The Psy-Group Presentation Suggests Online Trolls Swung Richard Burr’s State of North Carolina

The WSJ reports that Mueller’s team has obtained an analytical document from Psy-Group, the company of Joel Zamel, that was offering to help the Trump campaign both before and after the election.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators have obtained a presentation prepared by an Israel-based private intelligence firm that outlines ways in which Donald Trump’s 2016 election was helped by fake news and fake social-media accounts, according to people familiar with the presentation and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

[snip]

Psy-Group’s founder, Joel Zamel, is under scrutiny from U.S. investigators because of his close relationship with the government of the United Arab Emirates and his involvement in a meeting with Mr. Trump’s eldest son shortly before election day, the Journal has reported.

Mr. Zamel met with Donald Trump Jr. at Trump Tower in the weeks before the 2016 election along with George Nader, a top adviser to the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates, to discuss an offer to help boost the campaign, according to people familiar with the matter. Erik Prince, a U.S. defense contractor who specializes in the Middle East and had close ties to the campaign, attended the meeting, the Journal previously reported. People involved in the meeting say nothing came of it and the Psy-Group didn’t perform any work for the Trump campaign.

The presentation the Special Counsel is apparently scrutinizing is 9 pages; most pages describe generically how to seed bots to later swing opinion. But there’s one page that purports to show how this works in a swing state. That swing state in North Carolina.

While we can’t measure Psy-Group’s claims without a script, it seems that the group claims social media helped Trump turn a 7 point deficit in the wake of the Access Hollywood tape to a 4 point win on election day.

NC is an interesting choice because Trump also benefitted from the most aggressive voter suppression drive in the state. And because it’s the state for which Russian hacking — of VR Systems and, possibly, of poll books in disproportionately democratic precincts — may have actually affected the election.

It’s interesting for one more reason: it’s the state of Senate Intelligence Committee Chair (and Trump NatSec advisor, during the election) Richard Burr. Burr won his race by more than Trump did, but still within the scope of the swing mapped out by Psy-Group.

As I noted, the election tampering report generated by Burr’s committee, largely failed to address the vulnerability and importance of vendors like VR Systems.

Obviously, if trolls made the difference in NC, they also made the difference in PA, MI, and WI.

But we might not find that out, because the guy in charge of the purportedly responsible investigation of such things has scoped the investigation in such a way that his own re-election could not be questioned.

Yet More Proof Facebook’s Surveillance Capitalism Is Good at Surveilling — Even Russian Hackers

I’ve long tracked Facebook’s serial admission to having SIGINT visibility that nearly rivals the NSA: knowing that Facebook had intelligence corroborating NSA’s judgment that GRU was behind the DNC hack was one reason I was ultimately convinced of the IC’s claims, in spite of initial questions.

Among all his evasions and questionably correct answers in Senate testimony yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg provided another tidbit about the visibility Facebook had on the 2016 attacks.

One of my greatest regrets in running the company is that we were slow in identifying the Russian information operations in 2016. We expected them to do a number of more traditional cyberattacks, which we did identify, and notified the campaigns, that they were trying to hack into them. But we were slow to identifying [sic] the type of new information operations.

Not only did Facebook see GRU’s operations in real time, but they notified “the campaigns” about them.

Note, Zuck didn’t describe the targets in any more detail than “campaigns.” That led Robby Mook to dispute Zuck, eliciting more details from Facebook CISO Alex Stamos.

Aside from illustrating how routinely those involved in and covering the 2016 hacks confuse the possible affected targets (resulting in some real misunderstanding of what happened), Stamos’ clarification provides important new details: these hacks affected both the DNC and RNC’s key employees, and Facebook alerted the FBI (something we’ve previously heard).

The DNC likes to claim they never got any warning they were being hacked. But apparently, in addition to the FBI’s serial attempts to lead them to discover Russia was hacking them, Facebook let them know too.

Elsewhere in his testimony, Zuck got coy about the degree to which Facebook remains involved in the Mueller investigation, a fact that should have been obvious to anyone who has read the Internet Research Agency indictment, but which numerous news outlets treated as news anyway.

Facebook has a lot to answer for (this David Dayen piece on yesterday’s testimony is superb).

But one thing that has continued to trickle out is that Facebook’s surveillance capitalism is good at what it’s designed for: surveillance, including of Russian hackers.

What Did Wikileaks Do with the DCCC Emails It Monopolized?

Yesterday Buzzfeed did a story that adds important details to this report from the New Yorker last year.

In mid-August, Guccifer 2.0 expressed interest in offering a trove of Democratic e-mails to Emma Best, a journalist and a specialist in archival research, who is known for acquiring and publishing millions of declassified government documents. Assange, I was told, urged Best to decline, intimating that he was in contact with the persona’s handlers, and that the material would have greater impact if he released it first.

First, Buzzfeed describes the emails clearly as the DCCC documents (though elsewhere this article remains unreliable on some facts about what documents were what).

As Best describes, she had reached out to Guccifer 2.0 when he had asked for assistance from journalists, and ultimately then reached out to Wikileaks.

