Did Russian Intelligence Hack the DNC Servers?
Peter Van Buren, We Meant Well (Blog), Jul 26 2016
Short answer: nobody knows, but the media is treating it as a fact based primarily on a single technical source employed by the Democratic National Committee. I read the source’s publicly available explanation. Here’s what I found. Despite a line in paragraph five saying “Proving the source of a cyber-attack is notoriously difficult,” the NYT offers the following statements:
- “researchers have concluded that the national committee was breached by two Russian intelligence agencies;”
- “Though a hacker claimed responsibility for giving the emails to WikiLeaks, the same agencies are the prime suspects;”
- “Whether the thefts were ordered by Mr Putin, or just carried out by apparatchiks who thought they might please him, is anyone’s guess.”
- “It is unclear how WikiLeaks obtained the email trove. But the presumption is that the intelligence agencies turned it over, either directly or through an intermediary. Moreover, the timing of the release, between the end of the Republican convention and the beginning of the Democratic one, seems too well planned to be coincidental.”
There’s more, but you get the picture. The article also quotes Clinton staffers citing unnamed experts and researchers. The only experts cited work for a company hired by the DNC to investigate the hack. There is no indication of any neutral third party investigation. The company, Crowdstrike, issued a publicly available report on what they found. The report title makes clear the company’s conclusion: Bears in the Midst: Intrusion into the Democratic National Committee. The report has some technical explanations, but focuses on conclusions that seem to be at best presumptions, despite the media treating them as fact:
- The key presumptive conclusion seems to be that the sophistication of the hacks points to a nation-state actor. “Their tradecraft is superb, operational security second to none and the extensive usage of ‘living-off-the-land’ techniques enables them to easily bypass many security solutions they encounter. In particular, we identified advanced methods consistent with nation-state level capabilities.”
- The hackers, two separate entities Crowdstrike says worked independently, used techniques known to be used by Russians. Better yet, with no evidence at all presented, Crowdstrike concludes, “Both adversaries engage in extensive political and economic espionage for the benefit of the government of the Russian Federation and are believed to be closely linked to the Russian government’s powerful and highly capable intelligence services.” Also, for one of the alleged hackers, “Extensive targeting of defense ministries and other military victims has been observed, the profile of which closely mirrors the strategic interests of the Russian government.”
- By the end of the report Crowdstrike is just plain out called the hackers “Russian espionage groups.”
FYI: Fidelis, another cyber-security company, was hired by Crowdstrike to review the findings. Fidelis worked exclusively and only with data provided by Crowdstrike (as did several other companies.) They concluded the same two hackers, COZY BEAR and FANCY BEAR APT, committed the intrusion, but made no comments on whether those two were linked to the Russian government. Despite the citing with certainty of experts and researchers by the media and the Clinton campaign, the only such expert who has made any findings public has basically thrown out little more than a bunch of presumptions and unsubstantiated conclusions. Left undiscussed are:
- the commonality of hackers using “false flags,” say where an Israeli hackers will purposely leave behind false clues to make it seem that a Hungarian did the work. As one commentator put it sarcastically “The malware was written in Russian? It was a Russian who attacked you. Chinese characters in the code? You’ve been hacked by the Peoples Liberation Army.”
- the question of if the hackers were “Russians,” can anyone tie them to the Russian government? Joe Black Hat breaking into some system in Ireland may indeed be an American person, but it is quite a jump to claim he thus works for the Pindostani government.
- there is also a significant question of motive. For Putin to be the bad guy here, we have to believe that Putin wants Trump in power, bad enough to risk near-war with Pindostan if caught in the hack, and bad enough to really piss off Clinton, who will be nominated this week anyway, and hoping of course that evidence of dirty tricks by the DNC released in July will be enough to defeat her in November. That’s a real stretch, Sparky.
- other than those private persons who hack for their own entertainment or personal political beliefs, most work for money. They steal something and sell it. Information from the DNC system would find an easy buyer. Who might be interested in buying these emails? Along the range of actors who would benefit from exposing these emails, why would the Russians come out on top? Perhaps the Republicans? China? Pretty much any of the many enemies the Clintons have amassed over the years? Hell, even Bernie Sanders, whose complaints about the DNC were validated by the email release. The suspects based on motive alone make up a very long list.
Fact-Checking That “Trump & Putin” Thing
Jeffrey Carr, Medium.com, Jul 26 2016
Josh Marshall asked me to substantiate my criticism on Twitter of his use of facts in his TPM article “Trump & Putin. Yes, It’s Really A Thing”. As background: Josh published the above mentioned post. Mark Cuban called him out for jumping to conclusions. Josh replied that he stuck narrowly to the facts. I disagreed with Josh and gave a few reasons why. Josh asked me for specifics. What follows are seven statements from the TPM article which Josh has claimed are facts. He only got two out of seven correct.
“All the other discussions of Trump’s finances aside, his debt load has grown dramatically over the last year, from $350m to $630m. This is in just one year while his liquid assets have also decreased. Trump has been blackballed by all major Pindosi banks.”
