Russian agents hacked US voting system manufacturer before US election – report

The NSA is convinced that the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate was responsible for interfering in the 2016 presidential election. Photograph: Larry W. Smith/EPA

Russian intelligence agents hacked a US voting systems manufacturer in the weeks leading up to last year’s presidential election, according to the Intercept, citing what it said was a highly classified National Security Agency (NSA) report.

The revelation coincided with the arrest of Reality Leigh Winner, 25, a federal contractor from Augusta, Georgia, who was charged with removing classified material from a government facility and mailing it to a news outlet.

The hacking of senior Democrats’ email accounts during the campaign has been well chronicled, but vote-counting was thought to have been unaffected, despite concerted Russian efforts to penetrate it.

Russian military intelligence carried out a cyber-attack on at least one US voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than a hundred local election officials days before the poll, the Intercept reported on Monday.

The website, which specialises in national security issues, said the NSA document had been provided to it anonymously and independently authenticated. “The report, dated May 5, 2017, is the most detailed US government account of Russian interference in the election that has yet come to light,” it continued.

On Monday afternoon, the justice department said Winner had been arrested by the FBI at her home on Saturday and appeared in federal court in Augusta on Monday. She is a contractor with Pluribus International Corporation, assigned to a US government agency facility in Georgia, it added. She has been employed at the facility since on or about 13 February and held a top-secret clearance during that time.

Winner’s mother, Billie Winner-Davis, told the Guardian that her daughter was a former linguist in the US air force who spoke Farsi, Pashto and Dari.

“I never thought this would be something she would do,” said Winner-Davis. “She’s expressed to me that she’s not a fan of Trump, but she’s not someone that goes and riots and pickets or stuff.”

The NSA report makes clear that, despite recent denials by the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, the NSA is convinced that the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) was responsible for interfering in the 2016 presidential election.

The document reportedly states: “Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate actors … executed cyber espionage operations against a named U.S. company in August 2016, evidently to obtain information on elections-related software and hardware solutions. … The actors likely used data obtained from that operation to … launch a voter registration-themed spear-phishing campaign targeting U.S. local government organizations.”

The intelligence assessment acknowledges that there is still a great deal of uncertainty over how successful the Russian operatives were and does not reach a conclusion about whether it affected the outcome of the election, in which Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton hinged on three closely contested states.

But the suggestion that Russian hackers may gained at least a foothold in electronic voting systems is likely to add even more pressure to special counsel and congressional investigations. The Obama administration maintained that it took preventive measures to successfully guard against breaches of the systems in all 50 states.

The former FBI director James Comey is set to testify before the Senate intelligence committee on Thursday regarding Russian meddling in the election.

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper web site.

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Trump campaign’s frequent talks with Russian intelligence

 President Trump spoke with Vladimir V. Putin on Jan. 28. His national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, right, resigned Monday. Credit Jonathan Ernst/Reuters


President Trump spoke with Vladimir V. Putin on Jan. 28. His national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, right, resigned Monday. Credit Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.

The call logs and intercepted communications are part of a larger trove of information that the F.B.I. is sifting through as it investigates the links between Mr. Trump’s associates and the Russian government, as well as the hacking of the D.N.C., according to federal law enforcement officials. As part of its inquiry, the F.B.I. has obtained banking and travel records and conducted interviews, the officials said.

A report from American intelligence agencies that was made public in January concluded that the Russian government had intervened in the election in part to help Mr. Trump, but did not address whether any members of the Trump campaign had participated in the effort.

The intercepted calls are different from the wiretapped conversations last year between Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, and Sergey I. Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States. In those calls, which led to Mr. Flynn’s resignation on Monday night, the two men discussed sanctions that the Obama administration imposed on Russia in December.

But the cases are part of American intelligence and law enforcement agencies’ routine electronic surveillance of the communications of foreign officials.

The F.B.I. declined to comment. The White House also declined to comment Tuesday night, but earlier in the day, the press secretary, Sean Spicer, stood by Mr. Trump’s previous comments that nobody from his campaign had contact with Russian officials before the election.

No pre-election contacts between the Trump team and Russian officials, says Sean Spicer

Two days after the election in November, Sergei A. Ryabkov, the deputy Russian foreign minister, said “there were contacts” during the campaign between Russian officials and Mr. Trump’s team.