Best told BuzzFeed News she first reached out to Guccifer 2.0 in August 2016 after it posted on its WordPress account a call for journalists who wanted its files. “I sent them a Direct Message and referred to that, asking what they had in mind,” Best told BuzzFeed News over Signal. Best has experience posting large data sets, and wondered if she could host the files on archive.org, a nonprofit digital library.

But Guccifer 2.0 had another idea. “[I] gonna send a large trove to wikileaks,” it said. Best, who had DMed with WikiLeaks before, relayed that message to WikiLeaks in a direct message on Twitter. Neither party conveyed to her whether they had interacted together before.

“I told them that Guccifer 2.0 was considering giving me at least part of the cache, which is when they asked me to be their ‘agent,’ which they said I would get ‘credit’ for,” Best said. She didn’t agree to act as Assange’s agent, she said, but stopped messaging with Guccifer 2.0.

Note, this exchange shortly follows the release by Best and Wikileaks of some Turkish emails under some interesting circumstances.

Best’s outreach led to the conversation with Wikileaks, the Wikileaks side of which Buzzfeed includes.

The following is the entirety of WikiLeaks’s messages to Best that night, according to the emails she provided. All times are ET. (Twitter does not send a user copies of their own messages, so the contents Best provided are one-sided.)

8:43 p.m.: please “leave” their conversation with them and us

8:43 p.m.: we would appreciate it if you did not dump the docs and obviously archive.org will delete them anyway

9:12 p.m.: Impact is very substantially reduced if the “news” of a release doesn’t co-incide with the ability to respond to the news by searching

9:13 p.m.: non-searchable dumps are just channeled into a few orgs with technical resources. then others won’t touch them because they perceive that the cherries have all been picked by techdirt or whatever.

9:14 p.m.: and these other media groups are very likely to take a stupid initial angle

9:15 p.m.: “We don’t know if its true. Possibly russians who knows blah blah blah” because they don’t properly verify prior to publication and are scared because they’re not us, contaminating the entire release

9:18 p.m.: in that regretable event, from our perspective, please just act as our agent we can ensure you get the right credit, cross promotion etc.

As Buzzfeed notes, at 10:16 PM ET that day, Guccifer 2.0 tweeted that he would give the documents to Wikileaks (though Buzzfeed incorrectly says Guccifer 2.0 said “it had handed those documents over” to Wikileaks; the tweet in fact describes doing so prospectively).

Buzzfeed emphasizes that this proves Wikileaks knew that it obtained documents from Guccifer 2.0, and not Seth Rich (though this is one reason why Buzzfeed’s conflation of the email sets is problematic, as the Rich conspiracy pertains necessarily to the DNC documents, not the DCCC ones). Showing Wikileaks in direct coordination with Guccifer 2.0 is important.

Equally important, however, is that Wikileaks never released the DCCC documents. Having laid out reasons why it, rather than Best, should release them (because they could make them searchable, because other media outlets would take a stupid initial angle, because other outlets would emphasize the Russian source), Wikileaks then sat on them, if indeed they ever obtained them.

Meanwhile, five minutes after saying he’d dump the DCCC documents to Wikileaks, at 10:23 PM, Guccifer 2.0 sent the first tweet in what would become an exchange via DMs with Roger Stone.

Among the things Guccifer 2.0 did in that exchange was twice try to get Stone interested in the DCCC documents he was posting (though Stone did not respond).

Similarly, also on August 12, Guccifer 2.0 started discussing sharing the emails with a Republican operative named James Bambanek who says, in a recently published report that probably misunderstands one goal of Guccifer 2.0’s actions, he was conducting infosec research.

Elsewhere, Bambanek says he turned over every message immediately to the FBI, but as he notes, they would have been monitoring all this in any case.

Every [direct message] I sent, every [one] I received was turned over to the FBI immediately. I assumed they would have been monitoring the account to begin with,” Bambenek said.

Publicly, we know that Guccifer was also sharing the DCCC documents with other Republican operatives around the country. While some of these documents were unexciting, others provided the Democrats’ oppo research for congressional races. Florida was one of the states where the documents might be said to have helped Republicans (which is not coincidentally where Mueller’s focus on the Internet Research Agency seems to be).

What seems to have happened, then, is that by getting Best to agree not to publish the emails, Guccifer 2.0 then offered them up to a series of Republicans who would (whatever value the actual documents did or didn’t have) then be implicated in obtaining campaign documents from a presumed Russian source.

Contrary to what Wikileaks said, there’d be no way Republican operatives would let actually useful documents go unused, regardless of how much work they had to do to search for them. But by convincing Best not to publish them in bulk (and by not publishing them themselves!), Wikileaks created the opportunity for Guccifer 2.0 to implicate at least a handful of Republican operatives around the country.

Yes, in Bambanek’s case that happened with the knowledge of the FBI. But how many other Republicans didn’t think to admit to the FBI what they were doing?

Update: When the New Yorker story came out last August, Best said she did not know what she was being offered. I’m assuming they were the DCCC docs from the context, timing, and related actions with state based Republicans, but that may not be the case.

The Embarrass Mitch McConnell Provision of the Intel Authorization

I’ve got a piece coming out on all the Russian-related provisions in the Intelligence Authorization bill for next year, which are for the most part really laudable policy proposals. But I wanted to look more closely at this one.