The increase in Trump’s debt load came from a Bloomberg estimate. An estimate is what’s done when accurate data isn’t available. So while Josh accurately quoted an estimate (not a fact), it’s also important to note that the Trump Organization disputed it according to Bloomberg. Josh failed to note that. There’s no evidence that Trump has been blackballed. There is evidence that some big Pindosi banks don’t want to work with him, but Deutsche Bank has lent him $300m since 2012.
“Post-bankruptcy Trump has been highly reliant on money from Russia, most of which has over the years become increasingly concentrated among oligarchs and sub-garchs close to Vladimir Putin.”
As a luxury real estate developer, Trump sells to Russian and Chinese ultra-high net worth individuals because that’s who has been buying expensive real estate. In 2014, however, Russian investment money started drying up and Chinese investors filled the void.
One example of this is the Trump Soho development in Manhattan, one of Trump’s largest recent endeavours. The project was the hit with a series of lawsuits in response to some typically Trumpian efforts to defraud investors by making fraudulent claims about the financial health of the project. Emerging out of that litigation however was news about secret financing for the project from Russia and Kazakhstan.
Here’s a fact that Josh got right: Trump will take money from anyone, including Russian criminals.
Then there’s Paul Manafort, Trump’s nominal ‘campaign chair’ who now functions as campaign manager and top advisor. Manafort spent most of the last decade as top campaign and communications advisor for Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian Ukrainian Prime Minister and then President whose ouster in 2014 led to the on-going crisis and proxy war in Ukraine. Yanukovych was and remains a close Putin ally. Manafort is running Trump’s campaign.
Paul Manafort‘s DC lobbying firm has taken so much money from so many despots, dictators, and human rights abusers ($900k/yr from Ferdinand Marcos alone) that it’s been named as a top five firm in The Torturer’s Lobby (.pdf). He was paid $70k in an ISI operation (Pakistan’s Intelligence service) during the 1990s. And yes, Manafort was one of many political campaign advisors to deposed Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych from 2004–2010, and made at least $63,750 during a six-month period.
Trump’s foreign policy advisor on Russia and Europe is Carter Page, a man whose entire professional career has revolved around investments in Russia and who has deep and continuing financial and employment ties to Gazprom. … Those ties also allow Putin to put Page out of business at any time.
Josh focused exclusively on Page’s relatively brief tenure advising Gazprom and completely excluded his connection with Ukraine’s billionaire philanthropist Victor Pinchuk. It was his friendship with Pinchuk that got him the Merrill Lynch appointment to Moscow in the first place. Why exclude it? Because unlike Gazprom, there’s no connection between Pinchuk and Putin that Josh could exploit. Josh’s claim that “Those ties allow Putin to put Page out of business at any time” is a mystery to me, because Page left Gazprom in 2007 and has made very little money from Russia ever since; especially after sanctions hit in 2014.
Over the course of the last year, Putin has aligned all Russian state-controlled media behind Trump.
The article Josh used to source that “fact” only mentioned RT (Russia Today). This editorial in the Moscow Times hoped for a Clinton presidency: “The Moscow-Washington relationship promises to remain a rocky one and its management will require a steady hand, which a President Clinton is more likely to provide than a President Rubio, or, God forbid, a President Trump.” And just a few days ago, the Kremlin criticized Trump’s statement on NATO and Russia via TASS.
As TPM’s Tierney Sneed explained in this article, one of the most enduring dynamics of GOP conventions (there’s a comparable dynamic on the Dem side) is more mainstream nominees battling conservative activists over the party platform. … This is one thing that made the Trump convention very different. The Trump Camp was totally indifferent to the platform.
Totally indifferent? Not according to the very same Tierney Sneed article that Josh used as a source. Sneed wrote “the Trump campaign had representatives at the platform meetings who were in communication with the delegates on the committee. They were very much aware of and involved in the process in the sense that they were talking to the delegates, Kobach said.” But total indifference was what Josh needed in order to make the leap to his “One Big Exception” — Ukraine. Trump wanted to soften the wording on providing military assistance to Ukraine to providing “appropriate assistance”. Standing on its own, that’s actually a responsible change which is in agreement with a lot of other policy-makers. A fact is defined as a “true piece of information”. How many of Josh’s facts were true?
- Trump’s debt load was a Bloomberg estimate, not a fact.
- Trump is highly reliant upon money from Russia. Open to interpretation, not a fact.
- Trump Soho took investment money from Russian criminals. Fact.
- Trump’s campaign manager used to work for Viktor Yanukovych when he was running for Prime Minister of Ukraine. Fact.
- Putin could put Carter Page, Trump’s foreign policy advisor, out of business at any time. Not only not a fact, but untrue and ridiculous on its face.
- Putin has aligned all state-controlled media behind Trump. False.
- The Trump Camp only cared about softening the platform on arming Ukraine. False.
For the record, I despise Donald Trump. I can’t imagine a worse candidate for President and I’m shocked and appalled that he is the Republican nominee. However, there’s no need to invent Russian conspiracies to make the Trump boogeyman appear worse than he is.