New Evidence: Yes, the Russians Hacked the DNC Servers

Posted: Mar 23, 2018 3:50 PM

Let's set aside the DNC's bizarre partial obstruction of the FBI's investigation into their server hack.  Let's set aside the DNC's role in paying for the uncorroborated Steele dossier -- and the role that document played in the tainted surveillance of a former Trump campaign associate.  Let's also set aside the strange connections involving the DNC allies at Fusion GPS in all of this.  Part of the wider Russia story is determining the extent to which Kremlin operatives meddled in our 2016 presidential election, a key piece of which was the DNC hack, the results of which were released to the world via Wikileaks.  Via the Daily Beast, US intelligence officials have seized on a mistake by their counterparts on Moscow to prove that the mysterious source of the Democratic Party's server intrusion can be traced back directly to the Russian government:

Guccifer 2.0, the “lone hacker” who took credit for providing WikiLeaks with stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee, was in fact an officer of Russia’s military intelligence directorate (GRU), The Daily Beast has learned. It’s an attribution that resulted from a fleeting but critical slip-up in GRU tradecraft...Guccifer 2.0 sprang into existence on June 15, 2016, hours after a report by a computer security firm forensically tied Russia to an intrusion at the Democratic National Committee. In a series of blog posts and tweets over the following seven months—conspicuously ending right as Trump took office and not resuming—the Guccifer persona published a smattering of the DNC documents while gamely projecting an image as an independent Romanian hacktivist who’d breached the DNC on a lark....Guccifer famously pretended to be a “lone hacker” who perpetrated the digital DNC break-in. From the outset, few believed it. Motherboard conducted a devastating interview with Guccifer that exploded the account’s claims of being a native Romanian speaker. Based on forensic clues in some of Guccifer’s leaks, and other evidence, a consensus quickly formed among security experts that Guccifer was completely notional.

Ehmke led an investigation at ThreatConnect that tried to track down Guccifer from the metadata in his emails. But the trail always ended at the same data center in France. Ehmke eventually uncovered that Guccifer was connecting through an anonymizing service called Elite VPN, a virtual private networking service that had an exit point in France but was headquartered in Russia. But on one occasion, The Daily Beast has learned, Guccifer failed to activate the VPN client before logging on. As a result, he left a real, Moscow-based Internet Protocol address in the server logs of an American social media company, according to a source familiar with the government’s Guccifer investigation. Working off the IP address, U.S. investigators identified Guccifer 2.0 as a particular GRU officer working out of the agency’s headquarters on Grizodubovoy Street in Moscow.

It wasn't some random hacker.  It wasn't a fat slob in a basement somewhere.  It wasn't a murdered DNC staffer.  It was the Russians' foreign military intelligence agency, which engaged in a series of actions to disrupt Americans' faith in our electoral process -- just as our intelligence community has assessed for more than a year.  Some people will never be convinced of this fact, including a cohort of Americans who would rather believe Putin's propaganda over their own country's unified intelligence assessment.  But for most people, this is just another powerful piece of hard evidence detailing Moscow's treacherous meddling.  The Daily Beast's story tries to introduce a strong Trump angle, but Ed Morrissey isn't particularly impressed: "Spencer Ackerman and Kevin Poulson argue that the news also “move[s] the investigation closer to Trump himself.” Er, not really, although it clearly rebuts Trump’s earlier claims that the DNC hack might not have been conducted by Russia. We already knew that Roger Stone had been in contact with Guccifer 2.0 because Stone publicly declared it a years ago. That contact came after the hack, Stone insisted, and whether or not it’s true, Stone’s contact with Guccifer 2.0 has been well known for a long time. There’s nothing in the rest of this story to suggest that the revelation provides any more connection to Trump and his campaign than the data points already known."  In any case, this is good news:

For the first time since the 2016 election, Congress is poised to move legislation to combat hackers and online trolls targeting American democracy.  Senior Republicans and Democrats will come together on Thursday to stump for a revised version of a stalled election security proposal that has gained new momentum in recent days. The measure has now gathered enough backing from high-level lawmakers that it could prove the first concrete action taken in response to repeated calls from cybersecurity experts, election integrity advocates and state officials for Congress to help cash-strapped states upgrade their aging voting technology in the wake of the Russian hacks and disinformation campaigns that roiled the 2016 presidential race. When the updated bill is reintroduced Thursday afternoon, it will include sponsorship from the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, giving the legislation the leadership backing it previously lacked.

The number one objective of all of these Russia probes should be to get to the very bottom of the Kremlin's machinations and take active steps to thwarting future interference.  And Republicans should recognize that if Putin and his gang had decided that it was the GOP that they wanted to troll and harm (as they very well may in the future, as they partially did in 2016), the party would rightly be screaming bloody murder about foreign influence in the campaign.  The Democrats may not be entirely innocent victims here, as some of their fingerprints are on various pieces of this Russia puzzle, but every American should stand against a hostile power using subterfuge to impact our democracy.