SEC. 606. REPORT ON CYBER ATTACKS BY FOREIGN GOVERNMENTS AGAINST UNITED STATES ELECTION INFRASTRUCTURE.
(a) Report Required.—Not later than 60 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Intelligence and Analysis shall submit to congressional leadership and the congressional intelligence committees a report on cyber attacks and attempted cyber attacks by foreign governments on United States election infrastructure in States and localities in connection with the 2016 presidential election in the United States and such cyber attacks or attempted cyber attacks as the Under Secretary anticipates against such infrastructure. Such report shall identify the States and localities affected and shall include cyber attacks and attempted cyber attacks against voter registration databases, voting machines, voting-related computer networks, and the networks of secretaries of State and other election officials.

(b) Form.—The report submitted under subsection (a) shall be submitted in unclassified form, but may include a classified annex.

(c) Definitions.—In this section:

(1) CONGRESSIONAL LEADERSHIP.—The term “congressional leadership” includes the following:

(A) The majority leader of the Senate.

(B) The minority leader of the Senate.

(C) The Speaker of the House of Representatives.

(D) The minority leader of the House of Representatives.

(2) STATE.—The term “State” means any State of the United States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and any territory or possession of the United States.

It requires the Department of Homeland Security to submit an unclassified report on all the hacking attempts on election infrastructure last year. It will involve declassifying information that Reality Winner is facing prison time for liberating, which seems like a concession that such information has public value. 

But I’m particularly interested in the emphasis on the distribution of this report: both to the intelligence committees and to Congressional leadership, spelled out by job title. Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer, Paul Ryan, and Nancy Pelosi.

That’s interesting because — as part of their investigation into last year’s hack — the Senate Intelligence Committee has already been briefed on this information. Indeed, the day after that testimony, Bloomberg reported — relying on three sources briefed on the investigation — that the hacks were much more severe than publicly known.

Russia’s cyberattack on the U.S. electoral system before Donald Trump’s election was far more widespread than has been publicly revealed, including incursions into voter databases and software systems in almost twice as many states as previously reported.

In Illinois, investigators found evidence that cyber intruders tried to delete or alter voter data. The hackers accessed software designed to be used by poll workers on Election Day, and in at least one state accessed a campaign finance database. Details of the wave of attacks, in the summer and fall of 2016, were provided by three people with direct knowledge of the U.S. investigation into the matter. In all, the Russian hackers hit systems in a total of 39 states, one of them said.

So ultimately, if this bill becomes law, it will require an unclassified report on stuff SSCI has been getting briefing on to be submitted to both SSCI and Congressional leadership.

The move comes in the wake of complaints from Democrats that Mitch McConnell refused to back a stronger statement about such attempted attacks in fall 2016. Now, I think some of the complaints about McConnell’s inaction last year are overblown, a demand that McConnell get ahead of where the Intelligence Community was willing to go publicly. And I think they largely obscure the more pressing question of what Trump advisors Devin Nunes and Richard Burr did. 

But I am cognizant of the fact that in a matter of months, we may get a better sense of the kinds of threats to our voting system that McConnell fought against publicizing.

McCain’s Brain Versus American Lives and Healthcare

There is no joy here in the Mudville that is Arizona. John McCain may have been somebody that natives like me disfavored from the start because of his hubristic usurpation of a true legend and son of Arizona, John Rhodes, but no one here wanted this.

Not now. Not ever.

So the “press” such as they may be, can run all their blathering hagiographies. Go run with that. It’s what you do, isn’t it?

But, for now, thankfully, McCain is alive and well. I am thankful for that.

And, I hope, at this critical juncture in life, John McCain finds it within himself to realize that the healthcare that has kept him alive, and diagnosed his problems, should NOT be limited to Congresspeople and those that married into money. We all deserve the benefit of what McCain has realized.

John McCain has an opportunity to stand up now for those that have none of his storied display of heroism, nor the benefit of his position. His story, because Mr. McCain was born into military care and then segued into other money and entitlement that does not transfer to most of us. For the common citizens he has always talked about, yet curiously abandoned, when it counted in close measures on the Senate floor, where has John McCain been? Absent, that is where.

The man who lived under the press moniker “Maverick” can ride into the famous sunset of his adopted state by helping real people instead of going out with the McConnell Republicans determined to screw the populous. Who will John McCain be?

Who will John McCain be? The elusive and etherial “Maverick” he has always painted himself as being? Or the reliable vote for craven Republican policies that devastate real citizens? Arizona, indeed America itself, deserves the McCain always portrayed and lionized in his numerous campaigns. Not the guy who always defaulted to the GOP sick and craven core.

Will John McCain have the guts and glory he is famous for, and go out fighting for the common American and their human rights to healthcare and financial and educational stability? The exact things McCain has fatuously blabbered about and never really supported in Congress? Or will he do better?

Who are you truly John McCain? A dying country, in the age of Trump, wants to know.

You have a chance to now be the man you always painted yourself to be. For the sake of this country, please be that man.

Penetrated: Today’s Senate Intelligence Committee Hearing on Russian Interference in the 2016 U.S. Elections

If you didn’t catch the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Russian influence on 2016 U.S. election on live stream, you should try to catch a replay online. I missed the first panel but caught the second when University of Michigan Prof. J. Alex Halderman began his testimony with his opening statement.

