Full Circle

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A brief history of all the strange, sometimes absurd and often contradictory comments Donald Trump has made about the most controversial hacker attack in recent memory:

  • June 15, 2016: A day after the Washington Post breaks the news that the Democratic National Committee has been hacked, allegedly by Russian spies, Trump’s team issues a statement: “We believe it was the DNC that did the ‘hacking’ as a way to distract from the many issues facing their deeply flawed candidate and failed party leader.”

News of the hack of the Democratic National Committee first broke in mid-June. That’s when Crowdstrike, a firm that analyzes threats to network security, revealed that the DNC had called it in to inspect the party’s servers, where it found “two separate Russian intelligence-affiliated adversaries present in the DNC network.” Crowdstrike released a comprehensive report of its findings on June 14, which accompanied a Washington Post article detailing the attacks. One of the hacking groups, Crowdstrike found, had access to the DNC servers for almost a year.

A day after that report, someone calling themselves Guccifer 2.0 (an allusion to notorious hacker Guccifer) claimed responsibility for the hack in a blog post. Through the blog and an accompanying Twitter account, Guccifer 2.0 refuted Crowdstrike’s claims that this was a Russian operation, instead calling himself a “lone hacker.” He also claimed to have handed much of the DNC bounty to Wikileaks.

On the same day, a hacker calling himself Guccifer 2.0 says he’s given the hacked emails to WikiLeaks, and also publishes them himself, complete with telltale Russian-language formatting errors.

Guccifer 2.0” is a person or persona stating they were the hacker(s) that hacked into the Democratic National Committee (DNC) computer network and then leaked its documents to the media, the website WikiLeaks, and a conference event. Some of the documents they say they released appear to be forgeries cobbled together from public information and previous hacks, which they then salted with disinformation.

The U.S. Intelligence Community concluded that some of the genuine leaks that Guccifer 2.0 has said were part of a series of cyberattacks on the DNC were committed by two Russian intelligence groups.

But some of the most compelling evidence linking the DNC breach to Russia was found at the beginning of July by Thomas Rid, a professor at King’s College in London, who discovered an identical command-and-control address hardcoded into the DNC malware that was also found on malware used to hack the German Parliament in 2015. According to German security officials, the malware originated from Russian military intelligence. An identical SSL certificate was also found in both breaches.

The evidence mounts from there. Traces of metadata in the document dump reveal various indications that they were translated into Cyrillic. Furthermore, while Guccifer 2.0 claimed to be from Romania, he was unable to chat with Motherboard journalists in coherent Romanian. Besides which, this sort of hacking wouldn’t exactly be outside of Russian norms.

  • July 27, 2016: In a news conference, Trump addresses the Russian hacking scandal: “They hacked—they probably have her 33,000 emails. I hope they do,” he says. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” Cybersecurity experts described the remarks as “unprecedented” and “possibly illegal.”

“It doesn’t strain credulity to look to the Russians,” says Morgan Marquis-Boire, a malware expert with CitizenLab. “This is not the first time that Russian hackers has been behind intrusions in US government, and it seems unlikely that it will be the last.” Last year Russian hackers were able to breach White House and State Department email servers, gleaning information even from President Obama’s Blackberry.

As compelling as the evidence is, there’s still a small amount of room to argue that Guccifer 2.0 was a lone actor, an individual motivated by hacktivist ideals of dismantling state power. He wouldn’t be the first. And in a recent interview on NBC, Julian Assange of Wikileaks gave a soft disavowal of claims that his whistleblowing organization is in cahoots with Russian intelligence, “Well, there is no proof of that whatsoever,” he said. “We have not disclosed our source, and of course, this is a diversion that’s being pushed by the Hillary Clinton campaign.”

This is, of course, the same Assange who boasts responsibility for helping find Snowden a home in Russia and Wikileaks publicly criticized the Panama Papers for implicating Putin in financial misdeeds. He’s also an outspoken frequent critic of Hillary Clinton’s time at the State Department. A damning document dump the weekend before Clinton’s nomination arguably aligns with both Russian interests and his own.

If the allegations do prove correct, this is an unprecedented step for Russia. Hacking is nothing new, but publicizing documents to attempt to sway an election certainly is. Putin would clearly prefer a Trump presidency. The billionaire Republican candidate is a longtime admirer of Putin’s, and has publicly stated that he wouldn’t necessarily defend NATO allies against a Russian invasion. To top it all off, Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, formerly worked as an advisor to Viktor Yanukovych, the Russian-backed President of Ukraine before he was ousted in 2014.

  • September 26, 2016: In the first presidential debate: “I don’t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC. [Clinton’s] saying Russia, Russia, Russia, but I don’t—maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?” Weeks earlier, according to NBC News, both Trump and Clinton had been given classified briefings by intelligence agencies that included “extensive” information about the hacking incidents, which implicated Russia.
  • October 10, 2016: Days after the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence release a unanimous assessment that the hacking incidents were authorized by “Russia’s senior-most officials,” Trump questions in the second presidential debate whether any hacking occurred at all. “I notice, any time anything wrong happens, they like to say the Russians,” he says. “Well, [Clinton] doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking.”
  • October 20, 2016: In the third presidential debate:

     

    • Trump: [Clinton] has no idea whether it is Russia, China or anybody else.
    • Clinton: I am not quoting myself.
    • Trump: You have no idea.
    • Clinton: I am quoting seventeen, seventeen [US intelligence agencies.] Do you doubt…
    • Trump: Our country has no idea.
  • December 7, 2016: In an interview with Time Magazine after his election, Trump reiterates, “It could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.”
  • December 9, 2016: The Washington Post reports that the CIA believes the Russian government hacked the DNC with the explicit intention of helping Trump win the election. Trump’s transition team responds in a short statement: “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.” Trump has at this point taken multiple presidential briefings from the intelligence agencies.

