The Macron Hack: Sometimes the Metadata Is (Part of) the Message

After he claimed he hadn’t been hacked, 4Chan released documents from some of Emmanuel Macron’s associates (along with a whole lot of crap) last night, just minutes before by French law the candidates and press have to stop talking about the election. Given that the hacking group believed to be associated with Russia’s military intelligence GRU had been trying to phish Macron’s campaign, it is widely assumed that these files came from GRU. That’s a safe starting assumption but it has not been proven.

Here’s one review of what we know about the documents so far. Here’s advice for France on how to avoid having this become the centerpiece of the next few days.

Thus far, the most remarked aspect of individual documents from the dump (which I haven’t started reading yet) is the metadata. For example, a good number of the Microsoft documents have Russian names or metadata in them. In addition, some people are claiming that metadata associated with forgeries in the dump point to specific equipment.

As a result, a number of people have uncritically said that this makes the dump just like the DNC dump, which is further proof that the same sloppy Russians did it.

Except in doing so, most reveal untested assumptions from that DNC dump.

Back when the DNC documents came out, a number of (these very same) people noted that there was Russian metadata in those documents, as well as the name Felix Drzezhinsky, the founder of the Soviet secret police. This was described, persistently, as an accident.

The metadata in the leaked documents are perhaps most revealing: one dumped document was modified using Russian language settings, by a user named “Феликс Эдмундович,” a code name referring to the founder of the Soviet Secret Police, the Cheka, memorialised in a 15-ton iron statue in front of the old KGB headquarters during Soviet times. The original intruders made other errors: one leaked document included hyperlink error messages in Cyrillic, the result of editing the file on a computer with Russian language settings. After this mistake became public, the intruders removed the Cyrillic information from the metadata in the next dump and carefully used made-up user names from different world regions, thereby confirming they had made a mistake in the first round.

I noted, even at the time, the claim that someone who deliberately adopted the name of Iron Felix just accidentally saved the document with cyrillic characters made zero sense.

Particularly with regards to the Russian metadata, you don’t both adopt a notable Russian spook’s ID while engaging in a false flag but then “accidentally” leave metadata in the files, although the second paragraph here pertains to Guccifer 2 and not the Crowdstrike IDed hackers.

Moreover, Guccifer 2 himself pointed out what Sam Biddle had already reported: the identity metadata was not limited to Iron Felix, but included Che Guevara and (I’ve been informed) Zhu De.

Since then, some folks have looked closer and compellingly argued that the Russian metadata “accidentally” left in the documents was actually made at significant effort by opening a word document, putting some settings onto Russian language, and then copying one after another document into that document.

That said, that doesn’t mean — as some of the same folks suspect — that a Hillary staffer made the documents. This post provides five alternative possibilities.

And one thing that those arguing the Guccifer figure was created to obfuscate Russia’s role didn’t connect that claim that — as I’ve heard and Jim Comey recently confirmed — this second DNC hacker was obnoxiously loud in the DNC servers.

COMEY: The only thing I’d add is they were unusually loud in their intervention. It’s almost as if they didn’t care that we knew what they were doing or that they wanted us to see what they were doing. It was very noisy, their intrusions in different institutions.

Effectively, then, the second DNC hacker (usually attributed to GRU) was leaving graffiti inside the DNC servers and Guccifer 2 effectively left graffiti on the documents he released.

In any case, the same rush to interpret the metadata is happening now on the Macron hack as it did with the DNC hack, with repeated claims the hackers — whom people assume are the same as the ones that targeted DNC — are sloppily leaving metadata again.

If they are the same hackers (which has not yet been proven) then we sure as hell ought not assume that the metadata is there accidentally. Again, that doesn’t mean this isn’t GRU. But it does mean the last time people made such assumptions they ended up arguing ridiculously that someone trying to obscure his ties to Russia was at the same time paying tribute to them.

Sometimes, it turns out, the metadata is the message.

Whither Shadow Brokers in Discussions of Foreign Hacks of America?

Since Shadow Brokers first started leaking apparent NSA tools in August, there have been very few mentions of the compromise from Congress. Adam Schiff expressed some concern about the compromise at the time (though not about the failures of the Vulnerabilities Equities Process the leaks appeared to indicate). And the HPSCI report on Edward Snowden had a sentence stating, “Recent security breaches at NSA underscore the necessity for the agency to improve its security posture,” though that reference doesn’t name Hal Martin, the still unnamed NSA TAO employee who stole some hacking tools in 2015 referred to in a November WaPo article, or Shadow Brokers (which may or may not have relied on Martin as a source).

That silence continued today in the Senate Armed Services Committee on Foreign Cyber Threats to the US. Even if Shadow Brokers is not a Russian group, as many people speculated back in August, or even foreign, wouldn’t the exposure of NSA’s (dated) hacking tools pose a cyber threat by itself?

But there were two exchanges in the hearing that may have pointed to Shadow Brokers. Even if they did not, both are worth bookmarking for the assertions made. In the first exchange, Tom Cotton (who, in addition to SASC, is also on SSCI, so would be privy to any Shadow Brokers information shared with the full intelligence committees) tried to narrowly bracket what the IC means when it refers to Russia hacking the US (after 1:24).

Cotton: We’ve heard a lot of imprecise language here today and it’s been in the media here as well. Phrases like “hacked the election,” “undermine democracy,” “intervened in election.” So I want to be more precise here. Director Clapper let’s go to the October 7 statement. That says, quote, “the recent compromises of emails from US persons and institutions including from US political organizations” was directed by the Russian government.” Are we talking there specifically about the hack of the DNC and the hack of John Podesta’s emails?

Clapper: Yes.

Cotton: Are we talking about anything else?

Clapper: That was, essentially at the time, what we were talking about.

Cotton: At the time then — it says that “recent disclosures through websites like DC Leaks and Wikileaks … are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian directed efforts.” DNC emails were leaked first, I believe, in July.  Is that what the statement is talking about there?

Clapper: I believe so.

Cotton: Mr. Podesta’s emails were not leaked I believe until that very day on October 7, so was the statement referring to that, yet, or was that not intending to be included?

Clapper: I’d have to research the exact chronology of when John Podesta’s emails were compromised. But I think though that that bears on my statement that our assessment now is even more resolute than it was with that statement on the 7th of October. [my emphasis]

Cotton’s statement is odd in any case. He makes no mention of the DCCC, which of course had also been hacked by October 7. Moreover, in his second citation from the DHS/ODNI statement, he omits the reference to the Guccifer 2 persona, who leaked the DCCC documents as well as some DNC files and — according to him, at least — handed those over to Wikileaks. So in his effort to inject precision into this discussion, he’s either introducing imprecision, or he’s revealing details from classified briefings.

In any case, in response to Cotton’s questions, Clapper admits that the only hack referenced in the October 7 statement (though it’s clear he doesn’t have these facts ready at hand). But then he suggests — without much emotion — that what the IC was talking about on October 7 is different from what the IC might include now, which is one reason the IC is more “resolute” about its assessment of Russian attribution.