The same Halderman who questioned the 2016 election could have been hacked based on his expertise.

The same Halderman who hacked a voting machine to play Pac Man.

When asked if it was possible Russia could change votes, Halderman told the SIC that he and a team of students demonstrated they were able to hack DC’s voting system, change votes, and do so undetected in under 48 hours. Conveniently, Fox News interviewed Halderman last September; Halderman explained the DC hack demonstration at that time (see embedded video); the interview fit well with Trump’s months-long narrative that the election was ‘rigged’.

If you aren’t at least mildly panicked after watching the second panel’s testimony and reading Halderman’s statement, you’re asleep or dead, or you just plain don’t care about the U.S.’ democratic system.

Contrast and compare this Senate hearing to the House Intelligence Committee’s hearing with former DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson as a witness. Johnson sent out numerous messages last year expressing his concerns about election integrity, but after listening to the second Senate panel, Johnson should have been hair-on-fire (it’s figure of speech, go with it). But the Obama administration erred out of some twisted sense of heightened sensibility about appropriateness (which would have been better suited to its policies on drone use and domestic surveillance). The excess of caution feels more like foot dragging when viewed through the lens of time and Johnson’s testimony.

Early in the hearing, Johnson as well as DHS witnesses Jeanette Manfra and Samuel Liles said there was no evidence votes were changed. It’s important to note, though, that Johnson later clarifies in a round about way there was no way to be certain of hacking at that time (about 1:36:00-1:41:00 in hearing). I find it incredibly annoying Johnson didn’t simply defer to information security experts about the possibility there may never be evidence even if there were hacks; it’s simply not within in his skill set or experience then or now to say with absolute certainty based on forensic audit there was no evidence of votes changed. Gathering that evidence never happened because federal and state laws do not provide adequately for standardized full forensic audits before, during, or after an election.

Halderman’s SIC testimony today, in contrast, makes it clear our election system was highly vulnerable in many different ways last November.

Based on the additional testimony of a representative of National Association of State Election Directors, the President-Elect of National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) & Secretary of State, Executive Director of Illinois State Board of Elections Illinois — whose combined testimony revealed lapses in communication between federal, state, and local government combined with gaps in information security education — the election system remains as vulnerable today as it was last autumn.

Nothing in either of these two hearings changed the fact we’ve been penetrated somewhere between 21 and 39 times. Was it good for you?

A Letter For Rod Rosenstein To Remember

Before there were internet “memes” there were still plays in words that conveyed huge situations beyond the mere words. One was “A Night To Remember”. Yes, even before the famous movie (and before the sappy and stupid “Titanic” decades later), it was an earlier book about the Titanic disaster. There are daily shipwrecks as significant as that now in the Age of Trump.

Today, specifically, we have the issue of a Titanic level shipwreck President crashing the country out of pettiness and ignorance like the United States has never ostensibly seen in its history.

Yesterday on Twitter, I noted that there was a telling omission in the supposed “justification” memo Rod Rosenstein penned and Trump initially claimed to rely on as basis for firing Comey:

This morning, in what I can only describe as an admirable mea culpa statement that I think will long be remembered, in a good way, Ben Wittes called for Rosenstein to go.

In the end, Trump was able to make set piece out of Rosenstein, because Rosenstein let himself be used as a set piece. And there’s an important lesson in that for the many honorable men and women with pending appointments and nominations to serve in senior levels of the Justice Department—or who are considering accepting such appointments. It took Donald Trump only two weeks to put Rosenstein, a figure of sterling reputation, in the position of choosing between continued service and behaving honorably—and it took only two days after that for the President to announce that Rosenstein’s memo, after all, was nothing more than a Potemkin village designed as a facade on Trump’s predecided outcome.

Do you really want this to be you? Do you really think Trump will not leave your reputation as so much roadkill on the highway after enlisting you in sliming someone else a week or two after you take office?

The lesson here is that these are not honorable people, and they will do their best to drag you down to their level. They will often succeed.

Here we are, and, thankfully, people in and around the Third Branch, especially in the all important Southern District of New York region (from which Comey has come and gone), are fighting back and speaking out with shouts that are from far more than the cheap seats people like me occupy.

Without further adieu, a letter from SDNY luminaries:

May 12, 2017

Rod J. Rosenstein, Esq.
Deputy Attorney General of the United States
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20530-0001

Dear Mr. Deputy Attorney General:

We, the undersigned, are former United States Attorneys and Assistant United States Attorneys for the Southern District of New York. In view of the recent termination of James Comey as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, we are writing to request that you appoint a special counsel to oversee the FBI’s continuing investigation of Russian interference with the 2016 Presidential election and related matters. This letter is addressed to you rather than the Attorney General since he has recused himself from this matter.

As you know, Jim has had a long and distinguished career with the Department of Justice, beginning with his appointment as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of New York serving under United States Attorneys Rudolph Giuliani, Benito Romano and Otto Obermaier from 1987 through 1993. He returned to the Southern District of New York in 2002 when he was appointed the United States Attorney and served in that capacity until he was confirmed as Deputy Attorney General in 2003. Most of us came to know Jim when he worked in the Southern District of New York. Many of us know him personally. All of us respect him as a highly professional and ethical person who has devoted more than 20 years of his life to public service.

