Posts

John Sipher’s Garbage Post Arguing the Steele Dossier Isn’t Garbage

I generally find former CIA officer John Sipher’s work rigorous and interesting, if not always persuasive. Which is why I find the shoddiness of this post — arguing, just as Republicans in Congress and litigious Russians start to uncover information about the Christopher Steele dossier, that the dossier is not garbage  — so telling.

I don’t think the Steele dossier is garbage.

But neither do I think it supports the claim that it predicted a lot of information we’ve found since, something Sipher goes to great pains to argue. And there are far more problems with the dossier and its production than Sipher, who claims to be offering his wisdom about how to interpret raw intelligence, lets on. So the dossier isn’t garbage (though the story behind its production may well be). But Sipher’s post is. And given that it appears to be such a desperate — and frankly, unnecessary — attempt to reclaim the credibility of the dossier, it raises questions about why he feels the need.

Making and claiming accuracy for a narrative out of raw intelligence

Sipher’s project appears to be taking what he admits is raw intelligence and providing a narrative that he says we should continue to use to understand Trump’s Russian ties.

Close to the beginning of his piece, Sipher emphasizes that the dossier is not a finished intelligence report, but raw intelligence; he blames the media for not understanding the difference.

I spent almost thirty years producing what CIA calls “raw reporting” from human agents.  At heart, this is what Orbis did.  They were not producing finished analysis, but were passing on to a client distilled reporting that they had obtained in response to specific questions.  The difference is crucial, for it is the one that American journalists routinely fail to understand.

[snip]

Mr. Steele’s product is not a report delivered with a bow at the end of an investigation.  Instead, it is a series of contemporaneous raw reports that do not have the benefit of hindsight.

Sipher explains that you need analysts to make sense of these raw reports.

The onus for sorting out the veracity and for putting the reporting in context against other reporting – which may confirm or deny the new report – rests with the intelligence community’s professional analytic cadre.

He then steps into that role, an old clandestine services guy doing the work of the analysts. The result, he says, is a narrative he says we should still use — even in the wake of eight months of aggressive reporting since the dossier came out — in trying to understand what went on with the election.

As a result, they offer an overarching framework for what might have happened based on individuals on the Russian side who claimed to have insight into Moscow’s goals and operational tactics.  Until we have another more credible narrative, we should do all we can to examine closely and confirm or dispute the reports.

[snip]

Looking at new information through the framework outlined in the Steele document is not a bad place to start.

How to read a dossier

One thing Sipher aspires to do — something that would have been enormously helpful back in January — is explain how an intelligence professional converts those raw intelligence reports into a coherent report. He describes the first thing you do is source validation.

In the intelligence world, we always begin with source validation, focusing on what intelligence professionals call “the chain of acquisition.”  In this case we would look for detailed information on (in this order) Orbis, Steele, his means of collection (e.g., who was working for him in collecting information), his sources, their sub-sources (witting or unwitting), and the actual people, organizations and issues being reported on.

He goes to great lengths to explain how credible Steele is, noting even that he “was the President of the Cambridge Union at university.” I don’t dispute that Steele is, by all accounts, an accomplished intelligence pro.

But Sipher unwisely invests a great deal of weight into the fact that the FBI sought to work with Steele.

The fact that the FBI reportedly sought to work with him and to pay him to develop additional information on the sources suggest that at least some of them were worth taking seriously.  At the very least, the FBI will be able to validate the credibility of the sources, and therefore better judge the information.  As one recently retired senior intelligence officer with deep experience in espionage investigations quipped, “I assign more credence to the Steele report knowing that the FBI paid him for his research.  From my experience, there is nobody more miserly than the FBI.  If they were willing to pay Mr. Steele, they must have seen something of real value.”

This is flat-out dumb for two reasons. First, it is one of the things the GOP has used to discredit the dossier and prosecution — complaining (rightly) that the FBI was using a document designed as opposition research, possibly even to apply for a FISA warrant. If the FBI did that, I’m troubled by it.

More importantly, the actual facts about whether FBI did pay Steele are very much in dispute, with three different versions in the public record and Chuck Grassley claiming the FBI has been giving conflicting details about what happened (it’s likely that FBI paid Steele’s travel to the US but not for the dossier itself).

WaPo reported that Steele had reached a verbal agreement that the FBI would pay him to continue his investigation of Russia’s involvement with Trump after still unnamed Democrats stopped paying him after the election. CNN then reported that FBI actually had paid Steele for his expenses. Finally, NBC reported Steele backed out of the deal before it was finalized.

If the FBI planned to pay Steele, but got cold feet after Steele briefed David Corn for a piece that made explicit reference to the dossier, it suggests FBI may have decided the dossier was too clearly partisan for its continued use. In any case, citing a “recently retired senior intelligence officer” claiming the FBI did pay Steele should either be accompanied by a “BREAKING, confirming the detail no one else has been able to!” tag, or should include a caveat that the record doesn’t affirmatively support that claim.

After vouching for Steele (again, I don’t dispute Steele’s credentials), Sipher lays out the other things that need to happen to properly vet raw intelligence, which he claims we can’t do.

The biggest problem with confirming the details of the Steele “dossier” is obvious: we do not know his sources, other than via the short descriptions in the reports.  In CIA’s clandestine service, we spent by far the bulk of our work finding, recruiting and validating sources.  Before we would ever consider disseminating an intelligence report, we would move heaven and earth to understand the access, reliability, trustworthiness, motivation and dependability of our source.  We believe it is critical to validate the source before we can validate the reliability of the source’s information.  How does the source know about what he/she is reporting?  How did the source get the information?  Who are his/her sub-sources?  What do we know about the sub-sources?  Why is the source sharing the information?  Is the source a serious person who has taken appropriate measures to protect their efforts?

The thing is, we actually know answers to two of these questions. First, Steele’s sources shared the information (at least in part) because they were paid. That’s totally normal for spying, of course, but if Sipher aspires to explain to us how to assess the dossier, he needs to admit that money changes hands and that’s just the way things are done (again, that’s all the more important given that it’s one of the bases the GOP is using to discredit the report).

More importantly, Sipher should note that Steele worked one step removed — from London, rather than from Moscow — than an intelligence officer otherwise might. The reports may still be great, but that additional step introduces more uncertainty into the validation. It’s all the more important that Sipher address these two issues, because they’re the ones the GOP has been and will continue to use to discredit the dossier.

Ultimately, though, in his section on vetting the document, Sipher doesn’t deal with some key questions about the dossier. Way at the end of his piece, he questions whether we’re looking at the entire dossier.

We also don’t know if the 35 pages leaked by BuzzFeed is the entirety of the dossier.  I suspect not.

He doesn’t raise two other key questions about the provenance of the dossier we’ve been given, some of which I laid out when the dossier came out when I also noted that the numbering of the dossier by itself makes it clear it’s not the complete dossier. Importantly: is the copy of the dossier leaked to BuzzFeed an unaltered copy of what Steele delivered to Fusion, in spite of the weird textual artifacts in it? And how and why did the dossier get leaked to BuzzFeed, which Steele has told us was not one of the six outlets that he briefed on its contents.

Finally, Sipher includes the obligation to “openly acknowledge the gaps in understanding” outside of the section on vetting, which is telling given that he notes only a few of the obvious gaps in this dossier.

Sipher claims the dossier predicted what wasn’t known

So there are a lot of aspects of vetting Sipher doesn’t do, whether or not he has the ability to. But having done the vetting of checking Steele’s college extracurricular record, he declares the dossier has proven to be “stunningly accurate.”

Did any of the activities reported happen as predicted?

To a large extent, yes.

The most obvious occurrence that could not have been known to Orbis in June 2016, but shines bright in retrospect is the fact that Russia undertook a coordinated and massive effort to disrupt the 2016 U.S. election to help Donald Trump, as the U.S. intelligence community itself later concluded.  Well before any public knowledge of these events, the Orbis report identified multiple elements of the Russian operation including a cyber campaign, leaked documents related to Hillary Clinton, and meetings with Paul Manafort and other Trump affiliates to discuss the receipt of stolen documents.  Mr. Steele could not have known that the Russians stole information on Hillary Clinton, or that they were considering means to weaponize them in the U.S. election, all of which turned out to be stunningly accurate.