There are many things Clapper might include in additional entities, not least GOP targets, including Colin Powell (whose emails, after all, had already been released on DC Leaks). One of those is Shadow Brokers.

Fifteen minutes later (after 1:41), Joe Donnelly ask a question that Clapper justifiably can’t make sense of.

The government has named those responsible for the DNC hack as APT 28 and APT 29, part of the Russian intelligence services: the GRU and the FSB. Are all the actors targeted by these two entities known to the public, sir?

Clapper: I’m sorry sir, the question again, are all what?

Donnelly: All the actors targeted by these two entities, GRU, FSB, APT 28, 29, do we know everybody, have you told us who’s involved or are there more that you can’t discuss at this time?

Clapper: Right. I don’t think I can discuss that in this forum.

It appears Donnelly is asking about whether APT 28 and 29 hacked other victims (though when I heard this in real time it sounded like Donnelly was asking about other Russian participants in the hacking). We know they have (indeed, the Joint Analysis Report released the other day discusses those other targets, so they can’t be classified at all). But whatever Clapper took from Donnelly’s question, he took the answer to be too sensitive to respond to in open session. Furthermore, he said he could not discuss it in this forum, not that Donnelly should wait until next week’s report.

The Shadow Brokers is still out on Twitter, bitching (as recently as January 1) they didn’t get included in the JAR report or sanctions list, suggesting they at least want you to believe they’re part of the larger Russian hack.

So why was there no mention of them in the SASC hearing?

Update, 1/10: Embarrassing whither/wither typo fixed. H/t Christopher.

Craig Murray’s Description of WikiLeaks’ Sources

One of the weaknesses of my post on the evidence needed to prove the Russian DNC hack (one I’ll fix when I move it into a page) is that I didn’t include a step where the intelligence community had to dismiss alternative theories. It is not enough to prove that tools associated with Russian intelligence hacked the DNC (whether or not you’re convinced they necessarily are used exclusively by GRU), but you also have to prove that no one else either hacked the known sources of leaked documents or otherwise obtained them. That was particularly important given early reports that FBI wasn’t sure that the documents stolen by hackers presumed to be GRU were the same documents dealt to WikiLeaks.

One alternative theory I know some researchers tested, for example, is whether hackers could have gotten into the accounts of DNC staffers by testing passwords made available by past hacks (of LinkedIn and MySpace, in particular) for reuse. For a while, that definitely seemed like a plausible alternative theory, but ultimately I don’t think it could explain the known evidence.

The most important alternative theory, however, comes from Julian Assange, who has been first intimating and more recently asserting directly that Russians were not his source (even while showing immediate concern that Obama’s hacking review targeted Wikileaks directly). Former UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray has also made such a claim, first in a series of posts on his blog, and at more length in an interview with Scott Horton.

Murray’s interview is well worth the listen, as he has nowhere near the same personal stakes in this story as Assange and — as he makes clear in the interview — because he seems to have had a role in handing over the second batch of emails. Ultimately, his description is unconvincing. But it is an important indication of what he claims to believe (which must reflect what Assange has told him, whether Assange believes it or not). Importantly, Murray admits that “It’s perfectly possible that WikiLeaks themselves don’t know what is going on,” which admits one possibility I’ve always suspected: that whoever dealt the documents did so in a way that credibly obscured their source.

Murray explained that the two sets of documents handed over to Wikileaks came via two different American sources, both of whom had legal access to them.

He describes a lot more about the Podesta emails, of which he said he had “first hand knowledge,” because of something he did or learned on a trip to DC in September. In this interview, he says “The material was already, I think, safely with WikiLeaks before I got there in September,” though other outlets have suggested (with maps included!) that’s when the hand-off happened. In that account, Murray admits he did not meet with the person with legal access; he instead met with an intermediary. That means the intermediary may have made false claims about the provenance.

And even the claims about the provenance don’t make sense. Murray claimed the documents came from someone in the national security establishment, and implied they had come from legal monitoring of John Podesta because he (meaning John) is a lobbyist for Saudi Arabia.

Again, the key point to remember, in answering that question, is that the DNC leak and the Podesta leak are two different things and the answer is very probably not going to be the same in both cases. I also want you to consider that John Podesta was a paid lobbyist for the Saudi government — that’s open and declared, it’s not secret or a leak in a sense. John Podesta was paid a very substantial sum every month by the Saudi government to lobby for their interests in Washington. And if the American security services were not watching the communications of the Saudi government paid lobbyist then the American intelligence services would not be doing their job. Of course it’s also true that the Saudis’ man, the Saudis’ lobbyist in Washington, his communications are going to be of interest to a great many other intelligence services as well.

As a threshold matter, no national security agency is going to monitor an American registered to work as an agent for the Saudis. That’s all the more true if the agent has the last name Podesta.

But that brings us to another problem. John Podesta isn’t the lobbyist here. His brother Tony is. So even assuming the FBI was collecting all the emails of registered agent for the Saudis, Tony Podesta, even assuming someone in national security wanted to blow that collection by revealing it via Wikileaks, they would pick up just a tiny fraction of John Podesta’s emails. So this doesn’t explain the source of the emails at all.

But if we believe that Murray believes this, we know that the intermediary can credibly claim to have ties to American national security.

Horton and Murray go on to discuss how WikiLeaks got the first batch of emails, the ones from DNC. That’s specifically the context where Murray talks about the possibility Assange doesn’t actually know. Though he suggests the leaker is a DNC insider angry about Bernie Sanders’ treatment.

There’s a section on the murdered DNC staffer, which I’m not going to focus on because I find it distasteful. But Murray explains that Assange offered a reward pertaining to his murder because he thought the staffer might be mistaken for the real source, but was not the real source. Which suggests Assange implied to Murray that the documents were directly leaked by someone in a similar position. Again, someone who could pose as a DNC staffer.

Here, Murray states clearly that “Guccifer is not the source for WikiLeaks.” He explains that claim based primarily off the assumption that the Russians would never employ such as buffoon as Guccifer, not direct knowledge. Remember Guccifer stated publicly he had given the documents to WikiLeaks, with no rebuttal from Assange I know of.

In other words, that doesn’t seem to make sense either. And with Assange you are by necessity dealing with documents passed through at least one and in the Podesta email case, perhaps two or more intermediaries. So even assuming the best effort to vet people on Assange’s side, he does have limited resources to do so himself.

One more comment. Murray ends with a description of the reception of the emails that doesn’t make sense at all. He suggests the “mainstream media” ignored concerns about the Clinton foundation (he doesn’t even mention that this coverage might come from the legally FOIAed emails). He says they ignored other details, such as that Donna Brazile gave Hillary a debate question and that the DNC conspired against Bernie. He claims members of the media “colluded” with the Hillary campaign.

I know some people believe these topics should have gotten more attention. Even if you believe these things, though, believing the traditional media didn’t cover them requires a blind spot about the massive Trump corruption they might have been covering instead.

All that neither proves or disproves that Murray believes he got documents from someone in the national security establishment that were legally obtained. It just might explain why he’d believe something that, in this case, makes no sense.