While we do not all necessarily agree with the manner in which he dealt with the conclusion of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, we sincerely believe that his abrupt and belated termination for this conduct, occurring months later and on the heels of his public testimony about his oversight of the investigation of Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election, has the appearance – if not the reality – of interfering with that investigation. Even if this investigation continues unabated, there is a substantial risk that the American people will not have confidence in its results, no matter who is appointed to succeed him, given that the Director of the FBI serves at the pleasure of the President. We believe it is critical in the present political climate and clearly in the public’s interest that this investigation be directed by a truly independent, non-partisan prosecutor who is independent of the Department of Justice, as is contemplated by 28 C.F.R. §600.1.

We are Republicans, Democrats and independents. Most importantly, we are proud alumni and alumnae of the Department of Justice. We do not suggest that you or any other members of the Department of Justice or a newly appointed Director of the FBI would not conduct yourselves properly, but the gravity of this investigation requires that even the appearance of political involvement in this investigation be avoided. As former prosecutors, we believe the only solution in the present circumstances would be to appoint a Special Counsel pursuant to 28 C.F.R. §600.1, and we urge you to take that course.

Respectfully submitted,

Jonathan S. Abernethy Elkan Abramowitz Richard F. Albert
Marcus A. Asner Martin J. Auerbach Miriam Baer
Thomas H. Baer Kerri Martin Bartlett Maria Barton
Andrew Bauer Bernard W. Bell Richard Ben-Veniste
Neil S. Binder Laura Gossfield Birger Ira H. Block
Suzanne Jaffe Bloom Barry A. Bohrer Daniel H. Bookin
Jane E. Booth Katharine Bostick Laurie E. Brecher
David M. Brodsky Stacey Mortiz Brodsky William Bronnermn
Jennifer K. Brown Marshall A. Camp Bennett Capers
Michael Q. Carey Neil S. Cartusciello Sarah Chapman
Robert J. Cleary Brian D. Coad Glenn C. Colton
William Craco Nelson W. Cunningham Constance Cushman
Frederick T. Davis John M. Desmarais Rhea Dignam
Gregory L. Diskant Philip L. Douglas Sean Eskovitz
Jesse T. Fardella Meir Feder Ira M. Feinberg
Michael S. Feldberg Steven D. Feldman Edward T. Ferguson
David Finn Eric P. Fisher Sharon E. Frase
Steven I. Froot Maria T. Galeno Catherine Gallo
Robert Garcia Kay K. Gardiner Ronald L. Garnett
Scott Gilbert Barbara S. Gillers Mark Godsey
Joshua A. Goldberg James A. Goldston Mark P. Goodman
George I. Gordon Sheila Gowan Stuart GraBois
Paul R. Grand Helen Gredd Bruce Green
Marc L. Greenwald Jamie Gregg James G. Greilsheimer
Jane Bloom Grise Nicole Gueron Barbara Guss
Steven M. Haber Jonathan Halpern David Hammer
Jeffrey Harris Mark D. Harris Roger J. Hawke
Steven P. Heineman Mark R. Hellerer William Hibsher
Jay Holtmeier John R. Horan Patricia M. Hynes
Linda Imes Douglas Jensen James Kainen
Eugene Kaplan Steven M. Kaplan William C. Komaroff
David Koenigsberg Cynthia Kouril Mary Ellen Kris
Stephen Kurzman Nicole LaBarbera Kerry Lawrence
Sherry Leiwant Jane A. Levine Annmarie Levins
Raymond A. Levites Donna H. Lieberman Jon Liebman
Sarah E. Light Jon Lindsey Robin A. Linsenmayer
Edward J.M. Little Mary Shannon Little Walter Loughlin
Daniel Margolis Walter Mack Kathy S. Marks
Mark E. Matthews Marvin S. Mayell Sharon L. McCarthy
James J. McGuire Joan McPhee Christine Meding
Paul K. Milmed Judith L. Mogul David E. Montgomery
Lynn Neils Peter Neiman Rosemary Nidiry
Tai H. Park Robert M. Pennoyer Elliott R. Peters
Michael Pinnisi Robert Plotz Henry Putzel
T. Gorman Reilly Emily Reisbaum Peter Rient
Roland G. Riopelle Michael A. Rogoff Benito Romano
Amy Rothstein Thomas C. Rubin Daniel S. Ruzumna
Robert W. Sadowski Elliot G. Sagor Peter Salerno
Joseph F. Savage John F. Savarese Edward Scarvalone
Kenneth I. Schacter Frederick Schaffer Gideon A. Schor
Julian Schreibman Wendy Schwartz Linda Severin
David Siegal Marjorie A. Silver Paul H. Silverman
Charles Simon Carolyn L. Simpson David Sipiora
Dietrich L. Snell Peter Sobol Ira Lee Sorkin
David W. Spears Katherine Stanton Franklin H. Stone
Richard M. Strassberg Howard S. Sussman Erika Thomas
Richard Toder Timothy J. Treanor Paula Tuffin
Peter Vigeland David Wales Max Wild
Samuel J. Wilson Elaine Wood Paulette Wunsch
Thomas Zaccaro Ellen Zimiles
cc: Jefferson B. Sessions III, Esq.
Attorney General of the United States

This letter reflects the signers’ personal views, not of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, the U.S. Department of Justice, or any other government agency.