Now as I said above, I don’t believe the dossier is junk. But this defense of the dossier, specifically as formulated here, is junk. Central to Sipher’s proof that Steele’s dossier bears out are these claims:

  • Russia undertook a coordinated and massive effort to disrupt the 2016 U.S. election to help Donald Trump
  • The Orbis report identified multiple elements of the Russian operation including
    • A cyber campaign
    • Leaked documents related to Hillary Clinton
    • Meetings with Paul Manafort and other Trump affiliates to discuss the receipt of stolen documents

As I’ll show, these claims are, with limited exceptions, not actually what the dossier shows. Far later into the dossier, the reason Sipher frames it this way is clear. He’s taking validation from recent details about the June 9, 2016 meeting.

Of course, to determine if collusion occurred as alleged in the dossier, we would have to know if the Trump campaign continued to meet with Russian representatives subsequent to the June meeting.

The Steele dossier was way behind contemporary reporting on the hack-and-leak campaign

I consider the dossier strongest in its reports on early ties between Trump associates and Russians, as I’ll lay out below. But one area where it is — I believe this is the technical term — a shit-show is the section claiming the report predicted Russia’s hacking campaign.

Here’s how Sipher substantiates that claim.

By late fall 2016, the Orbis team reported that a Russian-supported company had been “using botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data and conduct ‘altering operations’ against the Democratic Party leadership.” Hackers recruited by the FSB under duress were involved in the operations. According to the report, Carter Page insisted that payments be made quickly and discreetly, and that cyber operators should go to ground and cover their tracks.

[snip]

Consider, in addition, the Orbis report saying that Russia was utilizing hackers to influence voters and referring to payments to “hackers who had worked in Europe under Kremlin direction against the Clinton campaign.” A January 2017 Stanford study found that “fabricated stories favoring Donald Trump were shared a total of 30 million times, nearly quadruple the number of pro-Hillary Clinton shares leading up to the election.”  Also, in November, researchers at Oxford University published a report based on analysis of 19.4 million Twitter posts from early November prior to the election.  The report found that an “automated army of pro-Trump chatbots overwhelmed Clinton bots five to one in the days leading up to the presidential election.”  In March 2017, former FBI agent Clint Watts told Congress about websites involved in the Russian disinformation campaign “some of which mysteriously operate from Eastern Europe and are curiously led by pro-Russian editors of unknown financing.”

The Orbis report also refers specifically to the aim of the Russian influence campaign “to swing supporters of Bernie Sanders away from Hillary Clinton and across to Trump,” based on information given to Steele in early August 2016. It was not until March 2017, however, that former director of the National Security Agency, retired Gen. Keith Alexander in Senate testimony said of the Russian influence campaign, “what they were trying to do is to drive a wedge within the Democratic Party between the Clinton group and the Sanders group.”

Here’s what the dossier actually shows about both kompromat on Hillary and hacking.

June 20: In the first report, issued 6 days after the DNC announced it had been hacked by Russia, and 5 days after Guccifer 2.0 said he had sent stolen documents to WikiLeaks, the dossier spoke of kompromat on Hillary, clearly described as years old wiretaps from when she was visiting Russia. While the report conflicts internally, one part of it said it had not been distributed abroad. As I note in this post, if true, that would mean the documents Natalia Veselnitsaka shared with Trump folks on June 9 was not the kompromat in question.

July 19: After Guccifer 2.0 had released 7 posts, most with documents, and after extended reporting concluding that he was a Russian front, the second report discussed kompromat — still seemingly meaning that dated FSB dossier — as if it were prospective.

July 26: Four days after WikiLeaks released DNC emails first promised in mid-June, Steele submitted a report claiming that Russian state hackers had had “only limited success in penetrating the ‘first tier’ of foreign targets. These comprised western (especially G7 and NATO) governments, security and intelligence services and central banks, and the IFIs.” There had been public reports of FSB-associated APT 29’s hacking of such targets since at least July 2015, and public reporting on their campaigns that should have been identified when DNC did a Google search in response to FBI’s warnings in September 2015. It’s stunning anyone involved in intelligence would claim Russia hadn’t had some success penetrating those first tier targets.

Report 095: An undated report, probably dating sometime between July 26 and July 30, did state that a Trump associate admitted Russia was behind WikiLeaks release of emails, something that had been widely understood for well over a month.

July 30: A few weeks before WikiLeaks reportedly got the second tranche of (Podesta) emails, a report states that Russia is worried that the email hacking operation is spiraling out of control so “it is unlikely that these [operations] would be ratcheted up.”

August 5: A report says Dmitry Peskov, who is reportedly in charge of the campaign, is “scared shitless” about being scapegoated for it.

August 10: Just days before WikiLeaks purportedly got the Podesta tranche of emails, a report says Sergei Ivanov said “Russians would not risk their position for the time being with new leaked material, even to a third party like WikiLeaks.”

August 10: Months after a contentious primary and over two weeks after Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation during the convention (purportedly because of DNC’s preference for Hillary), a report cites an ethnic Russian associate of Russian US presidential candidate Donald TRUMP campaign insider, not a Russian, saying the email leaks were designed to “swing supporters of Bernie SANDERS and away from Hillary CLINTON and across to TRUMP.” It attributes that plan to Carter Page, but does not claim any Russian government involvement in that strategy. Nor would it take a genius for anyone involved in American politics to pursue such a strategy.

August 22: A report on Manafort’s “demise” doesn’t mention emails or any kompromat.

September 14: Three months after Guccifer 2.0 first appeared, the dossier for the first time treated the Russians’ kompromat as the emails, stating that more might be released in late September. That might coincide with Craig Murray’s reported contact with a go-between (Murray has been very clear he did not ferry the emails themselves though he did have some contact in late September).

October 12: A week after the Podesta emails first started appearing, a report states that “a stream of further hacked CLINTON materials already had been injected by the Kremlin into compliant media outlets like Wikileaks, which remained at least “plausibly deniable”, so the stream of these would continue through October and up to the election, something Julian Assange had made pretty clear. See this report for more.

October 18, 19, 19: Three reports produced in quick succession describe Michael Cohen’s role in covering up the Trump-Russia mess, without making any explicit (unredacted) mention of emails. See this post on that timing.

December 20: A virgin birth report produced as the US intelligence community scrambled to put together the case against Russia for the first time ties Cohen to the emails in unredacted form).

What the timeline of the hacking allegations in the Steele dossier (and therefore also “predictions” about leaked documents) reveal is not that his sources predicted the hack-and-leak campaign, but on the contrary, he and his sources were unbelievably behind in their understanding of Russian hacking and the campaign generally (or his Russian sources were planting outright disinformation). Someone wanting to learn about the campaign would be better off simply hanging out on Twitter or reading the many security reports issued on the hack in real time.

Perhaps Sipher wants to cover this over when he claims that, “The Russian effort was aggressive over the summer months, but seemed to back off and go into cover-up mode following the Access Hollywood revelations and the Obama Administration’s acknowledgement of Russian interference in the fall, realizing they might have gone too far and possibly benefitted Ms. Clinton.” Sure, that’s sort of (though not entirely) what the dossier described. But the reality is that WikiLeaks was dropping new Podesta emails every day, Guccifer 2.0 was parroting Russian (and Republican) themes about a rigged election, and Obama was making the first ever cyber “red phone” call to Moscow because of Russia’s continued probes of the election infrastructure (part of the Russian effort about which both the dossier and Sipher’s post are silent).

The quotes Sipher uses to defend his claim are even worse. The first passage includes two clear errors. The report in question was actually the December 13 one, not “late fall 2016” one. And the Trump associate who agreed (in the alleged August meeting in Prague, anticipating that Hillary might win) to making quick payments to hackers was Michael Cohen, not Carter Page. Many things suggest this particular report should be read with great skepticism, not least that it post-dated both the disclosure of the existence of the dossier and the election, and that this intelligence was offered up to Steele, not solicited, and was offered for free.

Next, Sipher again cites the December 13 report to claim Steele predicted something reported in a November Oxford University report (and anyway widely reported by BuzzFeed for months), which seems to require either a time machine or an explanation for why Steele didn’t report that earlier. He attributes a quote sourced to a Trump insider as indicating Russian strategy, which that report doesn’t support. And if you need Keith Alexander to suss out the logic of Democratic infighting that had been clear for six months, then you’re in real trouble!