Update: Now Assange is saying his source wasn’t Guccifer. He also snipes about Murray’s comments.

“Craig Murray is not authorized to talk on behalf of WikiLeaks,” Assange said sternly.


The Evidence to Prove the Russian Hack

In this post, I’m going to lay out the evidence needed to fully explain the Russian hack. I think it will help to explain some of the timing around the story that the CIA believes Russia hacked the DNC to help win Trump win the election, as well as what is new in Friday’s story. I will do rolling updates on this and eventually turn it into a set of pages on Russia’s hacking.

As I see it, intelligence on all the following are necessary to substantiate some of the claims about Russia tampering in this year’s election.

  1. FSB-related hackers hacked the DNC
  2. GRU-related hackers hacked the DNC
  3. Russian state actors hacked John Podesta’s emails
  4. Russian state actors hacked related targets, including Colin Powell and some Republican sites
  5. Russian state actors hacked the RNC
  6. Russian state actors released information from DNC and DCCC via Guccifer 2
  7. Russian state actors released information via DC Leaks
  8. Russian state actors or someone acting on its behest passed information to Wikileaks
  9. The motive explaining why Wikileaks released the DNC and Podesta emails
  10. Russian state actors probed voter registration databases
  11. Russian state actors used bots and fake stories to make information more damaging and magnify its effects
  12. The level at which all Russian state actors’ actions were directed and approved
  13. The motive behind the actions of Russian state actors
  14. The degree to which Russia’s efforts were successful and/or primary in leading to Hillary’s defeat

I explain all of these in more detail below. For what it’s worth, I think there was strong publicly available information to prove 3, 4, 7, 11. I think there is weaker though still substantial information to support 2. It has always been the case that the evidence is weakest at point 6 and 8.

At a minimum, to blame Russia for tampering with the election, you need high degree of confidence that GRU hacked the DNC (item 2), and shared those documents via some means with Wikileaks (item 8). What is new about Friday’s story is that, after months of not knowing how the hacked documents got from Russian hackers to Wikileaks, CIA now appears to know that people close to the Russian government transferred the documents (item 8). In addition, CIA now appears confident that all this happened to help Trump win the presidency (item 13).

1) FSB-related hackers hacked the DNC

The original report from Crowdstrike on the DNC hack actually said two separate Russian-linked entities hacked the DNC: one tied to the FSB, which it calls “Cozy Bear” or APT 29, and one tied to GRU, which it calls “Fancy Bear” or APT 28. Crowdstrike says Cozy Bear was also responsible for hacks of unclassified networks at the White House, State Department, and US Joint Chiefs of Staff.

I’m not going to assess the strength of the FSB evidence here. As I’ll lay out, the necessary hack to attribute to the Russians is the GRU one, because that’s the one believed to be the source of the DNC and Podesta emails. The FSB one is important to keep in mind, as it suggests part of the Russian government may have been hacking US sites solely for intelligence collection, something our own intelligence agencies believe is firmly within acceptable norms of spying. In the months leading up to the 2012 election, for example, CIA and NSA hacked the messaging accounts of a bunch of Enrique Peña Nieto associates, pretty nearly the equivalent of the Podesta hack, though we don’t know what they did with that intelligence. The other reason to keep the FSB hack in mind is because, to the extent FSB hacked other sites, they also may be deemed part of normal spying.

2) GRU-related hackers hacked the DNC

As noted, Crowdstrike reported that GRU also hacked the DNC. As it explains, GRU does this by sending someone something that looks like an email password update, but which instead is a fake site designed to get someone to hand over their password. The reason this claim is strong is because people at the DNC say this happened to them.

Note that there are people who raise questions of whether this method is legitimately tied to GRU and/or that the method couldn’t be stolen and replicated. I will deal with those questions at length elsewhere. But for the purposes of this post, I will accept that this method is a clear sign of GRU involvement. There are also reports that deal with GRU hacking that note high confidence GRU hacked other entities, but less direct evidence they hacked the DNC.

Finally, there is the real possibility that other people hacked the DNC, in addition to FSB and GRU. That possibility is heightened because a DNC staffer was hacked via what may have been another method, and because DNC emails show a lot of password changes off services for which DNC staffers had had their accounts exposed in other hacks.

All of which is a way of saying, there is some confidence that DNC got hacked at least twice, with those two revealed efforts being done by hackers with ties to the Russian state.

3) Russian state actors (GRU) hacked John Podesta’s emails

Again, assuming that the fake Gmail phish is GRU’s handiwork, there is probably the best evidence that GRU hacked John Podesta and therefore that Russia, via some means, supplied Wikileaks, because we have a copy of the actual email used to hack him. The Smoking Gun has an accessible story describing how all this works. So in the case of Podesta, we know he got a malicious phish email, we know that someone clicked the link in the email, and we know that emails from precisely that time period were among the documents shared with Wikileaks. We just have no idea how they got there.

4) Russian state actors hacked related targets, including some other Democratic staffers, Colin Powell and some Republican sites

That same Gmail phish was used with victims — including at a minimum William Rinehart and Colin Powell — that got exposed in a site called DC Leaks. We can have the same high degree of confidence that GRU conducted this hack as we do with Podesta. As I note below, that’s more interesting for what it tells us about motive than anything else.

5) Russian state actors hacked the RNC

The allegation that Russia also hacked the RNC, but didn’t leak those documents — which the CIA seems to rely on in part to argue that Russia must have wanted to elect Trump — has been floating around for some time. I’ll return to what we know of this. RNC spox Sean Spicer is denying it, though so did Hillary’s people at one point deny that they had been hacked.

There are several points about this. First, hackers presumed to be GRU did hack and release emails from Colin Powell and an Republican-related server. The Powell emails (including some that weren’t picked up in the press), in particular, were detrimental to both candidates. The Republican ones were, like a great deal of the Democratic ones, utterly meaningless from a news standpoint.

So I don’t find this argument persuasive in its current form. But the details on it are still sketchy precisely because we don’t know about that hack.

6) Russian state actors released information from DNC and DCCC via Guccifer 2

Some entity going by the name Guccifer 2 started a website in the wake of the announcement that the DNC got hacked. The site is a crucial part of this assessment, both because it released DNC and DCCC documents directly (though sometimes misattributing what it was releasing) and because Guccifer 2 stated clearly that he had shared the DNC documents with Wikileaks. The claim has always been that Guccifer 2 was just a front for Russia — a way for them to adopt plausible deniability about the DNC hack.

That may be the case (and obvious falsehoods in Guccifer’s statements make it clear deception was part of the point), but there was always less conclusive (and sometimes downright contradictory) evidence to support this argument (this post summarizes what it claims are good arguments that Guccifer 2 was a front for Russia; on the most part I disagree and hope to return to it in the future). Moreover, this step has been one that past reporting said the FBI couldn’t confirm. Then there are other oddities about Guccifer’s behavior, such as his “appearance” at a security conference in London, or the way his own production seemed to fizzle as Wikileaks started releasing the Podesta emails. Those details of Guccifer’s behavior are, in my opinion, worth probing for a sense of how all this was orchestrated.