But it is STRONG. And it is hard to not love it completely. It is raw, and it is real. Nobody asks defense attorneys to sign these missives, nor would anybody give them credit for having done so, were they asked.

This letter, however, is from the elite of the elite prosecutors, with SDNY historic names attached to it (and sometimes significant family names you may not notice), and there are a LOT of them. Almost wonder who did “not” sign on to it?

So, what does it mean?

A LOT. If you know how District level US Attorney offices run, but especially the hallowed ground in SDNY, then you know just how unusual and remarkable is this collective letter.

Think I mentioned “stunning” earlier. It is all that.

Why? Because the problem in the US is here, and it is now. It is bigger than Red versus Blue. It is bigger than Me versus You. It is bigger than all that. There is a fracture in the very machinery governance itself runs on.

The clockworks of governance are buggered. “We are Republicans, Democrats and independents.” And we all deserve better than the orange narcissist piloting the nation into an iceberg.

The Tuesday Night Massacre

As you may have heard, President Trump has just fired FBI Director James Comey.

This is truly Nixonian Saturday Night Massacre level action.

Trump previously ran on, indeed got elected on, and likely only on, the scurrilous rogue comments of Jim Comey starting with the rogue July 5, 2016 press conference where Comey went off all rails on DOJ and PIN protocols. Here is the New York Times original report:

Mr. Comey’s dismissal was a stunning development for a president that benefited from the F.B.I. investigation of the Democratic nominee during the 2016 campaign. Separately, the F.B.I. also is investigating whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the election.

The abrupt firing raised questions over whether Mr. Trump was trying to influence the Russia investigation. But he said he was following recommendations from the Justice Department, which criticized how Mr. Comey concluded the investigation into Mrs. Clinton.

Trump actually saluted Comey for this at one point. What a micro-moment self serving, not to mention narcissistic jerk.

If anybody in the world thought that that Trump is not as craven and against the Constitutional form of government we all were born and raised on, let that no longer be a question.

And if the media cannot get their heads out of their asses and realize the danger is NOT just to their First Amendment rights, but to the core of our republic and democracy, then they too should go the way of the dodo bird.

The foundations of this cowardly play were always there if you followed the ever changing voice and words of Donald Trump regarding the Clinton email issue and how the Department of Justice handled it.

If you thought this point, and/or Comey was the one only voice that could not be fired or silenced, you are sadly mistaken.

This blog has never, and I am being kind across my writings, Marcy’s and those of our departed friend Mary, been a friend of Jim Comey. He has long, and more presently, been an uneven and self serving voice mostly interested in preservation and enhancement of his own voice and position. Comey has been preternaturally successful at this.

That said, tonight I will be in Comey’s camp. I await what my friends at Lawfare and some others may have to say regarding the Tuesday Night Massacre.

Because this is a day that should live bright for a very long time.

People glibly talk about the “Resistance”. How naive. The battle is now, and has been joined in full by a cabal that makes Nixon look like a piker. The place is here. The time is now.

The temporal fact that it is Comey that tipped a scale of justice is immaterial. It has happened.

NSA’s Spying on Le Pen Is Probably Working Better than GRU’s Spying on Macron

In advance of this report on APT 28 (the hacking group presumed to be tied to Russia’s military intelligence, GRU, blamed for the DNC hack-and-leak), Trend Micro got a lot of publicity for its report that APT 28 had targeted Emmanuel Macron, who just won the most votes in France’s presidential election and will face a run-off against Marine Le Pen in a few weeks.

At least according to Macron’s campaign, the attempts to phish his campaign were unsuccessful.

Mounir Mahjoubi, digital director of Mr. Macron’s campaign, confirmed the attempted hacking, saying that several staffers had received emails leading to the fake websites. The phishing emails were quickly identified and blocked, and it was unlikely others went undetected, Mr. Mahjoubi said.

“We can’t be 100% sure,” he said, “but as soon as we saw the intrusion attempts, we took measures to block access.”

The timing of all this is all rather interesting. Back in early February, France’s Le Canard Enchaîné exclusively reported that France’s security officials worried that Macron would be hacked, a vague report that was picked up really broadly without confirmation. Shortly thereafter, Macron claimed that his campaign had been the target of thousands of attacks from entities within Russia’s border, including a DDOS attack that took down his website for nine minutes. According to the sole mention of Macron in the Trend Micro report, the OneDrive-based phish targeting Macron took place a month later, on March 15.

These hacking attempts accompanied a great deal of fake news (and leaked gossip) targeting Macron. But at least if Macron’s own campaign is to believed, APT 28 never succeeded in its attempt to hack the favorite to be France’s next president, and so presumably has not yet succeeded in stealing emails that Russia might use to attack Macron during the run-off.

Which gives the hype about APT 28’s attempted hack a really curious character. It is treated as if Russia is the only state actor that might be spying on French presidential candidates.