Sipher would have been better off citing the undated Report 095 (which is another report about which there should be provenance questions), which relies on the same ethnic Russian Trump insider as the August 10 report, which claims agents/facilitators within the Democratic Party and Russian émigré hackers working in the United States — a claim that is incendiary but (short of proof that the Al-Awan brothers or Seth Rich really were involved) — one that has not been substantiated.

In short, the evidence in the dossier simply doesn’t support the claim it predicted two of the three things Sipher claims it does, at least not yet.

The dossier is stronger in sketchy contacts with Russians

The dossier is stronger with respect to some, but not all Trump associates. But even there, Sipher’s defense demonstrates uneven analytic work.

First, note that Sipher relies on “renowned investigative journalist” Michael Isikoff to validate some of these claims.

Renowned investigative journalist Michael Isikoff reported in September 2016 that U.S. intelligence sources confirmed that Page met with both Sechin and Divyekin during his July trip to Russia.

[snip]

A June 2017 Yahoo News article by Michael Isikoff described the Administration’s efforts to engage the State Department about lifting sanctions “almost as soon as they took office.”

Among the six journalists Steele admits he briefed on his dossier is someone from Yahoo.

The journalists initially briefed at the end of September 2016 by [Steele] and Fusion at Fusion’s instruction were from the New York Times, the Washington Post, Yahoo News, the New Yorker and CNN. [Steele] subsequently participated in further meetings at Fusion’s instruction with Fusion and the New York Times, the Washington Post and Yahoo News, which took place in mid-October 2016.

That the Yahoo journalist is Isikoff would be a cinch to guess. But we don’t have to guess, because Isikoff made it clear it was him in his first report after the dossier got leaked.

Another of Steele’s reports, first reported by Yahoo News last September, involved alleged meetings last July between then-Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page and two high-level Russian operatives, including Igor Sechin — a longtime associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin who became the chief executive of Rosneft, the Russian energy giant.

In other words, Sipher is engaging in navel-gazing here, citing a report based on the Steele dossier, to say it confirms what was in the Steele dossier.

Sipher similarly cites a NYT article that was among the most criticized for the way it interprets “senior Russian intelligence officials” loosely to include anyone who might be suspect of being a spook.

We have also subsequently learned of Trump’s long-standing interest in, and experience with Russia and Russians.  A February 2017 New York Times article reported that phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Trump’s campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian officials in the year before the election.  The New York Times article was also corroborated by CNN and Reuters independent reports.

The two reports he claims corroborate the NYT one fall far short of the NYT claim about talks with Russian intelligence officials — a distinction that is critical given what Sipher claims about Sergey Kislyak, which I note below.

Carter Page

Sipher cites the Carter Page FISA order as proof that some of these claims have held up.

What’s more, the Justice Department obtained a wiretap in summer 2016 on Page after satisfying a court that there was sufficient evidence to show Page was operating as a Russian agent.

But more recent reporting, by journalists Sipher elsewhere cites approvingly, reveals that Page had actually been under a FISA order as early as 2014.

Page had been the subject of a secret intelligence surveillance warrant since 2014, earlier than had been previously reported, US officials briefed on the probe told CNN.

Paul Manafort

I have no complaint with Sipher’s claims about Manafort — except to the extent he suggests Manafort’s Ukrainian corruption wasn’t know long before the election. Sipher does, however, repeat a common myth about Manafort’s influence on the GOP platform.

The quid pro quo as alleged in the dossier was for the Trump team to “sideline” the Ukrainian issue in the campaign.  We learned subsequently the Trump platform committee changed only a single plank in the 60-page Republican platform prior to the Republican convention.  Of the hundreds of Republican positions and proposals, they altered only the single sentence that called for maintaining or increasing sanctions against Russia, increasing aid for Ukraine and “providing lethal defensive weapons” to the Ukrainian military.  The Trump team changed the wording to the more benign, “appropriate assistance.”

Republicans have credibly challenged this claim about the platform. Bob Dole is credited with making the platform far harsher on China in the service of his Taiwanese clients. And Trump’s team also put in language endorsing the revival of Glass-Steagall, with support from Manafort and/or Carl Icahn.

Michael Cohen

Sipher’s discussion of Trump lawyer Michael Cohen is the weirdest of all, not least because the Cohen reports are the most incendiary but also because they were written at a time when Steele had already pitched the dossier to the media (making it far more likely the ensuing reports were the result of disinformation). Here’s how Sipher claims the Steele dossier reports have been validated.

We do not have any reporting that implicates Michael Cohen in meetings with Russians as outlined in the dossier.  However, recent revelations indicate his long-standing relationships with key Russian and Ukrainian interlocutors, and highlight his role in a previously hidden effort to build a Trump tower in Moscow. During the campaign, those efforts included email exchanges with Trump associate Felix Sater explicitly referring to getting Putin’s circle involved and helping Trump get elected.

Go look at that “recent revelations” link. It goes to this Josh Marshall post which describes its own sourcing this way:

TPM Reader BR flagged my attention to this 2007 article in The New York Post.

[snip]

Because two years ago, in February 2015, New York real estate trade sheet The Real Deal reported that Cohen purchased a $58 million rental building on the Upper East Side.

This is not recent reporting!! Again, this is stuff that was publicly known before the election.

More importantly, given Cohen’s rebuttal to the dossier, Marshall supports a claim that Cohen has ties to Ukraine, not Russia. The dossier, however, claims Cohen has ties to the latter, as Cohen mockingly notes.

Felix Sater

Then there are the Trump associates who are now known to have been central to any ties between Trump and the Russians that the Steele dossier didn’t cite — as least not as subjects (all could well be sources, which raises other questions). The first is Felix Sater, whom Sipher discusses three times in suggesting that the dossier accurately predicts Cohen’s involvement in the Russian negotiations.

To take one example, the first report says that Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was responsible for Russia’s compromising materials on Hillary Clinton, and now we have reports that Michael Cohen had contacted Peskov directly in January 2016 seeking help with a Trump business deal in Moscow (after Cohen received the email from Trump business associate Felix Sater saying “Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this.”).

[snip]

Following the inauguration, Cohen was involved, again with Felix Sater, to engage in back-channel negotiations seeking a means to lift sanctions via a semi-developed Russian-Ukrainian plan (which also included the hand delivery of derogatory information on Ukrainian leaders) also fits with Orbis reporting related to Cohen.

Given that Sater’s publicly known links between mobbed up Russians and Trump go back a decade, why isn’t he mentioned in the dossier? And why does the dossier seemingly contradict these claims about an active Trump Tower deal?

Aras Agalarov and Rinat Akhmetshin

There are far more significant silences about two other Trump associates, Aras Agalarov and Rinat Akhmetshin.

To be fair, the dossier isn’t entirely silent about the former, noting in at one place that Agalarov would be the guy to go to to learn about dirt on Trump in Petersburg (elsewhere he could be a source).

Far, far more damning is the dossier’s silence (again, at least as a subject rather than source) about Akhmetshin. That’s long been one of the GOP complaints about the dossier — that Akhmetshin was closely involved with Fusion GPS on Magnitsky work in parallel with the Trump dossier, which (if Akhmetshin really is still tied to Russian intelligence) would provide an easy feedback loop to the Russians. The dossier’s silence on someone well known to Fusion GPS is all the more damning given the way that Sipher points to the June 9 meeting (which the dossier didn’t report, either) as proof that the dossier has been vindicated.

It was also apparently news to investigators when the New York Times in July 2017 published Don Jr’s emails arranging for the receipt of information held by the Russians about Hillary Clinton. How could Steele and Orbis know in June 2016 that the Russians were working actively to elect Donald Trump and damage Hillary Clinton?

[snip]

To take another example, the third Orbis report says that Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was managing the connection with the Kremlin, and we now know that he was present at the June 9 2016 meeting with Donald Trump, Jr., Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin, who has reportedly boasted of his ties to ties and experience in Soviet intelligence and counterintelligence.  According to a recent New York Times story, “Akhmetshin told journalists that he was a longtime acquaintance of Paul J. Manafort.”

There’s no allegation that investigations didn’t know about June 2016 plan to hurt Hillary (indeed, the Guccifer 2.0 stuff that Sipher ignores was public to all). Rather they didn’t know — but neither did Fusion, who has an established relationship with Akhmetshin — about the meeting involving Akhmetshin. If you’re going to claim the June 9 meeting proves anything, it’s that the dossier as currently known has a big hole right in Fusion’s client/researcher list.

