Though the WikiLeaks email leaks got nearly all the attention, other press outlets — including The Hill, The Smoking Gun and Gawker — also received leaked documents from the hackers of the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Congressional Committee. Guccifer 2.0 was the persona used to leak those documents to the press — including me, then a reporter at The Hill.

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  • Guccifer 2.0 also released a smaller amount of documents on his own WordPress blog.
  • He interacted with people over Twitter direct messages, including — famously — Trump confidant Roger Stone.
  • New in the indictment, he also provided documents to a U.S. congressional candidate about his opponent.
  • We knew, from the files leaked to The Hill, that Guccifer 2.0 had stolen recruitment documents when the Democrats searched for candidates to run in various elections.

Who he is: Guccifer 2.0 borrowed his name from Guccifer, a famous Romanian hacker that struck celebrities — including Clinton insiders — in the past. The original Guccifer was obsessed with linking victims to the Illuminati.

  • Guccifer 2.0 claimed to be from Romania and ended his first WordPress post “F*ck the Illuminati and their conspiracies.” He soon dropped the Illuminati schtick.
  • Guccifer 2.0’s first leaks came immediately after a Washington Post story attributed the DNC hack to Russia, and most experts believe that the persona was an attempt to salvage what they could out of a blown operation.

What we know: Guccifer 2.0 always presented himself as a single apolitical hacker. It was pretty clear to most people who chatted with him that Guccifer 2.0 was actually more than one person. It was also fairly clear from security research, intelligence reports and the documents he selected for leaks that he was largely interested in sandbagging the Democratic campaign nationally, and especially in swing states.

Based on the indictment:

  • We now know who made up the team that procured and leaked the documents — Viktor Boris Ovich, Boris Alekseyevich Antonov, Dmitriy Sergeyevich Badin, Ivan Sergeyevich Yermakov, Aleksey Viktorovich Lukashev, Sergey Aleksandrovich, Nikolay Yuryevich Kozachek, Pavel Vyacheslavovich Yershov, Artem Andreyevich Malyshev, Aleksandr Vladimirovich Osad Chuk, Aleksey Aleksandrovich Potemkin and Anatoliy Sergeyevich Kovalev.
  • Russian intelligence operatives ran searches of several of the phrases in Guccifer 2.0’s first WordPress post hours before the post went live, implying some kind of advance knowledge.
  • One reporter who received documents — not me — asked about timing of when to publish.

The fallout: Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin tweeted after the Russia indictment that “American reporters who took stories from Guccifer 2.0 or DC Leaks have to wonder if they weren’t used as a tool of a foreign military intelligence operation against our country.”

  • We did wonder about thatAt The Hill, we always tried to make it clear that Guccifer 2.0 was likely a Russian asset. We never published full documents — though we did summarize some — and only printed stories we believed explained some aspect of Russia’s intent with the campaign.
  • With Kevin Collier, I was one of two reporters who had ThreatConnect perform forensic analysis on emails from Guccifer 2.0 that ultimately determined he used a Russian anonymity service known as a VPN. (I scrubbed the emails of any identifying information other than the IP address to protect my source’s anonymity).
  • The first reporter to conduct an interview with Guccifer 2.0, Motherboard’s Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, quickly established that Guccifer 2.0 did not speak Romanian.

Go deeper:

See also:

How Russia Hacked the Democrats in 2016 (New York Times)



Reading Between the Lines on Mueller’s Russia Investigation

July 14, 2018

Image result for Putin, smirking, photos

Attack on Clinton server followed Trump’s call for her emails — Florida blogger describes flood of documents from Guccifer 2.0

On the morning of July 27th, 2016, Donald Trump made a now-infamous address into the camera.

“Russia, if you’re listening,” began his appeal for hackers to turn up Hillary Clinton’s 30,000 missing emails. Later that very day, it turns out, officials from Russia’s military intelligence agency launched their first concerted attack on Clinton’s personal server.

Donald Trump holds a press conference on July 27, 2016.

Photographer: Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images

The Russian activities that day are laid out in an indictment released Friday by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. It’s one of several revelations hinting at where where the Russian election meddling investigation could be heading.

All 12 people charged in the indictment are military intelligence officers allegedly assigned to disrupt the U.S. election. But the most tantalizing clues involve a handful of Americans — none identified — who communicated with them. They include a candidate for Congress, a Republican lobbyist who ran a Florida politics blog and a political operative who Mueller’s prosecutor said had close ties to the highest levels of the Trump campaign.