Does anyone honestly believe that the United States is not spying on Le Pen, for example, given that the CIA and NSA have a history of spying on candidates with whom the US is even friendlier than Le Pen? Indeed, earlier this year, WikiLeaks published a tasking order for CIA to collect HUMINT and open source intelligence on all the parties in the 2012 French election, though without any cyber element specified. In 2010, the incumbent Pakistan People’s Party was included in NSA’s foreign government Section 702 certificate by name. And in 2012, CIA and NSA partnered to target Enrique Peña Nieto and nine of his closest associates in the weeks leading up to his victory. With both the PPP and EPN, these were nominally political parties friendly to US interests.

By comparison, it would seem that targeting Le Pen, at a time when the intelligence community has a very public concern about collusion between Russia and populist parties in Europe to destabilize Europe, would be a no-brainer.

And here’s what else gets left out of the coverage of GRU’s attempts to spy on Macron: how much easier a job the NSA might have than GRU, even ignoring NSA’s greater capabilities.

Many (though not all) of the phishing attempts detailed in the Trend Micro report pretend to be the email log-ins for US-based email providers: with virtually all the most detailed attention on Yahoo, Gmail, and Microsoft. The attempted Macron targeting exploited his campaign’s use of OneDrive. That means all the entities GRU targeted with phishes pretending to be US providers are available to NSA via Section 702, or PRISM.

In other words, to collect on the very same targets that GRU is targeting via phishing attacks that users continue to be better informed about (and that Macron claims to have withstood entirely), the NSA could just add LePen’s email address to the list over 93,000 targets being targeted under Section 702 (as they presumably did with PPP in 2010). And unlike a phishing campaign, which can be made more difficult with the use of two factor authentication, Le Pen would have no defense against collection targeting her or her campaign’s PRISM provider accounts, beyond encrypting everything that resided in an American-owned cloud (and even there, there would be a great deal of interesting metadata available). If she or key aides uses any of the major American tech providers, stealing their emails would be as easy as providing a foreign intelligence justification (one that would be bolstered by her close ties with Russia) and tracking to make sure her accounts are detasked when she comes to the US to visit Trump Tower.

All that’s on top of any more sophisticated targeting of Le Pen akin to what CIA and NSA did against EPN.

And therein lies the rub, the reason you shouldn’t be saying, “So what? We should spy on that fascist Le Pen, she’s a menace to civilization” (though I agree she is).

The NSA’s spying on Marine Le Pen is likely having more success than GRU’s spying on Emmanuel Macron. But is there any reason to believe — particularly given CIA’s targeting of all French parties in 2012 and given Trump’s stated preference for Le Pen — to think that NSA is not also targeting Macron, targeting his OneDrive in a way that would be immune from whatever defenses he is using against phishing attacks?

Here’s where folks will say, “but we don’t leak stolen communications,” in spite of some evidence that we have in the past, albeit perhaps not in a democratic election. (On that note, this Politico story exposing Mike Flynn’s ties, via his Turkish lobbying client, to Russia, relies on a WikiLeaks-released email, which is a notable instance where evidence made available by WikiLeaks may help those investigating Russia’s influence on the Trump administration.). Of course, GRU can only leak what it can steal, and Macron believes that GRU hasn’t succeeded in stealing anything.

Furthermore, we have no visibility what US policymakers in the past have done with intelligence collected on political parties. We certainly have no current limits on what Trump can do with it, aside from limits on the dissemination of that actual raw emails. We’ve always given the President great discretion on such issues, in the name of ensuring a unified foreign policy. And there are plenty of ways Trump’s administration could intervene to help Le Pen beyond just leaking any derogatory information on Macron.

All this is not to say that GRU’s reported continued attempts to hack democratic targets is not a concern (indeed, I’m at least as worried that FSB is conducting similar intelligence collection without the same easily identifiable tracks).

But it is to say that, particularly in the era where Donald Trump sets this country’s foreign policy, we need to be a lot more mindful of NSA’s own far more considerable ability to steal information on democratic candidates.

The Stein Recount Needle and the Damage Done

vote-recountI stated earlier my issues with the Jill Stein fueled “recount” effort. Since that time, there seems to be a hue and cry to the effect of “irrespective of Stein, these will be helpful and are especially needed after Trump’s lie!”.

There are many instances of that thought, but this from Will Bunch at the Philadelphia Inquirer/Daily News, a friend whom I admire and like greatly, is indicative:

The stakes are too high to calculate. But there is one other thing about Trump’s big lie about the 2016 election. Ironically, before today, the case for a recount in the three states was a tad shaky. While the threat of Russian (or other) hacking has been a valid concern, little in the way of actual evidence of a stolen election has emerged since November 8. But now that Trump has alleged massive fraud, the integrity of the American system demands that the result be audited and properly certified. So let the re-counting begin.

I disagree rather strongly.

As said, I already stated my objection to Stein’s effort, as initially targeted to Wisconsin. Let’s take a look at the situation in Pennsylvania, where Stein has putatively filed today, the last possible day legally. A quote from Pennsylvania election lawyer Gregory Harvey in local Pennsylvania press is instructive:

The biggest obstacle to this getting anywhere may be deadlines. The recount petitions come on the very last day, and if they’re designed to generate enough evidence to contest the election, that’s going to be a stretch.