Sergey Kislyak

Which brings me — finally! — to Sipher’s weird treatment of Sergey Kislyak. Sipher argues (correctly) that Trump associates’ failure to report details of their contacts with Russians may support a conspiracy claim.

 Of course, the failure of the Trump team to report details that later leaked out and fit the narrative may make the Steele allegations appear more prescient than they otherwise might.  At the same time, the hesitancy to be honest about contacts with Russia is consistent with allegations of a conspiracy.

Of course, Trump’s folks have failed to report details of that June 9 meeting as well as meetings with Sergey Kislyak. Having now invested his vindication story on that June 9 meeting, he argues that reports about Kislyak (on which the NYT article he cites approvingly probably rely) are misguided; we need to look to that June 9 meeting intead.

It should be noted in this context, that the much-reported meetings with Ambassador Kislyak do not seem to be tied to the conspiracy. He is not an intelligence officer, and would be in the position to offer advice on politics, personalities and political culture in the United States, but would not be asked to engage in espionage activity.  It is likewise notable that Ambassador Kislyak receives only a passing reference in the Steele dossier and only having to do with his internal advice on the political fallout in the U.S. in reaction to the Russian campaign.

Of course, to determine if collusion occurred as alleged in the dossier, we would have to know if the Trump campaign continued to meet with Russian representatives subsequent to the June meeting.

This seems utterly bizarre. We know what happened after June 9, in part: Per Jared Kushner (who also is not mentioned in the dossier or Sipher’s column), immediately after the election Kislyak started moving towards meeting about Syria (not Ukraine). But in the process, Kushner may have asked for a back channel and at Kislyak’s urging, Kushner took a meeting with the head of a sanctioned bank potentially to talk about investments in his family’s debt-ridden empire. And all that is the lead-up to the Mike Flynn calls with Kislyak about sanctions relief which provide some of the proof that Trump was willing to deliver the quo that the dossier claims got offered for quids.

That latter story — of the meetings Kushner and Flynn did in the wake of the election and events that may have taken place since — is every bit as coherent a narrative as the Steele dossier or the entirely new narratives tied to the June 9 meeting (which Sipher claims are actually the Steele narrative).

Of course, neither is yet evidence of collusion. And that’s, frankly, what we as citizens should be after.

A narrative offered up by an intelligence contractor who was always trying to catch up to the central part of the story — the hack-and-leak — is not what we should be striving for. That’s why this dossier is probably mostly irrelevant to the Mueller probe, no matter how the GOP would like to insinuate the opposite. If there was collusion (or rather, coordination on all this stuff between the campaign and Russia), we should expect evidence of it. The Steele dossier, as I have noted, left out one of the key potential proofs of that, in spite of having ties with someone who attended the meeting.

All that said, it would be useful for someone responsible to respond to GOP criticisms and, where invented (such as with the claim that Steele paying sources diminishes its value), demonstrate that. It would be useful for someone to explain what we should take from the dossier.

Sipher didn’t do that, though. Indeed, his post largely suffers from the same bad analysis he accuses the media of.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Democrats Demand DOJ Release the Information that Has Christopher Steele Hiding for His Life

I have to say, the Democrats are beginning to convince me Russia’s involvement in the DNC hack is just one hoax.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe there is plenty of evidence — in public and stuff I’ve been told by people close to the hack — that the Russians did hack the DNC and John Podesta and share those documents with Wikileaks.

But given the bozo way the Democrats are trying to politicize it, I can only conclude the Democrats think this is less serious than I have believed and than Democrats claim. That’s because they’re now demanding that FBI give them the very same information that — we’ve been told by public reporting — led former MI6 officer Christopher Steele to hide for his life.

This morning, David Corn wrote a piece complaining about “the mysterious disappearance of the biggest scandal in Washington.”

After reviewing some of the facts in this case (and asserting without proof that Putin’s interference in the election “achieved its objectives,” which is only partly backed by declassified intelligence reports on the hack) and giving an incomplete list of the congressional committees that have announced investigations into the hack, Corn gave this inventory of what he claims to be the lack of outcry over the hack.

Yet these behind-closed-doors inquiries have generated minimum media notice, and, overall, there has not been much outcry.

Certainly, every once in a while, a Democratic legislator or one of the few Republican officials who have bothered to express any disgust at the Moscow meddling (namely Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Marco Rubio) will pipe up. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi days ago called on the FBI to investigate Trump’s “financial, personal and political connections to Russia” to determine “the relationship between Putin, whom he admires, and Donald Trump.” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), responding to Trump’s comparison of the United States to Putin’s repressive regime, said on CNN, “What is this strange relationship between Putin and Trump? And is there something that the Russians have on him that is causing him to say these really bizarre things on an almost daily basis?” A few weeks ago, Graham told me he wanted an investigation of how the FBI has handled intelligence it supposedly has gathered on ties between Trump insiders and Russia. And last month, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) pushed FBI Director James Comey at a public hearing to release this information. Yet there has been no drumbeat of sound bites, tweets, or headlines. In recent days, the story has gone mostly dark.

The funniest detail in this is how Corn describes Chris Murphy’s response to the exchange that took up the entire weekend of news — Trump’s nonplussed response when Bill O’Reilly called Putin a killer.

O’Reilly: Do you respect Putin?

Trump: I do respect him but —

O’Reilly: Do you? Why?

Trump: Well, I respect a lot of people but that doesn’t mean I’m going to get along with him. He’s a leader of his country. I say it’s better to get along with Russia than not. And if Russia helps us in the fight against ISIS, which is a major fight, and Islamic terrorism all over the world — that’s a good thing. Will I get along with him? I have no idea.

O’Reilly: But he’s a killer though. Putin’s a killer.

Trump: There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think — our country’s so innocent. You think our country’s so innocent?

O’Reilly: I don’t know of any government leaders that are killers.

Trump: Well — take a look at what we’ve done too. We made a lot of mistakes. I’ve been against the war in Iraq from the beginning.

O’Reilly: But mistakes are different than —

Trump: A lot of mistakes, but a lot of people were killed. A lot of killers around, believe me.

This was a Super Bowl interview, for fuck’s sake, and both before and after the interview, political pundits on both sides of the aisle were up in arms about Trump’s affinity for Putin’s murderous ways! Google counts more than 70,000 articles on the exchange.

But to Corn, that translated into only one comment from Murphy.

From there, Corn goes onto complain that the White House press briefings — which have been a noted shitshow inhabited by people like Infowars — has only featured direct questions about the investigation twice, and that the questions about Trump’s call to Putin weren’t about the investigation (as opposed to, say, Trump’s ignorant comments about the START treaty, which could get us all killed).

The crazier thing is that, best as I can tell, Mother Jones — the media outlet that David Corn has a bit of influence over — seems to have ignored the indictment of Hal Martin yesterday, the arrest on treason charges of two FSB officers, allegedly for sharing information with the US intelligence community, or even today’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on our relations with Russia. Among other things, today’s hearing discussed the hack, Trump’s comments about Putin the killer, weaponization of information, sanctions, Trump’s lukewarm support for NATO. It also included multiple Democratic calls for a bipartisan investigation and assurances from Chairman Corker and Ranking Member Cardin that that would happen.

So effectively, David Corn should be complaining about his own outlet, which isn’t covering the things relating to the hack others of us are covering.

No matter. Corn made his sort of ridiculous call, that call got liked or RTed over 3,000 times, and as if magically in response, Jerry Nadler introduced a resolution of inquiry, calling on the Administration to (in part) release any document that relates or refers to “any criminal or counterintelligence investigation targeting President Donald J. Trump, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Roger Stone, or any employee of the Executive Office of the President.”

As I’ve already noted, two FSB officers recently got arrested on treason charges, an event many people fear came in response to details revealed about this investigation and if so would badly undermine any investigation. People equally wonder whether the curious death of former FSB General Oleg Erovinkin relates to the leaked Steele dossier that Corn himself played a central role in magnifying, which would represent another lost intelligence source. And, of course, there are the reports that the former MI6 officer that compiled the dossier, Christopher Steele, on which these allegations rest fled from his home out of fear for his life because of the way it got publicized.

Either Putin is a ruthless thug or he’s not. Either Steele had reason to flee because the dossier is true or he didn’t. Either this thuggery is serious or it’s just a political stunt.