There’s no evidence in the indictment that those people knew that the emails and direct messages were going to Russian agents, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said Friday in announcing the charges. Yet woven throughout the indictment are signs that Mueller’s team is trying to determine whether anyone connected with the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russian agents to maximize the damage to Democrats.

New Details

The indictment provides other new details: That Russian operatives remained in Democratic servers until October 2016, and that they stole details on 500,000 voters in one U.S. state. In a statement late Friday, Illinois’ board of elections said it had been the victim of a cyber attack on its statewide voter registration database and that the indictment was likely referring to that hack.

Prosecutors allege that the Russian officers waged computer attacks against the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, stealing emails and voter analytics data. After hacking the email accounts of Democratic Congressional Committee and DNC chairman John Podesta in the spring of 2016 (and ultimately failing in its efforts to find Clinton’s personal emails), the Russians set up the online personas DC Leaks and Guccifer 2.0 and used them to offer the stolen information to journalists, political figures and right-wing activists.

Then, using the Guccifer pseudonym, the Russian officers reached out to “a person who was in regular contact with senior members” of the Trump campaign. In mid-August, Guccifer wrote: “Do u find anyt[h]ing interesting in the docs I posted?”

By September 9, Guccifer was seeking that person’s help to make sense of a document stolen from the DCCC. “What do u think of the info on the turnout model for the democrats entire presidential campaign?” Guccifer asked.

“Pretty standard,” the person replied.

Stone Exchange

That exchange matches one previously attributed to Roger Stone, the Republican political operative and longtime Trump adviser.

Guccifer, in posts at the time, characterized himself as a Romanian hacker. Stone has said he doesn’t believe Guccifer was a Russian intelligence officer. In a text message Friday, he said he wasn’t even certain the indictment referred to him. His lawyer, Grant Smith, said Stone’s 24-word interaction with Guccifer was innocuous.

Roger Stone arrives to a closed-door House Intelligence Committee hearing on Sept. 26, 2017.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

“Roger received no information from Guccifer 2.0 or DC Leaks, nor did he provide any counsel to them,” Smith said. “Roger’s benign communications first take place many weeks after the alleged hacking events described in today’s indictment.”

The indictment also references a candidate for U.S. Congress who asked Guccifer for stolen documents. The indictment doesn’t name the candidate or the election’s outcome. But it does describe one success: The candidate was sent documents on an opponent after contacting Guccifer on Aug. 15, 2016.

Florida Lobbyist

Russian intelligence officers also used the Guccifer alias to communicate with a person identified as a state lobbyist and blogger, transferring 2.5 gigabytes of data stolen from the DCCC to the person on August 22, 2016. While the indictment does not name the blogger, Bloomberg last year interviewed a Florida lobbyist, Aaron Nevins, who published political reporting under the pseudonym Mark Miewurd on the website HelloFLA.

Nevins told Bloomberg he emailed Guccifer after reading his website in the summer of 2016, asking if there was any hacked information pertaining to Florida politics.

“I mean, what reporter wouldn’t want secret documents dropped on them like the Pentagon Papers,” he said via online chat. “It’s also in line with what I’m trying to do with the site, which is to be more like a ‘Page Six of politics’ with sensational stories and revealing secrets of insiders and politicians.”

Nevins said he got no response for 10 days. Then Guccifer emailed him with instructions to set up a Dropbox account to receive data. Shortly afterward, Nevins said he was flooded with data hacked from the DCCC computers.

“I feel like things happened so fast, and I was chasing the buzz that I got all these documents and had almost an ‘Oh S–t’ moment where I realized I am a political insider with a ton of stolen documents on my computer, and if I don’t publish and the FBI does come by…1. my career is completely over and 2. I’m probably going to prison for a while too.”

Nevins said he published several items based on the hacked information. He couldn’t be reached for comment on Friday.

WikiLeaks’ Network

The most prominent player in the release of the stolen emails was the hacktivist organization WikiLeaks, identified in the indictment as Organization 1. In late June 2016 — after cybersecurity experts said the DNC hack was probably carried out by Russian intelligence — WikiLeaks began asking Guccifer for the information, saying its distribution network could help heighten the impact of the document release. An email from WikiLeaks on July 6 said: “If you have anything Hillary related, we want it in the next two days” because the Democratic National Convention was about to start and divisive emails could hinder Clinton’s effort to unite the party.