There is also a contingent of the right that has performed a full reversal on WikiLeaks while supporting Trump, like Fox News’ Sean Hannity, who once called for Assange to be arrested, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who once compared him to Al Qaeda. “I apologize for condemning Assange when he published my infamous (and proven noncontroversial, relatively boring) emails years ago,” she wrote on Facebook on Tuesday evening.

  • December 11, 2016: Trump tells Fox News: “Nobody really knows, and hacking is very interesting. Once they hack, if you don’t catch them in the act you’re not going to catch them.”

Breach remediation firm Crowdstrike points out that it did in fact catch the hackers “in the act,” monitoring their activities inside the DNC network for weeks. A few days later, an FBI official tells the Associated Press the bureau now backs the CIA’s assessment that Russia hacked the DNC to help elect Trump.

  • December 29, 2016: Obama imposes new sanctions on Russia and ejects 35 Russian diplomats from the US.

Trump writes in a statement that “It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things. Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation.”

  • December 31, 2016: Trump again doubts the intelligence agencies in a news conference in Florida: “I know a lot about hacking. And hacking is a very hard thing to prove. So it could be somebody else. And I also know things that other people don’t know, and so they cannot be sure of the situation.” He says he’ll reveal something about the hacking incidents on Tuesday or Wednesday of this week.
  • January 3, 2017: Trump tweets that his intelligence briefing on the Russian hacking evidence has been postponed.
    • The “Intelligence” briefing on so-called “Russian hacking” was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!
      — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2017

NBC News reports the briefing had always been scheduled for Friday.

  • January 4, 2017: Trump tweets:
    • Julian Assange said “a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta” – why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!
      — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2017

      The statement conflates the hack of Clinton staffer John Podesta with the hack of the DNC. The DNC hack was believed to have used more sophisticated malware rather than the phishing attack that stole Podesta’s email password. Trump adds that the DNC should have had “hacking defense” like the Republican National Committee, ignoring a report from the New York Times that the Republican National Committee was also breached by hackers.

      Trump’s comments were almost unanimously rebuked on both sides of the aisle, even if some Republicans wouldn’t explicitly respond to Trump directly. House Speaker Paul Ryan said he hoped Trump would be “better informed” after a Friday briefing and decried Assange as a “sycophant for Russia.” Sen. Tom Cotton offered: “I have a lot more faith in our intelligence officers serving around the world, very smart and experienced analysts that we have here in the nation’s capital than I do in people like Julian Assange, I can tell you that much.” Without naming Trump, Rep. Will Hurd offered a rebuttal to the president-elect: “The same people who condemned Secretary Clinton for making sensitive and classified information vulnerable by using an unsecure server should be equally outraged that Assange continues to carelessly leak sensitive documents.”

  • January 5, 2017: Trump tweets:
    • So how and why are they so sure about hacking if they never even requested an examination of the computer servers? What is going on?
      — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 6, 2017

      At this point, NBC News had reported that the FBI said they had already captured the necessary forensic data via “upstream” intelligence, a term that refers to capturing data in transit.

  • January 6, 2017: After a briefing by the heads of the NSA, FBI, CIA, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Trump offers a mealy-mouthed statement that neither confirmed nor denies that Russia hacked the DNC. “While Russia, China, other countries, other groups and people are constantly trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our government institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democratic National Committee,” Trump’s statement reads, “there was no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines.”
  • January 11th, 2017 Trump says at a press conference: “As far as hacking, I think it was Russia, but we also get hacked by other countries and other people.” He offers no acknowledgement that he’s just admitted to a conclusion he’s fought, denied, and skirted for more than seven months. (1/11/2017 12:45pm EST with another comment from Trump)

So there you have it. A full circle.

About Terry Welshans

I grew up in Burbank, California. My dad worked at a company that made sub assemblies for about every airplane made in the 1960-1970 era, so it was only natural that the aviation bug bit me while I was quite young. I hold a commercial pilot certificate and fly as much as I can. I live in Bardstown, Kentucky with my wife, moving here after we retired. I am a Vietnam veteran and a cancer survivor. I like to keep politicians honest, and do so when they open an avenue where I feel they have erred.
This entry was posted in CIA, Denialism, DHS, FBI, Homeland Security, Russia, United States. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Full Circle

  1. wordcloud9 says:

    Thanks Terry –

    He can afford to sort of admit it now – the election is over, the Electoral College has voted, and his abominable inauguration is drawing ever closer.

    The Democrats are in the minority in the House and the Senate. Unless they present a completely united front (practically unprecedented in Democratic Party history), AND a few unlikely Republicans join them who still place country first and party second, we will soon have a right-wing Supreme Court again – all three branches of the Federal government will be in the control of right-wing Blatherskites, Prevaricators and Oligarchs. The essential “Checks and Balances” established by the Founding Fathers will be shattered.

    Why the Obama Administration has not moved heaven and earth to install a Special Prosecutor to investigate Comey’s complicit behavior before Trump takes over and buries everything is beyond me. If Trump shut it down before it ran its course, it would be a far better bat to bludgeon him with than the faux ‘Bengazi!’ or ‘Emails!’ issues used to discredit Clinton.

    Silence means consent – it’s past time for the Democrats to ROAR, and never, ever back down or compromise. Otherwise, the Republicans will open the gate wide for the Barbarians, and gleefully help with the looting..

  2. ann summers says:

    Thanks for this we need more time lines for what may eclipse Watergate

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