“Obviously, we know most of the people from his entourage,” Mr. Ryabkov told Russia’s Interfax news agency.

The Trump transition team denied Mr. Ryabkov’s statement. “This is not accurate,” Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for Mr. Trump, said at the time.

The National Security Agency, which monitors the communications of foreign intelligence services, initially captured the calls between Mr. Trump’s associates and the Russians as part of routine foreign surveillance. After that, the F.B.I. asked the N.S.A. to collect as much information as possible about the Russian operatives on the phone calls, and to search through troves of previous intercepted communications that had not been analyzed.

The only Trump associate named in the New York Times report as having participated in the contacts was Paul Manafort, who was the Trump campaign manager for several months last summer. He had previously worked as an adviser to the former Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, who was backed by Moscow, and pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs.

Manafort has repeatedly denied any contacts with Russian officials. He told the New York Times on Tuesday: “I have never knowingly spoken to Russian intelligence officers, and I have never been involved with anything to do with the Russian government or the Putin administration or any other issues under investigation today.”

“It’s not like these people wear badges that say, ‘I’m a Russian intelligence officer,’” he added.

Read more about the Trump team/Russia connections on the New York Times and on The Guardian newspapers.

 

US intelligence report: Vladimir Putin ‘ordered’ operation to get Trump elected

The report found that a multifaceted Russian campaign, going beyond the high-profile data breaches, included state-owned media and social media campaigns. Photograph: Alexander Utkin/AFP/Getty Images

The report found that a multifaceted Russian campaign, going beyond the high-profile data breaches, included state-owned media and social media campaigns. Photograph: Alexander Utkin/AFP/Getty Images

This report, available as PDF below, on Vladimir Putin and Russian influence in getting Donald Trump elected President of the United States is a declassified version of a highly classified assessment; its conclusions are identical to those in the highly classified assessment but this version does not include the full supporting information on key elements of the influence campaign.

Declassified assessment says Russia ‘had clear preference’ for Trump, who met with US intelligence chiefs on Friday but refused to endorse their findings. You may read this declassified report and decide for yourself.

“We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary [Hillary] Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump,” the agencies found in a long-awaited report that stands to hang over the head of the incoming Trump administration.

Though the declassified report lacks detail, never before has the US intelligence apparatus publicly assessed a foreign power to have interfered in an election for the benefit of an incoming president.

The three US intelligence agencies assessed with “high confidence” that Russian military intelligence was behind anonymous hacking entities Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks.com, and relayed to WikiLeaks data stolen from prominent Democrats. WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange has denied receiving any material from the Russians.

“Moscow most likely chose WikiLeaks because of its self-proclaimed reputation for authenticity. Disclosures through WikiLeaks did not contain any evident forgeries,” the agencies found.

The intelligence assessment found that a multifaceted Russian influence campaign, going beyond the data breaches at the Democratic National Committee, began as an effort to undermine Clinton’s “expected presidency” and included state-owned media and social media campaigns. It foreshadowed “future influence efforts worldwide, including against US allies and their election processes”.

“We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him,” the report said.

After meeting with US intelligence officials at Trump Tower, Trump did not endorse the conclusion of Russian interference but said he would task his administration with devising a new plan to “aggressively combat and and stop cyber attacks”.

In a statement following his meeting with intelligence chiefs, Trump discussed digital intrusions in a generic sense, referring to “Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people” that engage in digital theft, remaining agnostic on the intelligence agencies’ conclusion of Russian interference.

He said it was ultimately irrelevant, describing the data penetration and leak as having “absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election”.

Brian Bartholomew of Russia-based security firm Kaspersky believes the hacks were the work of a group known by several code names, among them Fancy Bear, Sofacy and APT 29.

Bartholomew told the Guardian that while Kaspersky tends to shy away from attribution and focus on deterrence and analysis, it had already become difficult to reach any other conclusion than that Russian state actors were behind the Fancy Bear hacks.

“[Julian] Assange said it could have been a 14-year-old hacker – if you look at the collective operations of this group, there’s no way a 14-year-old has this much money, time and effort to conduct all of these operations together,” he said.

Kaspersky believes Fancy Bear controlled several operations attributed to Islamic State and other international groups, among them hacks on TV5Monde, the German Bundestag and the Democratic National Committee. Those attacks look sloppy and public by design, Bartholomew said.