On July 14th, Guccifer began instructing WikiLeaks how to access the hacked emails.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has worked for the Russian state media outlet Russia Today and has been living in exile in Ecuador’s embassy in London, has said his organization didn’t receive the emails from a Russian. WikiLeaks didn’t return a call or email requesting comment.

From October 7 through November 7, the day before the election, WikiLeaks released 33 tranches of stolen documents, according to the indictment, including damaging information about Clinton’s fundraising, speeches and intraparty squabbles. The barrage began shortly after an embarrassing disclosure about Trump, a 2005 recording from Access Hollywood in which he bragged about grabbing women and using his celebrity to make sexual conquests.

Donald Trump Jr. exulted over the email release, exchanging a handful of messages with WikiLeaks, via Twitter messages. His father crowed, too, telling supporters, “I love WikiLeaks.” He referred to the group more than 130 times during the campaign’s final month.

— With assistance by Jordan Robertson, Billy House, Steven T. Dennis, and Tom Schoenberg


White House Orders Broader Access to Files About F.B.I. Informant

July 13, 2018

The White House has rebuffed concerns among American intelligence and law enforcement officials and ordered that more lawmakers be given access to classified information about an informant the F.B.I. used in 2016 to investigate possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, according to two American officials with knowledge of the decision.

Both the director of national intelligence and the director of the F.B.I. tried to keep the classified documents tightly restricted, fearing that a broader dissemination of operational reports and other sensitive material could lead to more leaks of detailed information about the role of the confidential F.B.I. informant.

Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director, opposed expanding the number of lawmakers who can read the classified files.CreditErin Schaff for The New York Times

Some American officials believe, in fact, the reason the White House made the decision was to provide political ammunition to President Trump’s Republican allies who have argued — without any evidence — that the F.B.I. investigation was opened in July 2016 as an effort to keep Mr. Trump from becoming president.

The F.B.I. files about the informant will now be available to all members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, instead of to just a group of congressional leaders known as the Gang of Eight. It is unclear whether Mr. Trump or a lower-level White House official authorized the move.

The controversy over the F.B.I. informant is one skirmish in a searing political battle that was renewed on Thursday during a contentious hearing convened by the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees that heard testimony from Peter Strzok, an F.B.I. agent who once ran the bureau’s investigation into the Trump campaign.

PHOTO: Deputy Assistant FBI Director Peter Strzok waits to testify before a joint committee hearing of the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees, July 12, 2018 in Washington.

Deputy Assistant FBI Director Peter Strzok waits to testify before a joint committee hearing of the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees, July 12, 2018 in Washington. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

During the summer of 2016, the F.B.I. sent an informant to meet with two Trump campaign advisers after the bureau had received information that the two men had suspicious contacts linked to Russia. The informant, Stefan Halper, an American academic who teaches at Cambridge University in England, had meetings with both Carter Page and George Papadopoulos to gain a better understanding of their contacts with Russians.

The New York Times did not originally name Mr. Halper because of a general practice not to name confidential F.B.I. informants to preserve their safety. Mr. Halper’s name has now been widely reported.

A veteran of several Republican administrations, Mr. Halper has been a source of information to the C.I.A. and other American security agencies for several years, according to people familiar with his work for the government.

F.B.I. officials concluded that they had the legal authority to open the investigation into the Trump campaign after they received information that Mr. Papadopoulos had been told that the Russians had compromising information about Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, in the form of “thousands of emails,” months before WikiLeaks released stolen messages from Democratic officials.

Mr. Trump’s congressional allies reacted angrily to the revelation of Mr. Halper’s role in the F.B.I. investigation, accusing the bureau of “spying” on the Trump campaign. The president himself has called the issue a “scandal” on Twitter.

“Reports are there was indeed at least one FBI representative implanted, for political purposes, into my campaign for president,” he wrote in May.

“If true — all time biggest political scandal!”

Congressional leaders have received two briefings about Mr. Halper’s role in the F.B.I. investigation. One of the briefings was attended by John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, and Emmet T. Flood, a White House lawyer handling issues related to the special counsel’s Russia investigation — leading to vocal criticism on Capitol Hill that it was improper for White House officials to attend a classified briefing about an investigation that involves the president.

Representative Devin Nunes of California, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and one of the president’s staunchest defenders in Congress, for weeks has demanded that the full House and Senate Intelligence Committees be given access to documents about the informant’s role in the campaign. He has accused the Justice Department of “obstruction” of a congressional investigation.