Harvey, the election lawyer says the deadline for an election contest, which must spell out the specific conduct that merits overturning the result, is also Monday, Nov. 28. With a compelling case you can always ask the court to make an exception, but they tend to be pretty strict about election law — that thing about not changing the rules after the game is played.

Harvey said Steins’ prospects for success are so remote that “raising money to do something in Pennsylvania must be intended only to publicize the Green Party.”

Again, remember, there is a difference between rote “recounts” and comprehensive “audits”. This is especially germane to WI as noted previously, but also to Pennsylvania, and Michigan, should it come too. Even if the recount found something, and there is no basis to believe it will, the legal timeframe is blown. And, no, courts are not likely to remedy such laches. (So, where has Stein been for weeks since the election and before she so conveniently glommed on to, and misrepresented, Halderman et al’s report?) Ah, late breaking, indeed Wisconsin has already denied the last second recount by hand from Stein and Stein is now suing to try to overcome the administrative ruling:

Unless Stein wins her lawsuit in Dane County Circuit Court, officials in each of Wisconsin’s 72 counties would decide on their own whether to do their recounts by hand. That could mean some counties perform recounts by machine and some by hand.

Yes, shocking! And good luck with that. Again, as I have relentlessly stated, once you approach administrative boards and, even more so, courts, you need actual demonstrable bases for your argument of fraud, mistake etc. Which is something Jill Stein and her effort simply have never had. That does not cut it. Ooops!

Stein has until Wednesday to file in Michigan, but there is no reason to think the effort will be any more focused, intelligently drafted, nor timely, than has been displayed to date in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

But there are bigger issues here than Jill Stein’s folly, right? Right! Indeed there are, and Stein’s cynical effort only hurts those larger picture items. But, irrespective of all of the above, it is a wonderful thing that the votes are being recounted, right? Maybe, and quite arguably, maybe not.

If this effort involved intelligent and targeted meaningful “audits” of voting in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, that would truly yield the data we need to answer a variety of questions, I would agree wholeheartedly. But that is not what is afoot here via Stein. These are rote last second “recounts”, likely through the same tabulation mechanisms originally used, and are almost guaranteed to produce the same results, give or take minuscule deviation.

In fact, as close as I can discern from reportage, even in Stein’s first state, Wisconsin, to perform a truly different full hand count analysis requires leave of a court. And it is hard to see leave of court being given without a substantive evidentiary basis being proffered, of which there is, of course, none to date. In Pennslyvania, the outlook is no better, and arguably even more lame and adverse. That is before we ever get to Michigan, which the last second for Stein is Wednesday.

There are a lot of truly intelligent and proper purposes for all Americans, and currently Democrats, to want to test and audit the vote in this country. It is that important, and that germane to our democracy.

By the same token, it is also too important to be driven by a crass vanity project at the last second by a bit player glomming on for self promotion. This is the lifeblood of American plebiscite and democracy, and we deserve better.

But the current action is not just a curiosity that “can’t hurt” or that is suddenly necessary to react to some idiotic tweet by Trump. The stakes are higher than that. Stein’s effort is ill advised, ill counseled legally, ill targeted, ill executed and ill timed by every metric I can see.

And, yes, there can be real harm therefrom. An effort like this that does nothing but confirm the general overall propriety of the 2016 vote does nothing but confirm Trump’s election. But, more importantly, it lends a larger argument that our voting system is fair and accurate, and thus not in need of further reform and updating.

Sure, it may, for the next few weeks, counter the blindered fascination of many as to rebutting Trump’s idiotic tweet on “millions of illegal voters”, but that is transient and short sighted. In the long run, it will just feed the larger GOP effort, and they now hold both houses of Congress and the Presidency, to not reform and improve American voting mechanisms, but indeed to accept that it is all fine technologically and then go about further voter suppression and restriction measures generally.

Greg Sargent discussed this at the Washington Post Plumline this morning:

Trump has now made national news with this tweet, a response to reports that Hillary Clinton’s campaign will join a recount effort in Wisconsin and possibly Michigan and Pennsylvania as well
….
As Glenn Kessler explains, there is zero evidence that this happened. Trump will continue to reach deep into the fever swamps to shape reality for himself and his supporters — only now he’ll do so in the position as most powerful person in the world. Trump also tweeted that there was “serious voter fraud” in three states that the media refuses to report upon.

But all this may also telegraph something concrete that we might see under a Trump presidency: A far more ambitious effort to restrict access to voting than we might have expected.

“My concern is that this might be a signal that we will see an assault on voting rights,” Wendy Weiser, the director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, told me today. “Claims of nonexistent voter fraud and noncitizen voting are precisely the kinds of baseless justifications that we’ve seen for the wave of laws in the past couple of years restricting voting access.”

Yes, indeed. I think this is exactly what I am, and have been, saying. Well put by Sargent.

Democrats, and yes Greens to the extent they really care, should stop playing the game that is already lost, and 2016 is already lost, and start playing smartly as to the future. You want comprehensive and meaningful actual voting audits, as opposed to rote recounts, of the vote? Excellent! Let’s work on that for the future. Let’s do that for all states, and not just the three that Jill Stein glommed onto to self promote.

There is a fight out there to be won, but the instant “recount” effort is ill advised and not going to do squat to win it.

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