Yesterday’s story seems to suggest that the spooks have finally figured out this step, though we don’t have any idea what it entails.

7) Russian state actors released information via DC Leaks

Well before many people realized that DC Leaks existed, I suspected that it was a Russian operation. That’s because two of its main targets — SACEUR Philip Breedlove and George Soros — are targets Russia would obviously hit to retaliate for what it treats as a US-backed coup in Ukraine.

DC Leaks is also where the publicly released (and boring) GOP emails got released.

Perhaps most importantly, that’s where the Colin Powell emails got released (this post covers some of those stories). That’s significant because Powell’s emails were derogatory towards both candidates (though he ultimately endorsed Hillary).

It’s interesting for its haphazard targeting (if someone wants to pay me $$ I would do an assessment of all that’s there, because some just don’t make any clear sense from a Russian perspective, and some of the people most actively discussing the Russian hacks have clearly not even read all of it), but also because a number of the victims have been affirmatively tied to the GRU phishing methods.

So DC Leaks is where you get obvious Russian targets and Russian methods all packaged together. But of the documents it released, the Powell emails were the most interesting for electoral purposes, and they didn’t target Hillary as asymmetrically as the Wikileaks released documents did.

8) Russian state actors or someone acting on its behest passed information to Wikileaks

The basis for arguing that all these hacks were meant to affect the election is that they were released via Wikileaks. That is what was supposed to be new, beyond just spying (though we have almost certainly hacked documents and leaked them, most probably in the Syria Leaks case, but I suspect also in some others).

And as noted, how Wikileaks got two separate sets of emails has always been the big question. With the DNC emails, Guccifer 2 clearly said he had given them to WL, but the Guccifer 2 ties to Russia was relatively weak. And with the Podesta emails, I’m not aware of any known interim step between the GRU hack and Wikileaks.

A late July report said the FBI was still trying to determine how Russia got the emails to Wikileaks or even if they were the same emails.

The FBI is still investigating the DNC hack. The bureau is trying to determine whether the emails obtained by the Russians are the same ones that appeared on the website of the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks on Friday, setting off a firestorm that roiled the party in the lead-up to the convention.

The FBI is also examining whether APT 28 or an affiliated group passed those emails to WikiLeaks, law enforcement sources said.

An even earlier report suggested that the IC wasn’t certain the files had been passed electronically.

And the joint DHS/ODNI statement largely attributed its confidence that Russia was involved in the the leaking (lumping Guccifer 2, DC Leaks, and Wikileaks all together) not because it had high confidence in that per se (a term of art saying, effectively, “we have seen the evidence”), but instead because leaking such files is consistent with what Russia has done elsewhere.

The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts.

Importantly, that statement came out on October 7, so well after the September briefing at which CIA claimed to have further proof of all this.

Now, Julian Assange has repeatedly denied that Russia was his source. Craig Murray asserted, after having meeting with Assange, that the source is not the Russian state or a proxy. Wikileaks’ tweet in the wake of yesterday’s announcement — concluding that an inquiry directed at Russia in this election cycle is targeted at Wikileaks — suggests some doubt. Also, immediately after the election, Sergei Markov, in a statement deemed to be consistent with Putin’s views, suggested that “maybe we helped a bit with WikiLeaks,” even while denying Russia carried out the hacks.

That’s what’s new in yesterday’s story. It stated that “individuals with connections to the Russian government” handed the documents to Wikileaks.

Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, according to U.S. officials. Those officials described the individuals as actors known to the intelligence community and part of a wider Russian operation to boost Trump and hurt Clinton’s chances.


[I]ntelligence agencies do not have specific intelligence showing officials in the Kremlin “directing” the identified individuals to pass the Democratic emails to WikiLeaks, a second senior U.S. official said. Those actors, according to the official, were “one step” removed from the Russian government, rather than government employees. Moscow has in the past used middlemen to participate in sensitive intelligence operations so it has plausible deniability.

I suspect we’ll hear more leaked about these individuals in the coming days; obviously, the IC says it doesn’t have evidence of the Russian government ordering these people to share the documents with Wikileaks.

Nevertheless, the IC now has what it didn’t have in July: a clear idea of who gave Wikileaks the emails.

9) The motive explaining why Wikileaks released the DNC and Podesta emails

There has been a lot of focus on why Wikileaks did what it did, which notably includes timing the DNC documents to hit for maximum impact before the Democratic Convention and timing the Podesta emails to be a steady release leading up to the election.

I don’t rule out Russian involvement with all of that, but it is entirely unnecessary in this case. Wikileaks has long proven an ability to hype its releases as much as possible. More importantly, Assange has reason to have a personal gripe against Hillary, going back to State’s response to the cable release in 2010 and the subsequent prosecution of Chelsea Manning.

In other words, absent really good evidence to the contrary, I assume that Russia’s interests and Wikileaks’ coincided perfectly for this operation.

10) Russian state actors probed voter registration databases

Back in October, a slew of stories reported that “Russians” had breached voter related databases in a number of states. The evidence actually showed that hackers using a IP tied to Russia had done these hacks. Even if the hackers were Russian (about which there was no evidence in the first reports), there was also no evidence the hackers were tied to the Russian state. Furthermore, as I understand it, these hacks used a variety of methods, some or all of which aren’t known to be GRU related. A September DHS bulletin suggested these hacks were committed by cybercriminals (in the past, identity thieves have gone after voter registration lists). And the October 7 DHS/ODNI statement affirmatively said the government was not attributing the probes to the Russians.

Some states have also recently seen scanning and probing of their election-related systems, which in most cases originated from servers operated by a Russian company. However, we are not now in a position to attribute this activity to the Russian Government.

In late November, an anonymous White House statement said there was no increased malicious hacking aimed at the electoral process, though remains agnostic about whether Russia ever planned on such a thing.

The Federal government did not observe any increased level of malicious cyber activity aimed at disrupting our electoral process on election day. As we have noted before, we remained confident in the overall integrity of electoral infrastructure, a confidence that was borne out on election day. As a result, we believe our elections were free and fair from a cybersecurity perspective.

That said, since we do not know if the Russians had planned any malicious cyber activity for election day, we don’t know if they were deterred from further activity by the various warnings the U.S. government conveyed.

Absent further evidence, this suggests that reports about Russian trying to tamper with the actual election infrastructure were at most suspicions and possibly just a result of shoddy reporting conflating Russian IP with Russian people with Russian state.

11) Russian state actors used bots and fake stories to make information more damaging and magnify its effects

Russia has used bots and fake stories in the past to distort or magnify compromising information. There is definitely evidence some pro-Trump bots were based out of Russia. RT and Sputnik ran with inflammatory stories. Samantha Bee famously did an interview with some Russians who were spreading fake news. But there were also people spreading fake news from elsewhere, including Macedonia and Surburban LA. A somewhat spooky guy even sent out fake news in an attempt to discredit Wikileaks.