I really do believe it is the former (though I have real questions about the provenance of the dossier, questions which Corn could but has not helped to provide clarity on). Which is why I’m absolutely mystified that Democrats are demanding every document pertaining to any counterintelligence investigation into it, the kind of exposure which —  recent history may already show — is totally counterproductive to actually pursuing that investigation.

As I’ll write shortly, I do deeply suspect the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation (especially) is designed to be counterproductive. The Hal Martin indictment yesterday seems to suggest FBI doesn’t have the evidence to figure out who Shadow Brokers is, if even it has ties to the DNC hack (as much evidence suggests it does). But I also think political stunts like this don’t help things.

But maybe that’s not the point?

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Sanctioning GRU … and FSB

While I was out and about today, President Obama rolled out his sanctions against Russia to retaliate for the Russian hack of Democrats this year. Effectively, the White House sanctioned two Russian intelligence agencies (GRU — Main Intelligence, and FSB –Federal Security Service), top leaders from one of them, and two named hackers.

In addition to sanctioning GRU, the White House also sanctioned FSB. I find that interesting because (as I laid out here), GRU has always been blamed for the theft of the DNC and John Podesta documents that got leaked to WikiLeaks. While FSB also hacked the DNC, there’s no public indication that it did anything aside from collect information — the kind of hacking the NSA and CIA do all the time (and have done during other countries’ elections). Indeed, as the original Crowdstrike report described, FSB and GRU weren’t coordinating while snooping around the DNC server.

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.

Data provided by FireEye to War on the Rocks much later in the year suggested that the DNC hack was the only time both showed up in a server, which it took to mean the opposite of what Crowdstrike had, particularly high degree of coordination.

According to data provided for this article by the private cybersecurity company, FireEye, two separate but coordinated teams under the Kremlin are running the campaign. APT 28, also known as “FancyBear,” has been tied to Russia’s foreign military intelligence agency, the Main Intelligence Agency or GRU. APT 29, aka “CozyBear,” has been tied to the Federal Security Service or FSB. Both have been actively targeting the United States. According to FireEye, they have only appeared in the same systems once, which suggests a high level of coordination — a departure from what we have seen and come to expect from Russian intelligence.

The sanctioning materials offers only this explanation for the FSB sanction: “The Federal Security Service (a.k.a. Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti) (a.k.a FSB) assisted the GRU in conducting the activities described above.”

So I’m not sure what to make of the fact that FSB was sanctioned along with GRU. Perhaps it means there was some kind of serial hack, with FSB identifying an opportunity that GRU then implemented — the more extensive coordination that FireEye claims. Perhaps it means the US has decided it’s going to start sanctioning garden variety information collection of the type the US does.

But I do find it an interesting aspect of the sanctions.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

As of August 29, 2016, Not All High Risk Users at NSA Had Two-Factor Authentication

For the last several weeks, all of DC has been wailing that Russia hacked the election, in part because John Podesta didn’t have two-factor authentication on his Gmail account.

So it should scare all of you shitless that, as of August 29, 2016, not all high risk users at NSA had 2FA.

That revelation comes 35 pages  into the 38 page HPSCI report on Edward Snowden. It describes how an IG Report finished on August 29 found that NSA still had not closed the Privileged Access-Related holes in the NSA’s network.

That’s not the only gaping hole: apparently even server racks in data centers were not secure.

And note that date: August 29? Congress would have heard about these glaring problems just two weeks after the first Shadow Brokers leak, and days after Hal Martin got arrested with terabytes of NSA data in his backyard shed.

I think I can understand why James Clapper and Ash Carter want to fire Mike Rogers.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Lefties Learn to Love Leaks Again

Throughout the presidential campaign, observers have noted with irony that many on the right discovered a new-found love for WikiLeaks. Some of the same people who had earlier decried leaks, even called Chelsea Manning a traitor, were lapping up what Julian Assange was dealing on a daily basis.

There was a similar, though less marked, shift on the left. While many on the left had criticized — or at least cautioned about — WikiLeaks from the start, once Assange started targeting their presidential candidate, such leaks became an unprecedented, unparalleled assault on decency, which no one seemed to say when similar leaks targeted Bashar al-Assad.

Which is why I was so amused by the reception of this story yesterday.

After revealing that Donald Trump’s Secretary of State nominee “was the long-time director of a US-Russian oil firm based in the tax haven of the Bahamas, leaked documents show” in the first paragraph, the article admits, in the fourth paragraph that,

Though there is nothing untoward about this directorship, it has not been reported before and is likely to raise fresh questions over Tillerson’s relationship with Russia ahead of a potentially stormy confirmation hearing by the US senate foreign relations committee. Exxon said on Sunday that Tillerson was no longer a director after becoming the company’s CEO in 2006.

The people sharing it on Twitter didn’t seem to notice that (nor did the people RTing my ironic tweet about leaks seem to notice). Effectively, the headline “leaks reveal details I have sensationalized” served its purpose, with few people reading far enough to the caveats that admit this is fairly standard international business practice (indeed, it’s how Trump’s businesses work too). This is a more sober assessment of the import of the document detailing Tillerson’s ties with the Exxon subsidiary doing business in Russia.

This Guardian article worked just like all the articles about DNC and Podesta emails worked, even with — especially with — the people decrying the press for the way it irresponsibly sensationalized those leaks.

The response to this Tillerson document is all the more remarkable given the source of this leak. The Guardian reveals it came from an anonymous source for Süddeutsche Zeitung, which in turn shared the document with the Guardian and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

The leaked 2001 document comes from the corporate registry in the Bahamas. It was one of 1.3m files given to the Germany newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung by an anonymous source.

[snip]

The documents from the Bahamas corporate registry were shared by Süddeutsche Zeitung with the Guardian and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in Washington DC.

That is, this document implicating Vladimir Putin’s buddy Rex Tillerson came via the very same channel that the Panama Papers had, which Putin claimed, back in the time Russia was rifling around the DNC server, was a US intelligence community effort to discredit him and his kleptocratic cronies, largely because that was the initial focus of the US-NGO based consortium that managed the documents adopted, a focus replicated at outlets participating.

See this column for a worthwhile argument that Putin hacked the US as retaliation for the Panama Papers, which makes worthwhile points but would only work chronologically if Putin had advance notice of the Panama Papers (because John Podesta got hacked on March 19, before the first releases from the Panama Papers on April 3).

There really has been a remarkable lack of curiosity about where these files came from. That’s all the more striking in this case, given that the document (barely) implicating Tillerson comes from the Bahamas, where the US at least was collecting every single phone call made.

That’s all the more true given the almost non-existent focus on the Bahamas leaks before — from what I can tell just one story has been done on this stash, though the documents are available in the ICIJ database. Indeed, if the source for the leaks was the same, it would seem to point to an outside hacker rather than an inside leaker. That doesn’t mean the leak was done just to hurt Tillerson. The leak, which became public on September 21, precedes the election of Trump, much less the naming of Tillerson. But it deserves at least some notice.

For what it’s worth, I think it quite possible the US has been involved in such leaks — particularly given how few Americans get named in them. But I don’t think the Panama Papers, which implicated plenty of American friends and even the Saudis, actually did target Putin.

Still, people are going to start believing Putin’s claims that this effort is primarily targeted at him if documents conveniently appear from the leak as if on command.

I am highly interested in who handed off documents allegedly stolen by Russia’s GRU to Wikileaks. But I’m also interested in who the source enabling asymmetric corruption claims, as if on demand, is.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Just Before Obama Weighs in on the Russian Hack, John Brennan Tells Everyone What He Says Others Said

At 2:20, WaPo published a story basically saying, “Anonymous source says CIA Director Wrote a Letter Claiming FBI Director and Director of National Intelligence Agree with Him,” but you wouldn’t know that from the headline.

At 2:40, President Obama entered the White House briefing room to give his last press conference of the year, which was scheduled to start at 2:15. Everyone anticipated, correctly, the presser would be dominated by questions about Russia’s role in the election.

So:

2:15: scheduled start for the President to comment on Russia’s hacking and what the intelligence says.

2:20: WaPo tells you what an anonymous leaker says CIA’s Director says FBI’s Director and Director of National Intelligence say, which differs somewhat from what Obama says.

2:40: Obama walks to the podium as, presumably, everyone waiting is reading WaPo’s scoop.