Democrats have argued that the true aim of the Republicans is to undermine the Russia investigation — which in May 2017 was taken over by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III — and that Republicans want access to F.B.I. files to gain information they can use against the inquiry.

Intelligence and law enforcement officials — including Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, and Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director — were opposed to expanding the number of lawmakers who can read the classified files, according to people with knowledge of their thinking.

In a letter to Mr. Coats on Thursday, Democratic members of the Gang of Eight protested the release of the documents, saying that it “contravenes your representation to us and our colleagues that this information would not be shared outside that group.”

“We believe your decision could put sources and methods at risk,” they added.

Representatives for the F.B.I. and the director of national intelligence declined to comment. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

During congressional testimony in May, Mr. Wray gave a thinly veiled warning to lawmakers about the dangers of exposing information about confidential sources.

“The day that we can’t protect human sources is the day the American people start becoming less safe,” he said.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A15 of the New York edition with the headline: More Access, Not Less, To F.B.I. File On Informant.

Democrats are getting desperate as Mueller stalls

April 22, 2018

Trump taunts Democrats over Russia collusion lawsuit

April 22, 2018

Democratic Party files suit alleging Russia, the Trump campaign, WikiLeaks and others all in a conspiracy to help Trump win the 2016 election

April 20, 2018


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The Democratic Party on Friday sued President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, the Russian government and the Wikileaks group, claiming a broad conspiracy to help Trump win the 2016 election.

The multi-million-dollar lawsuit filed in Manhattan federal court says that “In the Trump campaign, Russia found a willing and active partner in this effort” to mount “a brazen attack on American Democracy.”

The named defendants include Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr., his son-in-law Jared Kushner, former campaign chief Paul Manafort and campaign official Richard Gates, and Trump ally Roger Stone.

Also named is the Russian Federation, the general state of the Russian armed force, a Russian intelligence services hacker known as Guccifer 2.0., Wikileaks and its leader Julian Assange, and 10 unidentified people.

This story is developing. Please check back for updates.

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Here are the primary source documents.

Suing a foreign country presents a number of legal challenges for the Democrats, partly because other nations have immunity from most U.S. lawsuits.

Part of the thinking here may be to force the government to disclose evidence, via the legal discovery process.

From reporters Tom Hamburger, Rosalind S. Helderman and Ellen Nakashima in the Washington Post:

The complaint, filed in federal district court in Manhattan, alleges that top Trump campaign officials conspired with the Russian government and its military spy agency to hurt Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and help Trump by hacking the computer networks of the Democratic Party and disseminating stolen material found there.

“During the 2016 presidential campaign, Russia launched an all-out assault on our democracy, and it found a willing and active partner in Donald Trump’s campaign,” DNC Chairman Tom Perez said in a statement.

“This constituted an act of unprecedented treachery: the campaign of a nominee for President of the United States in league with a hostile foreign power to bolster its own chance to win the presidency,” he said.

The case asserts that the Russian hacking campaign — combined with Trump associates’ contacts with Russia and the campaign’s public cheerleading of the hacks — amounted to an illegal conspiracy to interfere in the election that caused serious damage to the Democratic Party.



“Document: DNC Sues Russia, Trump Campaign and WikiLeaks for Election Interference,” the latest from Matthew Kahn: 

Document: DNC Sues Russia, Trump Campaign and WikiLeaks for Election Interference

On Friday, the Democratic National Committee filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against the Russian government, the Trump campaign and associated…


[Silently hopes to self the DNC lawsuit will be more competently managed than the Fusion oppo research.]

[Oh did I say that out loud?]


Well that’s a hell of a caption. 


Should someone tell the DNC lawyers they forgot to plead that the DNC computers meet the 1030(e)(1) definition?

View image on Twitter

Reuters Politics


MORE: Lawsuit alleges Trump campaign and Russian agents agreed to promote Trump’s candidacy through illegal means 

Jennifer Epstein


DNC suit is against: Russian Federation, GRU, Guccifer 2.0,  Aras & Emin Agalarov, Joseph Mifsud, WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, Donald J. Trump for President, Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Jared Kushner, George Papadopoulos, & Richard Gates 

DNC Sues Trump Campaign, WikiLeaks, Russia Over Election Interference

The Democratic National Committee sued Russia, the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks over interference in the 2016 election, saying Russia launched a “brazen attack on American democracy” that began with…

The Steele Dossier Fits the Kremlin Playbook — To undermine Republicans, Democrats—and American democracy.

