From Russia with Chaos
March 23, 2018

Guccifer 2.0, the hacker who says he provided WikiLeaks with emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee in 2016, is a Russian intelligence officer, The Daily Beast reports.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating Guccifer 2.0, and the FBI agents who determined his identity are on Mueller's team, The Daily Beast says. Guccifer 2.0 made his online debut June 15, 2016, only a few hours after a computer security firm tied the DNC hack to Russia. Claiming to be a lone hacker, Guccifer 2.0 posted and tweeted DNC documents, while "projecting an image as an independent Romanian," The Daily Beast says. He denied that Russia was involved in the attack, and a few days before Trump's inauguration, he stopped posting online.

Not many people believed that Guccifer 2.0 was Romanian, and after he forgot to connect online using an anonymizing service, investigators were able to track his real IP address to Moscow, The Daily Beast reports. From that, they identified Guccifer 2.0 as a specific GRU officer, working out of the military intelligence department's headquarters (his name was not disclosed to The Daily Beast). It has also been determined that one person launched the Guccifer 2.0 persona, then passed it off to someone with a better grasp of the English language. Read more about how leaks from Guccifer 2.0 helped a Florida Republican, and how Trump adviser Roger Stone ties into the story, at The Daily Beast. Catherine Garcia

December 26, 2017

In early 2014, U.S. officials intercepted a classified document drafted by Russia's GRU military intelligence branch that laid out how Moscow used fake online personas and social media to spread disinformation to further its military and strategic goals, giving "the Americans their first glimpse of the power of Russia's post-Cold War playbook," The Washington Post reports. When the Russian threat came into focus in 2016, Obama officials "scrambled to draw up options to fight back," the Post says, but "in the end, big plans died of internal disagreement, a fear of making matters worse, or a misguided belief in the resilience of American society and its democratic institutions."

Late last year, President Barack Obama signed a sweeping presidential cyberthreat order, prompting U.S. spy agencies to draw up some specific operations to fight Russian disinformation, The Washington Post reports. Some key Trump security advisers took the warnings from their Obama counterparts seriously, the Post says, but a year later, "the Trump White House remains divided over whether to act," with President Trump among those who "play down the effects of Russian interference and complain that the U.S. intelligence report on the 2016 election has been weaponized by Democrats seeking to undermine Trump."

This continued indecision leaves the 2018 and 2020 elections vulnerable to Russian disinformation prowess, but the problem dates back at least 25 years, the Post reports:

The miscalculations and bureaucratic inertia that left the United States vulnerable to Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election trace back to decisions made at the end of the Cold War, when senior policymakers assumed Moscow would be a partner and largely pulled the United States out of information warfare. When relations soured, officials dismissed Russia as a "third-rate regional power" that would limit its meddling to the fledgling democracies on its periphery. [The Washington Post]

You can read more about plans discarded under Obama and what's going on at the Trump White House at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

September 27, 2017

Facebook has disclosed that during the 2016 presidential race, Russians used fake pages and ads to sow discord and influence the election, but there is evidence that Twitter may have been used even more extensively during the Russian campaign, The New York Times reports.

Researchers at the bipartisan Alliance for Securing Democracy have been tracking 600 Twitter accounts they believe are tied to the Russian government or at the very least spread Russian propaganda, and of the news stories these accounts shared and promoted last week, more than 25 percent "had a primary theme of anti-Americanism," the Times reports. "What we see over and over again is that a lot of the messaging isn't about politics, a specific politician, or political parties," Laura Rosenberger, director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, said. "It's about creating societal division, identifying divisive issues, and fanning the flames."

For example, Twitter has suspended several accounts this week believed to be linked to Russia that pushed out messages both for and against football players kneeling during the national anthem, which was viewed as an attempt to divide Americans. On Thursday, Twitter employees will meet with staffers of the Senate and House intelligence committees as part of their investigations into Russian interference in the election, and a Senate aide told the Times that Twitter, Facebook, and Google have all been invited to testify at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Nov. 1 regarding Russian meddling. Read more about the Russia-Twitter connection at The New York Times. Catherine Garcia

November 1, 2016

If the Russian government is trying to insert chaos into the U.S. presidential election — as unidentified FBI officials tell The New York Times — it seems to be doing a pretty good job, especially regarding Russian meddling in the election. After FBI Director James Comey unexpectedly inserted himself in the presidential race to announce new emails potentially related to Hillary Clinton's email server, some Democrats urged him to be similarly forthcoming about any investigation into Donald Trump's alleged connections to Russia.

On Monday, several news outlets reported that Comey had opposed the U.S. publicly blaming Russia for meddling in the election out of concern that doing so a month away from the election would make the FBI seem partisan. Also, Slate disclosed a story several reporters and the FBI had been chasing about odd secret communications between a Trump Organization server and servers owned by Russia's powerful Kremlin-linked Alfa Bank. FBI officials tell The New York Times that the FBI "ultimately concluded that there could be an innocuous explanation, like a marketing email or spam, for the computer contacts."

Overall, the Times article appears to pour cold water on suggestions that Trump has ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The FBI did open a wide-ranging investigation into Trump, his inner circle, and Russia, The New York Times reports, but "law enforcement officials say that none of the investigations so far have found any conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government. And even the hacking into Democratic emails, FBI and intelligence officials now believe, was aimed at disrupting the presidential election rather than electing Mr. Trump." Trump, in this analysis, appears to be an unwitting beneficiary of Russian Democrat-hacking.

The Russian government's "direct goal is not to support the election of Mr. Trump, as many Democrats have asserted, but rather to disrupt the integrity of the political system and undermine America's standing in the world more broadly," The Times reports, citing officials. At Mother Jones, David Corn reported on notes from a credible "former senior intelligence officer for a Western country who specialized in Russian counterintelligence" whose sources say the "Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting, and assisting Trump for at least 5 years," and that that Russian intelligence had "compromised" Trump during his visits to Moscow and could "blackmail him." You can read Corn's report at Mother Jones and the FBI account at The New York Times. Peter Weber

See More Speed Reads