Who says only Vladimir Putin is good at information ops?

Mind you, once you get into the body of the article, there’s a significant difference between what WaPo says CIA says today and what its anonymous sources said CIA said a week ago, the last time it stomped on Obama’s efforts to introduce some deliberation into the claims about Russia’s hacks. Last week, WaPo said the CIA view was this:

“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.”

[snip]

The CIA shared its latest assessment with key senators in a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill last week, in which agency officials cited a growing body of intelligence from multiple sources. Agency briefers told the senators it was now “quite clear” that electing Trump was Russia’s goal, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters. [my emphasis]

Goal, singular.

Here’s what the lead says in today’s article.

FBI Director James B. Comey and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. are in agreement with a CIA assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in part to help Donald Trump win the presidency, according to U.S. officials.

With this further elaboration below.

The CIA shared its latest assessment with key senators in a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill about two weeks ago in which agency officials cited a growing body of intelligence from multiple sources. Specifically, CIA briefers told the senators it was now “quite clear” that electing Trump was one of Russia’s goals, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

CIA and FBI officials do not think Russia had a “single purpose” by intervening during the presidential campaign. In addition to helping Trump, intelligence officials have told lawmakers that Moscow’s other goal included undermining confidence in the U.S. electoral system. [my emphasis]

WaPo still makes no mention of the most obvious goal, that Russia hacked Hillary to retaliate for real and perceived slights covertly carried out by Hillary and CIA, something that Hillary claimed just before the WaPo story and the Obama presser.

In any case, if you look at CNN’s far more sober version of this, it appears that there is still some difference in emphasis about whether Russia was trying to elect Trump (and Brennan’s statement appears not to lay out what the consensus view is).

The nuance lay in a stronger view by the CIA that the hacking was intended to help elect Trump, and the CIA leans more strongly in that view than the FBI does.

Ah well, in the waning days of a great empire, who cares about deference to the outgoing President?

Update: This exchange between Obama and Martha Raddatz most directly addresses what Obama wants to say about the hack (elsewhere he says there was no evidence Russia hacked any polls).

Q Mr. President, I want to talk about Vladimir Putin again. Just to be clear, do you believe Vladimir Putin himself authorized the hack? And do you believe he authorized that to help Donald Trump? And on the intelligence, one of the things Donald Trump cites is Saddam Hussein and the weapons of mass destruction, and that they were never found. Can you say, unequivocally, that this was not China, that this was not a 400-pound guy sitting on his bed, as Donald Trump says? And do these types of tweets and kinds of statements from Donald Trump embolden the Russians?

THE PRESIDENT: When the report comes out, before I leave office, that will have drawn together all the threads. And so I don’t want to step on their work ahead of time.

What I can tell you is that the intelligence that I have seen gives me great confidence in their assessment that the Russians carried out this hack.

Q Which hack?

THE PRESIDENT: The hack of the DNC and the hack of John Podesta.

Now, the — but again, I think this is exactly why I want the report out, so that everybody can review it. And this has been briefed, and the evidence in closed session has been provided on a bipartisan basis — not just to me, it’s been provided to the leaders of the House and the Senate, and the chairman and ranking members of the relevant committees. And I think that what you’ve already seen is, at least some of the folks who have seen the evidence don’t dispute, I think, the basic assessment that the Russians carried this out.

Q But specifically, can you not say that —

THE PRESIDENT: Well, Martha, I think what I want to make sure of is that I give the intelligence community the chance to gather all the information. But I’d make a larger point, which is, not much happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin. This is a pretty hierarchical operation. Last I checked, there’s not a lot of debate and democratic deliberation, particularly when it comes to policies directed at the United States.

We have said, and I will confirm, that this happened at the highest levels of the Russian government. And I will let you make that determination as to whether there are high-level Russian officials who go off rogue and decide to tamper with the U.S. election process without Vladimir Putin knowing about it.

Q So I wouldn’t be wrong in saying the President thinks Vladimir Putin authorized the hack?

THE PRESIDENT: Martha, I’ve given you what I’m going to give you.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

The DNC’s Evolving Story about When They Knew They Were Targeted by Russia

This week’s front page story about the Democrats getting hacked by Russia starts with a Keystone Kops anecdote explaining why the DNC didn’t respond more aggressively when FBI first warned them about being targeted in September. The explanation, per the contractor presumably covering his rear-end months later, was that the FBI Special Agent didn’t adequately identify himself.

When Special Agent Adrian Hawkins of the Federal Bureau of Investigation called the Democratic National Committee in September 2015 to pass along some troubling news about its computer network, he was transferred, naturally, to the help desk.

His message was brief, if alarming. At least one computer system belonging to the D.N.C. had been compromised by hackers federal investigators had named “the Dukes,” a cyberespionage team linked to the Russian government.

The F.B.I. knew it well: The bureau had spent the last few years trying to kick the Dukes out of the unclassified email systems of the White House, the State Department and even the Joint Chiefs of Staff, one of the government’s best-protected networks.

Yared Tamene, the tech-support contractor at the D.N.C. who fielded the call, was no expert in cyberattacks. His first moves were to check Google for “the Dukes” and conduct a cursory search of the D.N.C. computer system logs to look for hints of such a cyberintrusion. By his own account, he did not look too hard even after Special Agent Hawkins called back repeatedly over the next several weeks — in part because he wasn’t certain the caller was a real F.B.I. agent and not an impostor.

This has led to (partially justified) complaints from John Podesta about why the FBI didn’t make the effort of driving over to the DNC to warn the higher-ups (who, the article admitted, had decided not to spend much money on cybersecurity).

This NYT version of the FBI Agent story comes from a memo that DNC’s contractor, Yared Tamene, wrote at some point after the fact. The NYT describes the memo repeatedly, though it never describes the recipients of the memo nor reveals precisely when it was written (it is clear it had to have been written after April 2016).

“I had no way of differentiating the call I just received from a prank call,” Mr. Tamene wrote in an internal memo, obtained by The New York Times, that detailed his contact with the F.B.I.

[snip]

“The F.B.I. thinks the D.N.C. has at least one compromised computer on its network and the F.B.I. wanted to know if the D.N.C. is aware, and if so, what the D.N.C. is doing about it,” Mr. Tamene wrote in an internal memo about his contacts with the F.B.I. He added that “the Special Agent told me to look for a specific type of malware dubbed ‘Dukes’ by the U.S. intelligence community and in cybersecurity circles.”

[snip]

In November, Special Agent Hawkins called with more ominous news. A D.N.C. computer was “calling home, where home meant Russia,” Mr. Tamene’s memo says, referring to software sending information to Moscow. “SA Hawkins added that the F.B.I. thinks that this calling home behavior could be the result of a state-sponsored attack.”

[DNC technology director Andrew] Brown knew that Mr. Tamene, who declined to comment, was fielding calls from the F.B.I. But he was tied up on a different problem: evidence suggesting that the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Mrs. Clinton’s main Democratic opponent, had improperly gained access to her campaign data.

[snip]

One bit of progress had finally been made by the middle of April: The D.N.C., seven months after it had first been warned, finally installed a “robust set of monitoring tools,” Mr. Tamene’s internal memo says. [my emphasis]

The NYT includes a screen cap of part of that memo (which reveals that the DNC had already been exposed to ransomware attacks by September 2015), but not the other metadata or a link to the full memo.

One reason I raise all this is because the evidence laid out in the story contradicts, in several ways, this August report, relying on three anonymous sources (at least some of whom are probably members of Congress, but then so was the DNC Chair at the time).

The FBI did not tell the Democratic National Committee that U.S officials suspected it was the target of a Russian government-backed cyber attack when agents first contacted the party last fall, three people with knowledge of the discussions told Reuters.

And in months of follow-up conversations about the DNC’s network security, the FBI did not warn party officials that the attack was being investigated as Russian espionage, the sources said.

The lack of full disclosure by the FBI prevented DNC staffers from taking steps that could have reduced the number of confidential emails and documents stolen, one of the sources said. Instead, Russian hackers whom security experts believe are affiliated with the Russian government continued to have access to Democratic Party computers for months during a crucial phase in the U.S. presidential campaign, the source said.

[snip]

In its initial contact with the DNC last fall, the FBI instructed DNC personnel to look for signs of unusual activity on the group’s computer network, one person familiar with the matter said. DNC staff examined their logs and files without finding anything suspicious, that person said.

