US intelligence officials are briefing President-elect Donald Trump today on evidence that Russian state-sponsored actors were behind the Democratic National Committee hack and other attempts to influence the outcome of the election.
Reuters reports that the CIA has identified the Russian officials who fed hacked material, via third parties, to WikiLeaks, at the direction of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
This information is part of a new top secret report given to President Obama this week, which will be made available to Trump today.
"By October, it had become clear that the Russians were trying to help the Trump campaign,” said one official familiar with the full report. Another added, "People who knew what this was about were celebrating a victory over the United States.”
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has said that he didn’t directly receive the information from Russian government or state agencies—an assertion that may be true on a technical level only. CIA officials told the news agency that the information took “a circuitous route” from the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, to WikiLeaks, in order to make attribution tougher. It’s a common practice used by all intelligence agencies, including the CIA.
“The type of circuitous hand-off of information described by the CIA contact here is exactly the sort of obfuscation that I would expect in a cyberattack of this nature,” Nathan Wenzler, principal security architect at AsTech Consulting, a San Francisco-based security consulting company, told Infosecurity. “It's a common trait of many hacks to route attack traffic through multiple servers in multiple countries, making it seem as if the attack is being launched from somewhere else. It should come as no surprise that a sophisticated nation-state intelligence program would leverage the same sort of tactic in a politically charged attack of this nature.”
Added Joseph Carson, head of global strategic alliances at Thycotic, a Washington D.C. based provider of privileged account management (PAM) solutions, “The fact that Julian Assange has stated that Russia was not the source of the material published on the WikiLeaks website does not necessarily mean that source was [an independent] hacker. It simply means that the material could have been transferred multiple times via third parties prior to finally being delivered to WikiLeaks. This would be common practice for any hacker to hide their tracks.”
The issue of Russian meddling in the election has become a political lightning rod, because Trump has offhandedly dismissed the allegations that Russia was behind the attacks, and has repeatedly cast doubt on American intelligence capabilities in general, citing the wrong WMD allegations that led to the Iraq War. At the same time, and in stark contrast to the attitudes of GOP leaders, Trump supporters have embraced Russia as a new ally, giving Vladimir Putin the strongest favorability rating he has ever enjoyed in the United States.
Despite the Syrian humanitarian crisis and the ongoing concern over Russia’s Ukrainian designs, 37% of Republicans viewed Putin favorably as of December, according to a poll conducted by the Economist and YouGov. To put that in perspective, back in July 2014 just 10% of Republicans held a favorable view of Putin. Overall, while Putin still has a net un-favorability rating among Republicans, his standing has improved dramatically—from a net negative of 66 points to just 10 points.
Suffice it to say that Trump’s response to today’s intelligence briefing, whatever it is, will have profound political ramifications in the US.
Carson urged caution from the president-elect in making off-the-cuff statements before knowing all of the facts.
“It is clear that the current news on the DNC hack, and the disclosure on WikiLeaks, has continuously been misread and misunderstood, creating a cascade of fake news,” said Carson. “It is important to first receive the facts from the intelligence agencies’ briefings prior to making any public statements that negate the intelligence collected and analyzed by experts. It does not appear that this happened on this occasion and I hope this is a lesson for the future.”
He added, “It is very highly likely that Russia has been involved in the DNC hack,” Carson said. “These questions remain: was it intentionally to influence the presidential election, and did they direct it or did they simply turn a blind eye?”
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