“What it came down to was essentially plausible deniability,” he said. “You have an espionage group that is linked to a nation-state group; if you have a group that is targeting media or election systems, that’s taking it past the line that traditional groups used to follow.”

The fronts for Fancy Bear allowed a more organized and well-funded actor to pretend to be a gang of dissidents that just happened to act in a way that furthered the interests of the group backing them. “It all forms a line with the Russian sphere of influence,” said Bartholomew.

Bartholomew said he hoped the new report would contain at least some new technical details. Instead, it contains an analysis of Russian state news outlet Russia Today dating back more than four years, and the detail that among other tactics, the Russian GRU intelligence agency is said to have hired Twitter trolls.

You may download the declassified report in PDF format here…. assessing-russian-activities-and-intentions-in-recent-us-elections

You may read the complete article on The Guardian web site here.

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The alarming response to Russian meddling in American democracy.

A mural in Vilnius depicting Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photograph: Petras Malukas/AFP/Getty Images

A mural in Vilnius depicting Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photograph: Petras Malukas/AFP/Getty Images

Before the election a joint public statement by the director of national intelligence and secretary of homeland security said that intelligence agencies are “confident” that the Russian government directed the hacking. That statement did little to sway supporters of Donald Trump, who heard their candidate cast doubt on that intelligence finding, and instead revel in the contents of the stolen e-mails as they hit the press. This, Mr Trump, was just more evidence that his opponent deserved the soubriquet “Crooked Hillary”.

All that has changed materially in recent days is that—thanks to reporting by the Washington Post and New York Times—we now know that the CIA briefed senior members of Congress before and after the election that, in the consensus view of intelligence analysts, the Russians’ motive was not just to undermine confidence in American democracy generally, but actively to seek Mrs Clinton’s defeat. These latest revelations have probably not changed any minds at all. Republicans who hate Mrs Clinton are still delighted that she was defeated. Democrats who loathe and fear Mr Trump have one more reason to dislike him. Outside Washington, red-blooded Americans who mostly rather dislike President Vladimir Putin (pictured), according to polls, seem to be shrugging off the latest allegations.

The problem is not that all Republicans in Congress dismiss the claim that Russia tried to meddle in the election. Committee chairmen have promised urgent hearings. “We cannot allow foreign governments to interfere in our democracy,” said Representative Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican and chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. Senator John McCain of Arizona, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and no friend of Russia, told reporters: “Everybody that I know, unclassified, has said that the Russians interfered in this election. They hacked into my campaign in 2008; is it a surprise to anyone?” The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Devin Nunes of California, has said that he believes Russia is guilty, but then turned his fire on the Obama administration, saying that President Barack Obama’s desire for a “reset” of relations with Moscow had led him and his spy chiefs to fail “to anticipate Putin’s hostile actions.”

Congressional Republicans are stuck. They have long dreamed of unified government, in which they control both chambers of Congress and the White House, so that they can advance the sort of conservative programme that they believe will set the country on the right course. Smart and candid Republicans always conceded in private that securing the White House was hard because core elements of their programme—eg, cutting taxes for big corporations and slashing regulations—are not very popular. Now they have found a populist standard-bearer who has an astonishing ability to speak to working-class voters, notably whites living in bleak Rust Belt states, and to carry them into power on his coat-tails. Many elements of Mr Trump’s policies make thoughtful Republicans queasy to the point of misery, from his fondness for Mr Putin to his willingness to pick up the telephone and bully company bosses into keeping specific factory jobs in America, as if he were a Gaullist French president rather than leader of a free-market democracy. But many millions of those Mr Trump brought into the party are Trump voters more than they are Republicans, and they frighten and cow members of the party that he has captured.

Some may wonder if this latest squabble matters. There is no evidence of actual collusion between Mr Trump and Russia. Mr Putin’s fierce dislike of Mrs Clinton, who as secretary of state questioned the validity of the 2011 elections in Russia, is more than enough motive to want her defeated. It is unknowable whether the last-minute leaks of Democratic e-mails affected the result. Most straightforwardly, a close election is over and Democratic leaders are not questioning the result.

This squabble does matter. When the next president of America takes his oath of office in January, officers of Russian intelligence can savour a historic win. And that astonishing, appalling fact has divided, not united, the two parties that run the world’s great democracy. That should be enough to unsettle anyone.

Read the complete article on The Economist magazine web site here.