When DNC staffers requested further information from the FBI to help them track the incursion, they said the agency declined to provide it. In the months that followed, FBI officials spoke with DNC staffers on several other occasions but did not mention the suspicion of Russian involvement in an attack, sources said.

The DNC’s information technology team did not realize the seriousness of the incursion until late March, the sources said. It was unclear what prompted the IT team’s realization.

In August, anonymous sources told Reuters that FBI never told DNC they were being attacked by Russians until … well, Reuters doesn’t actually tell us when the FBI told DNC the Russians were behind the attack, just that Democrats started taking it seriously in March.

But in the pre-Trump Russian hack bonanza, the NYT has now revealed that an internal memo says that the DNC had been informed in November, not March.

And even that part of the explanation doesn’t make sense. As a number of people have noted, Brown is basically saying he didn’t respond to a warning — given in November — that a DNC server was calling home to Russia because he was dealing with a NGP-VAN breach that happened on December 18. He would have had over two weeks to respond to Russia hacking the DNC before the NGP-VAN issue, and that would have been significantly handled by NGP.

Moreover, even the September narrative invites some skepticism. Tamene admits the FBI Special Agent, “told me to look for a specific type of malware dubbed ‘Dukes’ by the U.S. intelligence community and in cybersecurity circles.” And he describes “His first moves were to check Google for “the Dukes” and conduct a cursory search of the D.N.C. computer system logs to look for hints of such a cyberintrusion.” Had Tamene Googled for “dukes malware” any time after September 17, 2015, this is what he would have found.

Today we release a new whitepaper on an APT group commonly referred to as “the Dukes”. We believe that the Dukes are a well-resourced, highly dedicated, and organized cyber-espionage group that has been working for the Russian government since at least 2008 to collect intelligence in support of foreign and security policy decision-making. [my emphasis]

So had this initial report taken place after September 17, Tamene would have learned, thanks to the second sentence of a top Google return, that he was facing a “highly dedicated, and organized cyber-espionage group that has been working for the Russian government. ” Had he done the Google search he said he did, that is, he would almost certainly have learned he was facing down Russian hackers.

Had he clicked through to the report — which is where he would have gone to find the malware signatures to look for — he would have seen a big pink graphic tying the Dukes to Russia.

It’s certainly possible the alert came before the white paper was released (though if it came after, it explains why the FBI would have thought simply mentioning the Dukes would be sufficient). But that would suggest Tamene remembered the call and his Google search for the Dukes in detail sometime in April but not in September when this report got a fair amount of attention.

None of this is to excuse the FBI (I’ve already started a post on that part of this). But it’s clear that Democrats have been — at a minimum — inconsistent in their story to the press about why they didn’t respond to warnings sooner. And given the multiple problems with their explanation about what happened last fall, it’s likely they did get some warning, but just didn’t heed it.

Update: When I wrote this this morning, I had read this tweet stream and this story but not the underlying Shadow Brokers related post, by someone writing under the pseudonym Boceffus Cleetus it relates to, which is basically a Medium post introducing the latest sale of Shadow Broker tools. It wasn’t until I read this post — and then the second Boceffus Cleetus post that I realized Boceffus Cleetus posted (his) original post — along with a reference to the name magnified back when this hack started — the day after the NYT wrote a story of the hack from DNC’s perspective.

As the tweet stream lays out, Boceffus Cleetus is a play on ventriloquism, (duh, speaking for others) and the Dukes of Hazard. Both analyses of this argue that the reference to “Dukes of Hazard” is, in turn, a reference to the name given to the FSB hacking efforts (the other I’ve used is “Cozy Bear”) in the report I linked above — that is, to the name F-Secure had given the FSB hackers, most notably in the report I linked above. I didn’t make too much of it until I read this second Boceffus Cleetus post, which in seemingly one sentence lays out Bill Binney’s theory of the DNC hack (that is, that NSA handed it on) with a country drawl and a lot of conspiracy theory added.

After my shadow brokers tweet I was contacted by an anonymous source claiming to be FBI. Yep I know prove it? I wasn’t able to get’em to verify their identity. But y’all don’t be runnin away yet, suspend yer disbelief and check out their claims. What if the Russian’s ain’t hacking nothin? What if the shadow brokers ain’t Russian? Whatcha got as the next best theory? What if its a deep state civil war tween CIA and ole NSA? A deep state civil war to see who really runs things. NSA is Department of Defense, military. The majority of the military are high school grads, coming from rural “Red States”, conservatives. The NSA has the global surveillance capabilities to intercept all the DNC and Podesta emails. CIA is college grads only and has the traditions of the urban yankee northeastern and east coast ivy leaguers, “Blue State”, liberals.

It’s all mostly gratuitous — an attempt to feed (as explicitly named “fake news”) some of the alternate explanations out there right now.

But I find the portrayal of an NSA-CIA feud notable, in part, because the mostly likely reason FBI (which is where Boceffus Cleetus’ fictional source came from) didn’t tell the DNC who was hacking them back in September 2015 is because the actual tip — that Russia was hacking the DNC — came from the NSA. But FBI had to hide that. So instead, they used the name for FSB that was current at the time.

I’ll add, too, that this plays on Craig Murray’s claim that a national security person leaked him the Podesta documents.

So what’s the point? Dunno. I defer to theGrugq’s third post, in which he argues this post is signaling to show NSA the Russian hackers must have access to NSA’s classified networks, because they’ve accessed a map of everything.

This dump has a bit of everything. In fact, it has too much of everything. The first drop was a firewall ops kit. It had everything that was supposed to be used against firewalls. This dump, on the other hand, has too much diversity and each tool is comprehensive.

The depth and breadth of the tooling they reveal can only possibly be explained by:

  1. an improbable sequence of hack backs which got, in sequence, massive depth of codenamed implants, exploits, manuals,
  2. access to high side data

[snip]

It is obvious that this data would never leave NSA classified networks except by some serious operator error (as I believe was the case with the first ShadowBrokers leak.) For this dump though, it is simply not plausible. There is no way that such diverse and comprehensive ops tooling was accidentally exposed. It beggars belief to think that any operator could be so careless that they’d expose this much tooling, on multiple diverse operations.

There are, based on my count, twenty one (21) scripts/manuals for operations contained in this dump. They cover too many operations for a mistake, and they are too comprehensive for a mistake.

Remember, Obama has been stating assuredly that the US has far more defensive and offensive capability than Russia. The latter might well be true. But the latter is nuts, if for no other reason than we have so much more to secure. The former might be true. But not if hackers can log into NSA’s fridge and steal their beer.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this. But against the background of increasing dick-wagging, it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

The NYT’s Legitimate Email Detail

The NYT has a long story describing the hack of the Democrats in the most favorable light to the party, one that blames “socialist” Bernie Sanders for the months-long delay before the DNC tech person responded to FBI warnings about being hacked, one that makes no mention of the widely reported detail that Democrats were happy to have an excuse to fire Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Given that it puts things in a light so favorable to the Democrats, I wanted to look more closely at this passage, which has gotten a lot of attention.

Hundreds of similar phishing emails were being sent to American political targets, including an identical email sent on March 19 to Mr. Podesta, chairman of the Clinton campaign. Given how many emails Mr. Podesta received through this personal email account, several aides also had access to it, and one of them noticed the warning email, sending it to a computer technician to make sure it was legitimate before anyone clicked on the “change password” button.

“This is a legitimate email,” Charles Delavan, a Clinton campaign aide, replied to another of Mr. Podesta’s aides, who had noticed the alert. “John needs to change his password immediately.”

With another click, a decade of emails that Mr. Podesta maintained in his Gmail account — a total of about 60,000 — were unlocked for the Russian hackers. Mr. Delavan, in an interview, said that his bad advice was a result of a typo: He knew this was a phishing attack, as the campaign was getting dozens of them. He said he had meant to type that it was an “illegitimate” email, an error that he said has plagued him ever since.

It points to a detail that has always struck me about the stories about the hack of John Podesta. They note — as I did — that we can look at the email reportedly used to hack Podesta. Here’s the entirety of what Delavan sent to a woman named Sara Latham, who forwarded it to a woman named Milia Fisher:

This is a legitimate email. John needs to change his password immediately, and ensure that two-factor authentication is turned on his account.