January 29, 2018

The likely objective was to undermine Republicans, Democrats—and American democracy.

When the “Steele dossier” was first published a year ago, it looked like a bombshell. The document, drawn up by the British ex-spy Christopher Steele, contained salacious allegations against President Trump and suggested that Russia had helped him win the 2016 election. No one has been able to corroborate its charges, but Democrats continue to see the dossier as a road map for impeaching Mr. Trump. Republicans, on the other hand, point out that it was created as opposition research, leading them to see it as an elaborate partisan ploy.

There is a third possibility, namely that the dossier was part of a Russian espionage disinformation plot targeting both parties and America’s political process. This is what seems most likely to me, having spent much of my 30-year government career, including with the CIA, observing Soviet and then Russian intelligence operations. If there is one thing I have learned, it’s that Vladimir Putin continues in the Soviet tradition of using disinformation and espionage as foreign-policy tools.

There are three reasons the Kremlin would have detected Mr. Steele’s information gathering and seen an opportunity to intervene. First, Mr. Steele did not travel to Russia to acquire his information and instead relied on intermediaries. That is a weak link, since Russia’s internal police service, the FSB, devotes significant technical and human resources to blanket surveillance of Western private citizens and government officials, with a particular focus on uncovering their Russian contacts.

Second, Mr. Steele was an especially likely target for such surveillance given that he had retired from MI-6, the British spy agency, after serving in Moscow. Russians are fond of saying that there is no such thing as a “former” intelligence officer. The FSB would have had its eye on him.

Third, the Kremlin successfully hacked into the Democratic National Committee. Emails there could have tipped it off that the Clinton campaign was collecting information on Mr. Trump’s dealings in Russia.

The Steele Dossier Fits the Kremlin Playbook

If the FSB did discover that Mr. Steele was poking around for information, it hardly could have resisted using the gravitas of a retired MI-6 agent to plant false information. After hacking the DNC and senior Democratic officials, Russian intelligence chose to pass the information to WikiLeaks, most likely to capitalize on that group’s “self-proclaimed reputation for authenticity,” according to a 2017 report from the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Simultaneously the Kremlin was conducting influence operations on Facebook and other social-media sites.

The pattern of such Russian operations is to sprinkle false information, designed to degrade the enemy’s social and political infrastructure, among true statements that enhance the veracity of the overall report. In 2009 the FSB wanted to soil the reputation of a U.S. diplomat responsible for reporting on human rights. So it fabricated a video, in part using real surveillance footage of the diplomat, that purported to show him with a prostitute in Moscow.

Similarly, some of the information in the Steele dossier is true. Carter Page, a Trump campaign adviser, did travel to Moscow in the summer of 2016. But he insists that the secret meetings the dossier alleges never happened. This is exactly what you’d expect if the Kremlin followed its usual playbook: accurate basic facts provided as bait to convince Americans that the fake info is real.

Mr. Trump repeatedly criticized the “rigged system” working against his campaign, but his victories in the primaries and the general election blunted this narrative. The FSB probably believed that Mrs. Clinton would win the election, and that once the dossier became public Mr. Trump would vociferously argue that she had played dirty. Thus the dossier would have had dual benefits: The salacious portions would undermine the Republican candidate, and then his attacks would delegitimize the eventual Democratic administration. The 2017 ODNI report says that pro-Russia bloggers even prepared an election-night Twitter campaign, #DemocracyRIP, designed to question the election’s validity after a Clinton victory.

That is not how events unfolded, but Russia still appears to have enjoyed a major return on its 2016 election meddling. For more than a year, Democrats and Republicans have traded charges of collusion, obstruction and conspiracy. Rather than serve Russia’s interests with increasingly intense partisan bickering, everyone should focus on the common enemy: Mr. Putin and his nefarious attempt to undermine America’s political system.

One credible response would be to pass a bipartisan bill such as the one introduced by Sens. Marco Rubio and Chris Van Hollen that would punish Moscow if intelligence concludes Russia interferes in future elections. Meanwhile, the Trump administration should shine a brighter spotlight on the Kremlin’s espionage and covert-influence operations against the U.S.

Special counsel Robert Mueller should be able to lift the veil on whether the Steele dossier was, as I suspect, a tool of Russia’s espionage. Mr. Steele has reportedly revealed details about his sources to Mr. Mueller, who has also been conducting interviews to determine which parts of the dossier are true and which are false.

