The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

On the Internet, Nobody Knows You’re Russian Military Intelligence

Posted on | July 14, 2018 | Comments Off on On the Internet, Nobody Knows You’re Russian Military Intelligence


Excuse my sarcastic reference to that classic 1993 Peter Steiner cartoon, but how else do you expect me to react to Friday’s big news?

Twelve Russian military intelligence officers hacked into the Clinton presidential campaign and the Democratic Party and released tens of thousands of private communications in a sweeping conspiracy by the Kremlin to meddle in the 2016 U.S. election, according to an indictment announced days before President Donald Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The indictment represents special counsel Robert Mueller’s first charges against Russian government officials for interfering in American politics, an effort U.S. intelligence agencies say was aimed at helping the Trump campaign and harming his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. The case follows a separate indictment that accused Russians of using social media to sow discord among American voters.
The 29-page indictment lays out how, months before Americans went to the polls, Russians schemed to break into key Democratic email accounts, including those belonging to Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Stolen emails, many politically damaging for Clinton, appeared on WikiLeaks in the campaign’s final stretch. . . .
The indictment identifies the defendants as officers with Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, also known as GRU. If that link is established, it would shatter the Kremlin denials of the Russian state’s involvement in the U.S. elections, given that the GRU is part of the state machine.
The Russian defendants are not in custody, and it is not clear they will ever appear in American court, though the Justice Department has recently seen value in indicting foreign hackers in absentia as public deterrence.
The indictment accuses the Russian hackers, starting in March 2016, of covertly monitoring the computers of dozens of Democratic officials and volunteers, implanting malicious computer code known as malware to explore the networks and steal data, and sending phishing emails to gain access to accounts. . . .

You can read the rest of that, but the key point is that this indictment is meaningless — Viktor Borisovich Netyksho, Boris Alekseyevich Antonov and their comrades in the GRU’s Unit 26165 are never going to be brought to trial. Also, keep in mind “you can indict a ham sandwich,” as the lawyers say, and while Mueller was able to convince the D.C. grand jury that these allegations are true, they are still only allegations. Not to role-play defense attorney for a bunch of Russian spooks, you understand, but reading over the indictment, I didn’t see any actual evidence, nor does the indictment explain how the feds know that these 12 particular GRU agents were responsible for “Guccifer 2.0,” etc.

David French seems to believe item 44 of the indictment is important:

The Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, also communicated with U.S. persons about the release of stolen documents. On or about August 15, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, wrote to a person who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump, “thank u for writing back . . . do u find anyt[h]ing interesting in the docs i posted?” On or about August 17, 2016, the Conspirators added, “please tell me if i can help u anyhow . . . it would be a great pleasure to me.” On or about September 9, 2016, the Conspirators, again posing as Guccifer 2.0, referred to a stolen DCCC document posted online and asked the person, “what do u think of the info on the turnout model for the democrats entire presidential campaign.” The person responded, “[p]retty standard.”

And this proves . . . what, exactly?

The “person who was in regular contact with” Trump campaign officials apparently believed he was communicating with “a lone Romanian hacker,” i.e., “Guccifer 2.0,” an online persona that the indictment says was created by the GRU agents “to undermine the allegations of Russian responsibility for” the widely reported June hacking of DNC computers.

As the indictment says, the hacked Democrat documents were published online where anyone could see them — Republicans, Democrats, anybody — rather than being surreptitiously delivered to Trump officials. And this “person who was in regular contact with” Trump campaign officials exchanged emails with the fictitious “Guccifer 2.0” who publicly claimed responsibility for the hacking. French says, “The indictment practically screams, ‘More information is coming!’ — including additional information about Russian communication with American citizens.” Well, yes, this is a fair inference, but the question remains, “So what?”

Can Mueller prove that (a) Trump officials knew they were communicating with GRU operatives, or that (b) this hacking was done at the behest of Trump officials? How could this be proven?

It was not a secret that Russians hacked the Democrats — this was reported by the Washington Post‘s Ellen Nakashima on June 14, 2016, and the next day, she reported that “Guccifer 2.0” had claimed credit, a claim that analysts called “part of a ‘Russian disinformation’ campaign.” Here we are then, more than two years later, and the grand jury indictment says that this was exactly the case. But what we don’t have is any indication that anybody on Team Trump was knowingly involved.

As a journalist, I get all kinds of email tips from all kinds of people. Suppose that in 2016 I got an email from someone claiming that as a teenager he was raped by John Podesta. If I replied to this email and asked questions, and the person answered, what does our email conversation prove? Nothing. So if it later turns out that this person emailing me was actually a Russian intelligence agent spreading disinformation, the mere fact that I exchanged emails with them doesn’t make me part of a Russian conspiracy. What I’m trying to say is, a dot here (Russian hackers) and a dot there (an email exchange with someone in touch with the Trump campaign) can’t automatically be construed as implying that Trump officials were illegally in cahoots with the GRU. For all I know, Mueller might have more evidence that does show such a connection, but it’s incorrect to assume that such evidence exists. Quite possibly, the Trump people were just clumsy amateurs who bumbled their way into this mess without a clue. But speaking of clueless bumblers, how stupid was Podesta to fall for this trick?

For example, on or about March 19, 2016, LUKASHEV and his co-conspirators created and sent a spearphishing email to the chairman of the Clinton Campaign. LUKASHEV used the account “john356gh” at an online service that abbreviated lengthy website addresses (referred to as a “URL-shortening service”). LUKASHEV used the account to mask a link contained in the spearphishing email, which directed the recipient to a GRU-created website. LUKASHEV altered the appearance of the sender email address in order to make it look like the email was a security notification from Google (a technique known as “spoofing”), instructing the user to change his password by clicking the embedded link. Those instructions were followed. On or about March 21, 2016, LUKASHEV, YERMAKOV, and their co-conspirators stole the contents of the chairman’s email account, which consisted of over 50,000 emails.

Your grandmother might be stupid enough to get phished, but grandma probably doesn’t have a law degree from Georgetown, as Podesta does, and you’d think he would be smart enough to spot the old “security notification” trick, but never overestimate a Democrat’s intelligence, eh?

In announcing the indictments, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein said:

The conspirators corresponded with several Americans during the course of the conspiracy through the internet. There is no allegation in the indictment that the Americans knew they were communicating with Russian intelligence officers. . . .
There is no allegation in this indictment that any American citizen committed a crime. There is no allegation that the conspiracy changed the vote count or affected any election result. . . .
In our justice system, everyone who is charged with a crime is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. It should go without saying that people who are not charged with a crime also are presumed innocent. . . .
When we confront foreign interference in American elections, it is important for us to avoid thinking politically as Republicans or Democrats and instead to think patriotically as Americans. Our response must not depend on which side was victimized.
The Internet allows foreign adversaries to attack America in new and unexpected ways. Free and fair elections are always hard-fought and contentious. There will always be adversaries who seek to exacerbate our divisions and try to confuse, divide, and conquer us. So long as we are united in our commitment to the values enshrined in the Constitution, they will not succeed.

Our “foreign adversaries” may be dogs, for all we know.



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