He can go to this link: https://myaccount.google.com/security to do both. It is absolutely imperative that this is done ASAP.

If you or he has any questions, please reach out to me at [phone].

It may be that he mistyped legitimate for illegitimate. But he also said that Podesta should change his email password and added two-factor authentication. Perhaps the mistake was in forwarding the email with the link, rather than just responding by saying Podesta was being phished.

The part that has always puzzled me about this email — and the likely reason why he’s now telling a story that doesn’t entirely make sense — is that he also did the safe thing. He provided the real GMail address at which staffers could have changed the password and added 2FA. Had those staffers used that link, they could have avoided a whole lot of trouble and made any subsequent hack less likely.

I even, at one point, doubted whether this really could have been the email used to hack Podesta, because it shouldn’t have worked, given that he took the right steps (though the timing of the emails does correlate with the dates of what got released).

What is more likely to have happened is that one of the women used the bad URL to change the password (which would have appeared all shiny in the original), rather than the correct URL that Delavan provided. That is, it may be that Delavan is covering for one of the women.

Update; I realized after posting how the typo thing might make sense, and changed that part, but there’s still the point that he did the right thing here.

Update: Slate interviewed Delavan, who said the NYT got the phrasing wrong. The story still doesn’t seem to make sense entirely.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

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 DCLeaks.com 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.

[snip]

[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.

[snip]

“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.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Unpacking the New CIA Leak: Don’t Ignore the Aluminum Tube Footnote

This post will unpack the leak from the CIA published in the WaPo tonight.

Before I start with the substance of the story, consider this background. First, if Trump comes into office on the current trajectory, the US will let Russia help Bashar al-Assad stay in power, thwarting a 4-year effort on the part of the Saudis to remove him from power. It will also restructure the hierarchy of horrible human rights abusing allies the US has, with the Saudis losing out to other human rights abusers, potentially up to and including that other petrostate, Russia. It will also install a ton of people with ties to the US oil industry in the cabinet, meaning the US will effectively subsidize oil production in this country, which will have the perhaps inadvertent result of ensuring the US remains oil-independent even though the market can’t justify fracking right now.

The CIA is institutionally quite close with the Saudis right now, and has been in charge of their covert war against Assad.

This story came 24 days after the White House released an anonymous statement asserting, among other things, “the Federal government did not observe any increased level of malicious cyber activity aimed at disrupting our electoral process on election day,” suggesting that the Russians may have been deterred.

This story was leaked within hours of the time the White House announced it was calling for an all-intelligence community review of the Russia intelligence, offered without much detail. Indeed, this story was leaked and published as an update to that story.

Which is to say, the CIA and/or people in Congress (this story seems primarily to come from Democratic Senators) leaked this, apparently in response to President Obama’s not terribly urgent call to have all intelligence agencies weigh in on the subject of Russian influence, after weeks of Democrats pressuring him to release more information. It was designed to both make the White House-ordered review more urgent and influence the outcome.

So here’s what that story says.

In September, the spooks briefed “congressional leaders” (which for a variety of reasons I wildarseguess is either a Gang of Four briefing including Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, and Harry Reid or a briefing to SSCI plus McConnell, Reid, Jack Reed, and John McCain). Apparently, the substance of the briefing was that Russia’s intent in hacking Democratic entities was not to increase distrust of institutions, but instead to elect Trump.

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.

The difference between this story and other public assessments is that it seems to identify the people — who sound like people with ties to the Russian government but not necessarily part of it — who funneled documents from Russia’s GRU 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.

[snip]

[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.

This is the part that has always been missing in the past: how the documents got from GRU, which hacked the DNC and John Podesta, to Wikileaks, which released them. It appears that CIA now thinks they know the answer: some people one step removed from the Russian government, funneling the documents from GRU hackers (presumably) to Wikileaks to be leaked, with the intent of electing Trump.

Not everyone buys this story. Mitch McConnell doesn’t buy the intelligence.

In September, during a secret briefing for congressional leaders, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) voiced doubts about the veracity of the intelligence, according to officials present.

That’s one doubt raised about CIA’s claim — though like you all, I assume Mitch McConnell shouldn’t be trusted on this front.

But McConnell wasn’t the only one. One source for this story — which sounds like someone like Harry Reid or Dianne Feinstein — claimed that this CIA judgment is the “consensus” view of all the intelligence agencies, a term of art.

“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.”

Except that in a briefing this week (which may have been what impressed John McCain and Lindsey Graham to do their own investigation), that’s not what this represented.

The CIA shared its latest assessment with key senators in a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill last week, in which agency officials cited a growing body of intelligence from multiple sources. Agency briefers told the senators it was now “quite clear” that electing Trump was Russia’s goal, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

The CIA presentation to senators about Russia’s intentions fell short of a formal U.S. assessment produced by all 17 intelligence agencies. A senior U.S. official said there were minor disagreements among intelligence officials about the agency’s assessment, in part because some questions remain unanswered. [my emphasis]

That’s a conflict. Some senior US official (often code for senior member of Congress) says this is the consensus view. Another senior US official (or maybe the very same one) says there are “minor disagreements.”

Remember: we went to war against Iraq, which turned out to have no WMD, in part because no one read the “minor disagreements” from a few agencies about some aluminum tubes. A number of Senators who didn’t read that footnote closely (and at least one that did) are involved in this story. What we’re being told is there are some aluminum tube type disagreements.

Let’s hear about those disagreements this time, shall we?

Here’s the big takeaway. The language “a formal US assessment produced by all 17 intelligence agencies” is, like “a consensus view,” a term of art. It’s an opportunity for agencies which may have differing theories of what happened here to submit their footnotes.

That may be what Obama called for today: the formal assessment from all agencies (though admittedly, the White House purposely left the scope and intent of it vague).

Whatever that review is intended to be, what happened as soon as Obama announced it is that the CIA and/or Democratic Senators started leaking their conclusion. That’s what this story is.

Update: One other really critical detail. When the White House announced the Obama review today, Wikileaks made what was a bizarre statement. Linking to a CNN story on the Obama ordered review that erred on the side of blaming Russia for everything, it said, “CNN: Obama orders report into WikiLeaks timed for release just prior to Trump presidency.” Even though none of the statements on the review focused on what this story does — that is, on the way that the DNC and Podesta emails got to Wikileaks — Wikileaks nevertheless interpreted it as an inquiry targeted at it.

Update: And now David Sanger (whose story on the Obama-ordered review was particularly bad) and Scott Shane reveal the RNC also got hacked, and it is the differential leaking that leads the spooks to believe the Russians wanted Trump to win.

They based that conclusion, in part, on another finding — which they say was also reached with high confidence — that the Russians hacked the Republican National Committee’s computer systems in addition to their attacks on Democratic organizations, but did not release whatever information they gleaned from the Republican networks.

In the months before the election, it was largely documents from Democratic Party systems that were leaked to the public.

This may be a fair assessment. But you would have to account for two things before making it. First, you’d need to know the timing and hacker behind the RNC hack. That’s because two entities are believed to have hacked the DNC: an FSB appearing hacking group, and a GRU one. The FSB is not believed to have leaked. GRU is believed to have. So if the FSB hacked the RNC but didn’t leak it, it would be completely consistent with what FSB did with DNC.

NYT now says the RNC hack was by GRU in the spring, so it is a fair question why the DNC things got leaked but RNC did not.

Also, Sanger and Shane say “largely documents” from Dems were leaked. That’s false. There were two streams of non-Wikileaks releases, Guccifer, which did leak all-Dem stuff, and DC Leaks, which leaked stuff that might be better qualified as Ukrainian related. The most publicized of documents from the latter were from Colin Powell, which didn’t help Trump at all.

Update: It’s clear that Harry Reid (who of course is retiring and so can leak speech and debate protected classified information without worrying he’ll be shut off in the future) is one key driver of this story. Last night he was saying, “”I was right. Comey was wrong. I hope he can look in the mirror and see what he did to this country.” This morning he is on the TV saying he believes Comey had information on this before the election.

Update, 12/10: This follow-up from WaPo is instructive, as it compares what CIA briefed the Senate Intelligence Committee about the current state of evidence with what FBI briefed the House Intelligence Committee about the current state of evidence. While the focus is on different Republican and Democratic understandings of both, the story also makes it clear that FBI definitely doesn’t back what WaPo’s sources from yesterday said was a consensus view.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.