As I have argued, the real culprit in this economy of clickbait driven outrage is closer to home, in the algorithms that Silicon Valley companies use that are exploited by a whole range of people. So while Russian directed efforts may have magnified inflammatory stories, that was not a necessary part of any intervention in the election, because it was happening elsewhere.

12) The level at which all Russian state actors’ actions were directed and approved

The DHS/ODNI statement said clearly that “We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.” But the WaPo story suggests they still don’t have proof of Russia directing even the go-between who gave WL the cables, much less the go-between directing how Wikileaks released these documents.

Mind you, this would be among the most sensitive information, if the NSA did have proof, because it would be collection targeted at Putin and his top advisors.

13) The motive behind the actions of Russian state actors

The motive behind all of this has varied. The joint DHS/ODNI statement said it was “These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process.” It didn’t provide a model for what that meant though.

Interim reporting — including the White House’s anonymous post-election statement — had suggested that spooks believed Russia was doing it to discredit American democracy.

The Kremlin probably expected that publicity surrounding the disclosures that followed the Russian Government-directed compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations, would raise questions about the integrity of the election process that could have undermined the legitimacy of the President-elect.

At one level, that made a lot of sense — the biggest reason to release the DNC and Podesta emails, it seems to me, was to confirm the beliefs a lot of people already had about how power works. I think one of the biggest mistakes of journalists who have political backgrounds was to avoid discussing how the sausage of politics gets made, because this material looks worse if you’ve never worked in a system where power is about winning support. All that said, there’s nothing in the emails (especially given the constant release of FOIAed emails) that uniquely exposed American democracy as corrupt.

All of which is to say that this explanation never made any sense to me; it was mostly advanced by people who live far away from people who already distrust US election systems, who ignored polls showing there was already a lot of distrust.

Which brings us to the other thing that is new in the WaPo story: the assertion that CIA now believes this was all intended to elect Trump, not just make us distrust elections.

The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, according to officials briefed on the matter.


“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators. “That’s the consensus view.”

For what it’s worth, there’s still some ambiguity in this. Did Putin really want Trump? Or did he want Hillary to be beat up and weak for an expected victory? Did he, like Assange, want to retaliate for specific things he perceived Hillary to have done, in both Libya, Syria, and Ukraine? That’s unclear.

14) The degree to which Russia’s efforts were successful and/or primary in leading to Hillary’s defeat

Finally, there’s the question that may explain Obama’s reticence about this issue, particularly in the anonymous post-election statement from the White House, which stated that the “election results … accurately reflect the will of the American people.” It’s not clear that Putin’s intervention, whatever it was, had anywhere near the effect as (for example) Jim Comey’s letters and Bret Baier’s false report that Hillary would be indicted shortly. There are a lot of other factors (including Hillary’s decision to ignore Jake Sullivan’s lonely advice to pay some attention to the Rust Belt).

And, as I’ve noted repeatedly, it is no way the case that Vladimir Putin had to teach Donald Trump about kompromat, the leaking of compromising information for political gain. Close Trump associates, including Roger Stone (who, by the way, may have had conversations with Julian Assange), have been rat-fucking US elections since the time Putin was in law school.

But because of the way this has rolled out (and particularly given the cabinet picks Trump has already made), it will remain a focus going forward, perhaps to the detriment of other issues that need attention.

A Busy Day for the Bears

Yesterday, there were three arguably big events associated with stolen records alleged to have ties to Russia’s GRU.

Simon Biles treats her ADHD

The first is the leak, by a group explicitly calling itself Fancy Bear (though the hack was once tied to Polish Anonymous), of anti-doping agency records showing the Williams sisters and Simone Biles all got approval for and took drugs on a list of otherwise banned substances. While there are no allegations of impropriety — indeed, Biles explained that in her case the exception involved treating ADHD — the story got covered by the major international press, including the Beeb, NBC, and NYT.

Colin Powell rants

The second alleged-Bear event is the release of Colin Powell emails, obtained by DC Leaks, to The Intercept, BuzzFeed, and Politico. The emails include quite recent ones, including one from August 26. Powell now uses GMail, suggesting his emails should be harder to hack than (for example) his State emails on AOL or emails run on a private server. Whether you worry about Russian influence or not, this hack is quite newsworthy.

There are embarrassing emails with Powell asserting that “Everything HRC touches she kind of screws up with hubris,” as well as emails with Powell complaining about Trump’s racism and the press’ stoking of it.

The emails are not limited to election-related ones, either. They also include correspondence between Powell and Jack Straw and how the Chilcot report got buried in all the Brexit news.

Guccifer 2 goes mainstream


Finally, there was the “appearance” at a security conference by Guccifer 2.0, the guy who has released the DNC emails that gave the Democrats an excuse to force Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s to resign, though they had been looking for an excuse for some time.

In point of fact, Guccifer 2.0 didn’t appear in person at the conference. Rather, he sent a speech which got read at the conference, with the transcript released to journalists. The speech focused on the negligence of software companies in security. Guccifer went on for several paragraphs about the power and sloppiness of tech companies, arguing they were to blame for hacks.

The next reason, and the crucial one, is software vulnerability. Tech companies hurry to finish the work and earn money. So they break development cycle very often omitting the stage of testing. As a result, clients have raw products installed on their systems and networks with a great number of bugs and holes.

Fourth. It’s well known that all large companies look forward to receiving governmental contracts. They develop governmental websites, communication systems, electronic voting systems, and so on and have their products installed to critical infrastructure objects on the national level.

They are aggressively lobbying their interests. You can see it at the diagram that they spent millions of dollars for lobbying. That doesn’t mean they will produce better software. That means they will get even more money in return.

Then he returned to a claim he has made on two earlier occasions: that he hacked DNC via a vulnerability in VAN.

So, what’s the right question we should ask about cyber crime?

Who hacked a system?

Wrong. The right question is: who made it possible that a system was hacked? In this regard, what question should you ask me?

How I hacked the DNC???

Now you know this is a wrong question. Who made it possible, that I hacked into the DNC? This is the question. And I suppose, you already know the answer. This is NGP VAN Company that operates the DNC network. And this is its CEO Stu Trevelyan who is really responsible for the breach.

Their software is full of holes. And you knew about it even before I came on stage.

You may remember Josh Uretsky, the national data director for Sander’s presidential campaign. He was fired in December, 2015 after improperly accessing proprietary data in the DNC system. As it was agreed, he was intentionally searching for voter information belonging to other campaigns.

However, he is not to blame. The real reason voter information became available for non-authorized users was NGP VAN’s raw software which had holes and errors in the code. And this is the same reason I managed to get access to the DNC network. Vulnerabilities in the NGP VAN software installed on its server which they have plenty of. Shit! Yeah?

This scheme shows how NGP VAN is incorporated in the DNC infrastructure.

One of two schemes released with the speech appears above.

Now, Guccifer’s allegation — tying vulnerabilities in the VAN software to his own hack — could be newsworthy. Recall, after all, that one excuse the Bernie staffer gave for nosing around Hillary’s side of VAN was that Sanders’ own data had been compromised earlier that year. Importantly, Guccifer’s persistent focus on VAN, which was a signature moment in Sanders’ voters disillusionment with the DNC conduct in the election, would provide an alternative motive for this hack rather than just a Putinesque plot to tamper with Hillary’s election.