Russia considers the U.S. an existential threat to its national security, not because of a military threat—which Mr. Putin purposely exaggerates—but because Western ideals of liberty, freedom and democracy have the power to break his regime’s grip on the country. Americans must enhance their understanding of Mr. Putin’s strategy and tactics better to defend against the Kremlin’s relentless propaganda. Otherwise the Steele dossier controversy will continue to be a victory for Mr. Putin and a loss for our democracy.

Mr. Hoffman, a retired chief of station with the Central Intelligence Agency who served in the former Soviet Union, is vice president of SPG, a political consulting group in Washington.



Bannon and Lewandowski Are Asked to Testify to House Russia Investigators

December 22, 2017


By Billy House

 Updated on 
  • House Intelligence panel’s Russia probe sent invites this week
  • Committee sent voluntary invitation for closed-door interviews
Steve Bannon

Photographer: Nicole Craine/Bloomberg

President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon and his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski have been asked to testify to House lawmakers investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Both men were sent letters this week by the House Intelligence Committee asking them to testify in early January, according to an official familiar with the panel’s schedule.

The committee hasn’t yet received a response from either Bannon or Lewandowski. The invitation, which didn’t come in the form of a subpoena compelling them to testify, was for a “voluntary interview” in the committee’s offices, which means it would be held behind closed doors, the official said.

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Corey Lewandowski

The letter doesn’t lay out specific reasons the committee wants to interview them, or the questions the panel wants to pose, but it makes clear that the interviews are part of the Russia investigation.

Bannon, who worked as Trump’s top strategist during the campaign and for several months in the White House, hasn’t been publicly accused of any wrongdoing.

Bannon was a key member of Trump’s team when the president fired national security adviser Michael Flynn and FBI director James Comey.

Your Guide to Understanding the Trump-Russia Saga: QuickTake Q&A

During the campaign, Bannon was also a liaison to its data-analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica.

Alexander Nix, the chief executive officer of Cambridge Analytica, met with the House Intelligence probe earlier this month. Nix faced questions about whether he sought material from WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange that was stolen from computers of the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta, who managed Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Lewandowski’s Role

Lewandowski was fired as campaign manager on June 20, 2016, and replaced by Paul Manafort, who has been indicted for money laundering charges by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Before Lewandowski left, he was among among several senior Trump campaign officials who received communications from foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos about his outreach to the Russian government, according to published news accounts.

The Washington Post reported last month that court filings show Papadopoulos wrote to Lewandowski several times to let him know that the Russians were interested in forging a relationship with the campaign.

The Post said that included one message in May 2016, in which Papadopoulos forwarded to Lewandowski an offer of “cooperation” from a Russian with links to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“Is this something we want to move forward with?” he asked. There was no indication of how Lewandowski responded, wrote the Post. Lewandowski has said publicly he doesn’t recall whether he received emails from Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty in early October to lying to federal agents about his outreach to Russia.

U.S. says did everything possible to help Italy cyber investigation

December 16, 2017


ROME (Reuters) – The United States has denied suggestions it undermined an investigation into a massive data breach at the Italian cybersecurity firm Hacking Team, saying it did everything it could to help in the case.

A Milan magistrate last week recommended shelving an investigation into six people who were suspected of orchestrating the 2015 data theft.

Image result for Hacking Team, italy, photos

A senior judicial source criticized U.S. officials for not handing over a computer belonging to a key suspect, saying it might have contained information vital to the probe.

But in a comment emailed to Reuters, the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington denied the United States was to blame for the case floundering.

“The United States assisted Italy to the greatest extent possible and the relevant Italian authorities know that,” a U.S. Department of Justice spokesperson wrote.

Magistrates opened their investigation in July 2015 after hackers downloaded 400 gigabytes of data from the firm, which makes software that allows law enforcement and intelligence agencies to tap into the phones and computers of suspects.

Much of the data later showed up on the WikiLeaks website.

The company said at the time it believed former employees had stolen vital code that gave them access to its systems. It also speculated that a foreign government might have been behind the hacking.

The Italian probe led magistrates to a suspect living in Nashville, Tennessee. U.S. authorities raided his house and took the man in for questioning, however a senior judicial source in Milan, with direct knowledge of the case, said his computer was never sent to Italy for technical assessment.

“We could not carry out the checks on the computer to see if it contained the evidence that we were looking for because the United States did not give it to us. We did not receive an explanation for this decision,” the source said.

Reporting by Manuela D’Alessandro and Crispian Balmer; Editing by Mark Potter