Thing is, there’s nothing in the materials released on VAN that indicates any particular vulnerability (though the dump does include some dated information on DNC’s computer security): effectively Guccifer makes an allegation but — at least from what I’ve seen and heard from a few people who know security better — doesn’t deliver the goods.

Indeed, while there are documents acknowledging the kind of pay-to-play appointments for big donors that both parties practice, and some other financial data that I suspect may prove more interesting with further scrutiny, there’s nothing really newsworthy in this dump. It seems to be interesting primarily to Bernie diehards, not the press generally, which is rightly more interested by the Powell emails.

Which, again, emphasizes how much Guccifer has been feeding Bernie diehards, either out of his own motivation or his handler’s. It is worth noting that while Guccifer claims to oppose Trump’s policies, he did say this about Sanders: “I have nothing to say about Bernie Sanders. It seems he never had a chance to win the nomination as the Democratic Party itself stood against him!”

Why stomp on the Bears other big blasts?

Which has me wondering about yesterday generally. If someone is orchestrating all these leaks, why have Guccifer “give a speech” on the same day as two highly managed releases, especially given that Guccifer failed to deliver the goods? Indeed, why invite Guccifer to, or have him accept an invitation from, a pretty staid security conference at all?

And what is the role of Darren Martyn, a LulzSec Irish hacker who was indicted along with Jeremy Hammond but apparently never extradited. He’s apparently the one who read Guccifer’s speech. Which raises all sorts of questions about Guccifer’s ties to the Anon group of hackers, or maybe also to what Martyn has been doing since he was indicted in the US.

Let me just close with an observation.

The Democrats have, rightly, been worried about what Guccifer will release closer to the election; I’ve heard specific concerns from connected Dems that he will release far more damning financial documents. The FBI, too, appears uncertain whether the set of documents Guccifer has is the same that the GRU-related hackers are believed to have spied on at the DNC. Thus, both the DNC and FBI would love to do something to make Guccifer show more of his hand.

Before this hack, we were all just waiting to see what Julian Assange, who is clearly maximizing damage to Hillary, will drop next.

And instead, by inviting Guccifer to appear at a conference, someone got Guccifer to drop an additional 700 MB of files while everyone is busy looking at the Powell emails.


Did Wikileaks Do US Intelligence Bidding in Publishing the Syria Files?

Consider this nutty data point: between CNN’s Reliable Sources and NBC’s Meet the Press, Julian Assange was on more Sunday shows today than John McCain, with two TV appearances earlier this week.

Sadly, even in discussions of the potential that the DNC hack-plus-publication amounts to tampering with US elections, few seem to understand that evidence at least suggests that Wikileaks — not its allegedly Russian source — determined the timing of the release to coincide with the Democratic National Convention. Guccifer 2, at least, was aiming to get files out earlier than Wikileaks dumped them. So if someone is tampering, it is Julian Assange who, I’ve noted, has his own long-standing gripes with Hillary Clinton (though he disclaims any interest in doing her harm). If his source is Russia, that may just mean they had mutual interest in the publication of the files; but Assange claims to have determined the timing.

Since Wikileak’s role in the leak has been downplayed even as Assange has made the media rounds, since the nation’s spooks claim that publishing these documents is what makes it different, I want to consider this exchange Assange had with Chuck Todd:


All right. Let me ask you this. Do you, without revealing your source on this, do you accept information and leaked documents from foreign governments?


Well, our publishing model means that what we publish is guaranteed to be true. That’s what we’re concerned about. That’s what our readers are concerned about. That’s the right of the general public, to not–



Does that not trouble you at all, if a foreign government is trying to meddle in the affairs of another foreign government?


Well, it’s an interesting speculative question that’s for the press and others to perhaps–


That doesn’t bother you? That is not part of the WikiLeaks credo?


Well, it’s a meta story. If you’re asking would we accept information from U.S. intelligence that we had verified to be completely accurate, and would we publish that, and would we protect our sources in U.S. intelligence, the answer is yes, of course we would. [my emphasis]

Sure, at one level this is typical Assange redirection. When Todd asked if he’d accept files from Russia, Assange instead answered that he would accept them from the United States.

But it may not be so farcical as it seems. Consider the case of the Syria Files Wikileaks posted in spring 2012, at the beginning of the time the US was engaging in covert operations in Syria. They contained embarrassing information on Bashar al-Assad, his wife, and close associates, as well as documents implicating western companies that had facilitated Assad’s repression. Even at the time, people asked if the files were a western intelligence pys-op, though they were explicitly sourced to various factions of Anonymous. Then, between Jeremy Hammond and Sabu’s sentencing processes, it became clear that in January 2012, the latter identified targets for Anonymous hackers, targets that include the Syrian government.

An informant working for the F.B.I. coordinated a 2012 campaign of hundreds of cyberattacks on foreign websites, including some operated by the governments of Iran, Syria, Brazil and Pakistan, according to documents and interviews with people involved in the attacks.

Exploiting a vulnerability in a popular web hosting software, the informant directed at least one hacker to extract vast amounts of data — from bank records to login information — from the government servers of a number of countries and upload it to a server monitored by the F.B.I., according to court statements.


The sentencing statement also said that Mr. Monsegur directed other hackers to give him extensive amounts of data from Syrian government websites, including banks and ministries of the government of President Bashar al-Assad. “The F.B.I. took advantage of hackers who wanted to help support the Syrian people against the Assad regime, who instead unwittingly provided the U.S. government access to Syrian systems,” the statement said.

What’s not known (as multiple reports say is still not known about the DNC hack) is whether the specific files the Sabu-directed Anonymous hackers obtained were the same ones that Wikileaks came to publish, though the timing certainly works out. It’s a very distinct possibility. In which case Assange’s comment may be more than redirection, but instead a reminder that Wikileaks has played the analogous role in US-directed hack-and-publish operation, one designed to damage Assad and his western allies. If those documents did ultimately come via FBI direction of Sabu, then Assange might be warning US spooks that their own similar actions could be exposed if he were asked to reveal more about any Russian role in the DNC hack.

Was “Computer Network” “Analytics Data Program” Hacked at Hillary HQ VAN or Something Else?

Several outlets have reported that Hillary’s campaign — or rather, a network the Hillary campaign uses — got hacked along with the DNC and DCCC, presumably by the same APT 28 group presumed to be Russia’s military intelligence GRU. But reports on this, coming after a day of equivocation about whether Hillary’s campaign had been hacked at all, are unclear.

Reuters explains hackers accessed an “analytics program server” for five days (though doesn’t provide a date for that access).

A Clinton campaign spokesman said in a statement late on Friday that an analytics data program maintained by the DNC and used by the campaign and a number of other entities “was accessed as part of the DNC hack.”


Later, a campaign official said hackers had access to the analytics program’s server for approximately five days. The analytics data program is one of many systems the campaign accesses to conduct voter analysis, and does not include social security numbers or credit card numbers, the official said.

KTLA (working off a CNN feed, I think) described the target as a “dynamic voter database — with voter participation, voter contact information and voter files all campaign organizations use.”

A person familiar with the Clinton campaign program described it as essentially a dynamic voter database — with voter participation, voter contact information and voter files that all campaign organizations use. It’s a list — but a dynamic one with key voter data.

A Clinton aide said the hackers had access to the analytics program’s server for approximately five days. The analytics data program is among many systems accessed to conduct voter analysis. It does not include social security numbers or credit card numbers.

The aide noted further that according to the campaign’s outside cyber security expert, the hack of this analytics data program could not have resulted in access to Clinton campaign internal emails, voicemails, computers or other internal communications and documents. Those are completely independent systems.

Some, though not all, of those reports is based off this circumspect statement from Nick Merrill.

An analytics data program maintained by the DNC, and used by our campaign and a number of other entities, was accessed as part of the DNC hack. Our campaign computer system has been under review by outside cyber security experts. To date, they have found no evidence that our internal systems have been compromised.

Meanwhile, the FBI sources in these stories seem hesitant to definitively tie this hack to the others.

I raise all this because the KTLA description of the program sounds a lot like VAN, the voter management program that has already made the news several times this election year. VAN is dynamic and accessible to all Democratic campaigns so they can share data about voter participation, contacts, and enthusiasm for one or another candidate.

But if it were VAN it’d be of particular interest for two reasons. First, because a firewall between Hillary and Bernie’s campaigns went down in December, just as Bernie’s campaign finished up an utterly historic fundraising day. A few of Bernie’s staffers accessed some of Hillary’s data — they said to monitor the extent of the breach, which they claimed was the second time it had happened. Bernie sued the DNC over the insecurity of the VAN, but ultimately he ended up punishing several staffers.

In other words, by December, if not before, the DNC had warning that the VAN was unstable. If the hack was of VAN and if it was in any way associated with this time period — or if it was a response to DNC taking no action to force VAN to improve security — then it would be very damaging to the Democrats.

If this hack was of VAN, it would also be significant given that Guccifer 2’s technically bogus explanation of how “he” hacked the DNC claimed he got in through VAN.

How did you break into the DNC network? And are you still in?

These questions are also very popular. I’ve already said about the software vulnerabilities. The DNC had NGP VAN software installed on their system so I used the 0-day exploit and then deployed my backdoor. The DNC used Windows on their server, so it made my work much easier. I installed my Trojan like virus on their PCs. I just modified the platform that I bought on the hacking forums for about $1.5k.

I’ve been inside the network for pretty long time, so I downloaded a lot of files. I lost access after they rebooted the system on June 12. But after all, if they’ll carry on like this it won’t be a problem to get in again and again.

I’ve worked with VAN (albeit in a county party office) and I can’t think of a way it would be hooked up to more substantive computers (hmm–except perhaps within a computer and from there back up through a network). And the explanation appears bogus for a number of other reasons. But it would be interesting if Guccifer 2 had pointed to VAN weeks before the campaign decided to check whether VAN had been accessed (after having been proven to be unstable in the primary).

Finally, it would be interesting if it were VAN for one more reason: because after the December incident, Bernie moved off of VAN. Which means he has files protected from whatever the Russians or whoever else have been up to.

The Two Intelligence Agency Theory of Handing Trump the Election

There has been a lot written about Russian intelligence agencies allegedly hacking the DNC server and — by leaking it — attempting to influence the election. Some observers have, based on that assumption, called the hack an act of war.

I’m agnostic on whether Russian intelligence did one or both of the hacks, in part for reasons I’m still working through. I’m even more skeptical of some of the claims made about Russia’s motivations in launching this attack to put Trump in the presidency (which is not to say Trump wouldn’t be horrible for a whole slew of other reasons); on that topic, see this Josh Marshall piece and a fact-checking of it. And I’m frankly amused that, after using several other outlets for publicity and to release documents, the hacker(s’) cooperation with WikiLeaks (which irresponsibly released credit card and social security information on Democratic donors, but which almost certainly had its donors investigated by DOJ with the heavy involvement of Clinton after Wikileaks published the State cables) itself is a sign of Russian involvement. Does Russia also run The Hill, the last outlet used by DNC hacker(s)?

In short, there are a whole bunch of claims being made, all serving a narrative that Putin is playing in our elections, with little scrutiny of how you get from one level (what have been described as two separate hacks) to another (to Guccifer 2, to help Putin) to another (with the help of Wikileaks). It’s like the Rosetta stone of Cold War 2.0 paranoia. All may be true, but the case is thus far still fragile.

This post, from Thomas Rid, is the most sober analysis of the claim that Russian hackers hacked the DNC. Even still, there are some logical problems with the analysis (that are sadly typical of the underlying cybersecurity consultants). Take these two passages, for example.

The DNC knew that this wild claim would have to be backed up by solid evidence. APost story wouldn’t provide enough detail, so CrowdStrike had prepared a technical report to go online later that morning. The security firm carefully outlined some of the allegedly “superb” tradecraft of both intrusions: the Russian software implants were stealthy, they could sense locally-installed virus scanners and other defenses, the tools were customizable through encrypted configuration files, they were persistent, and the intruders used an elaborate command-and-control infrastructure. So the security firm claimed to have outed two intelligence operations.


The metadata in the leaked documents are perhaps most revealing: one dumped document was modified using Russian language settings, by a user named “Феликс Эдмундович,” a code name referring to the founder of the Soviet Secret Police, the Cheka, memorialised in a 15-ton iron statue in front of the old KGB headquarters during Soviet times. The original intruders made other errors: one leaked document included hyperlink error messages in Cyrillic, the result of editing the file on a computer with Russian language settings. After this mistake became public, the intruders removed the Cyrillic information from the metadata in the next dump and carefully used made-up user names from different world regions, thereby confirming they had made a mistake in the first round.

They argue (based in part on CrowdStrike’s claims of expertise) both that the hacker(s) were really sophisticated and that they deliberately adopted a Russian name but accidentally left Russian metadata in the files. Particularly with regards to the Russian metadata, you don’t both adopt a notable Russian spook’s ID while engaging in a false flag but then “accidentally” leave metadata in the files, although the second paragraph here pertains to Guccifer 2 and not the Crowdstrike IDed hackers.

If Guccifer were a true false flag, he might well be pretending to be Russian to hide his real identity.

Add to that this post (from June), which notes some confirmation bias in the way that FireEye first attributed APT 28 (which CrowdStrike believes to be GRU, Russia’s military intelligence).

I chose to look at Fancy Bear (APT28 in FireEye’s ecosystem). The most comprehensive report on that threat actor was written by FireEye and released last October, 2014 so I started with that. To my surprise, the report’s authors declared that they deliberately excluded evidence that didn’t support their judgment that the Russian government was responsible for APT28’s activities:

“APT28 has targeted a variety of organizations that fall outside of the three themes we highlighted above. However, we are not profiling all of APT28’s targets with the same detail because they are not particularly indicative of a specific sponsor’s interests.” (emphasis added)

That is the very definition of confirmation bias. Had FireEye published a detailed picture of APT28’s activities including all of their known targets, other theories regarding this group could have emerged; for example, that the malware developers and the operators of that malware were not the same or even necessarily affiliated.

And even if you took the underlying report as definitive, APT 28 was primarily focused on military targets, which by itself ought to raise questions about why they’d go after the DNC.

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 12.42.18 PM

To make the argument based on targets that APT 28 is GRU you need to do even more adjusting of motivation (though more recent APT 28 attributed attacks are more similar to this one).

But one reason I find the Rid piece sober and useful is it emphasizes something that has been ignored by much of the inflamed reporting. First, even CrowdStrike claims that DNC was hacked twice, by two different Russian entities, which did not appear to be coordinating during the hack. From the CrowdStrike report:

At DNC, COZY BEAR intrusion has been identified going back to summer of 2015, while FANCY BEAR separately breached the network in April 2016. We have identified no collaboration between the two actors, or even an awareness of one by the other. Instead, we observed the two Russian espionage groups compromise the same systems and engage separately in the theft of identical credentials. While you would virtually never see Western intelligence agencies going after the same target without de-confliction for fear of compromising each other’s operations, in Russia this is not an uncommon scenario. “Putin’s Hydra: Inside Russia’s Intelligence Services”, a recent paper from European Council on Foreign Relations, does an excellent job outlining the highly adversarial relationship between Russia’s main intelligence services – Федеральная Служба Безопасности (FSB), the primary domestic intelligence agency but one with also significant external collection and ‘active measures’ remit, Служба Внешней Разведки (SVR), the primary foreign intelligence agency, and the aforementioned GRU. Not only do they have overlapping areas of responsibility, but also rarely share intelligence and even occasionally steal sources from each other and compromise operations. Thus, it is not surprising to see them engage in intrusions against the same victim, even when it may be a waste of resources and lead to the discovery and potential compromise of mutual operations.

And, as Rid points out, the proof that Guccifer is tied to Russia (it would be to GRU or APT 28 if the tie were real, so the less persistent of the two apparently unrelated hacks) is even less clear, though there still is a lot of circumstantial evidence.

The evidence linking the Guccifer 2.0 account to the same Russian operators is not as solid, yet a deception operation—a GRU false flag, in technical jargon—is still highly likely. Intelligence operatives and cybersecurity professionals long knew that such false flags were becoming more common. One noteworthy example was the sabotage of France’s TV5 Monde station on 9/10 April 2015, initially claimed by the mysterious “CyberCaliphate,” a group allegedly linked to ISIS. Then, in June, the French authoritiessuspected the same infamous APT 28 group behind the TV5 Monde breach, in preparation since January of that year. But the DNC deception is the most detailed and most significant case study so far. The technical details are as remarkable as its strategic context.


Other features are also suspicious. One is timing, as ThreatConnect, another security company, has pointed out in a useful analysis: various timestamps indicate that the Guccifer-branded leaking operation was prompted by the DNC’s initial publicity, with preparation starting around 24 hours after CrowdStrike’s report came out. Both APT 28 and Guccifer were using French infrastructure for communications. ThreatConnect then pointed out that both the self-proclaimed hacker’s technical statements on the use of 0-day exploits as well as the alleged timeline of the DNC breach are most likely false. Another odd circumstantial finding: sock-puppet social media accounts may have been created specifically to amplify and extend Guccifer’s reach, as UK intelligence startup Ripjar told me.

Perhaps most curiously, the Guccifer 2.0 account, from the beginning, was not simply claiming to have breached the DNC network—but claiming that two Russian actors actually were not on the DNC network at the same time. It is common to find multiple intruders in tempting yet badly defended networks. Nevertheless the Guccifer 2.0 account claimed confidently, and with no supporting evidence, that the breach was simply a “lone hacker”—a phrasing that seems designed to deflect blame from Russia. Guccifer 2.0’s availability to the journalists was also surprising, and something new altogether.

The combative yet error-prone handling of the Guccifer account is in line with the GRU’s aggressive and risk-taking organizational culture and a wartime mindset prevalent in the Russian intelligence community. Russia’s agencies see themselves as instruments of direct action, working in support of a fragile Russia under siege by the West, especially the United States.

Now, again, I’m not saying the Russians didn’t do this hack, nor am I dismissing the idea that they’d prefer Trump to Hillary. By far the most interesting piece of this is the way those with the documents — both the hackers and Wikileaks — held documents until a really awkward time for some awkward disclosures, with what may be worse to come.

But discussions that want to make the case should explain several things: Which of the two agencies alleged to have hacked DNC are behind the operation — or are they both, even though they weren’t, at least according to the report that everyone is relying on without question, apparently cooperating? How certain can they be that the GRU is Guccifer, and if Guccifer is supposed to be a false flag why was it so incompetently done? What explains Guccifer’s sort of bizarre strategy along the way, encompassing both Wikileaks (an obvious one) and The Hill?

Again, I absolutely don’t put this kind of thing beyond Putin. Russia has used hacking to influence outcomes of elections and authority in various countries in the past and the only thing new here is that 1) we wouldn’t already be playing the other side and 2) we’re big and can fight back. But the story, thus far, is more complex than being laid out.

Update: Here’s an amusing debunking of a lot of the metadata analyses.

Meanwhile, after the WaPo story hit the wires the “lone hacker” created his wordpress site and dropped dox as we say on the intertubes. Shortly after the drop people were inspecting, detecting, infecting, and making circles and arrows with captions on the back to describe what you were seeing! … And the conspiracy theory machine went into overdrive. Pwnallthethings made some good comments on the metadata in the dropped dox but really, concluding that this is a Russian disinformation operation from metadata stripped documents on the idea that the machine name was cyrillic for Felix Dzerzhinsky (Феликс Эдмундович)  Really? Now that is fucking SOLID work man! Stellar! FUCK LET’S GO BOMB RUSSIA NOW!



You know at least Crowdstrike has like actual data, ya know, C2’s, malware, and shit like that. Anything else is totally speculative, I mean even more speculative than most attribution that these companies make with real data! Anyway, I took a look at the metadata on the documents and here is what I have found…

  • Much of the data was stamped out in saving from format to format
  • Emails of users though were still embedded in the excel files
  • The word docs have no more metadata than the Iron Felix machine name save, which, gee, kinda leads one to wonder…
  • The image files have no metadata.. none.. niente clean.
  • Grizzli777 is just someone who pirates

Yep, not a lot to see there and people are hanging their collective hats on the deliberate placement of Феликс Эдмундович as the machine name to it’s quite OBVIOUSLY being Mother Russia’s exclusive secret services.

*squint.. takes drag of cigarette*

So here’s my assessment…. Maybe Russia did it… OR Maybe this actor is the real thing and happens to want to take credit. The facts that this person(s) reads, writes, has, cyrillic on their machine and names it after the founder of the KGB is as reliable a means to saying it was Russia as it is to say that aliens built the pyramid because people just were fucking too stupid back then!