In the sequel to Hillary’s e-mail scandal, Russian hackers go after the Clinton Foundation
A newly discovered hack may lead to public data dumps “The end result is a weaker president once elected”
Before the Democratic National Committee disclosed a major computer breach in mid-June, U.S. officials had informed both political parties and the presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump that hackers were attempting to penetrate their computers, according to a person familiar with the government investigation. In fact, says another person familiar with the probe, from October 2015 through mid-May, the hackers targeted at least 4,000 individuals, many involved in presidential politics, including party aides, advisers, think tanks, and lawyers.
The government found the hackers, suspected by investigators to have links to the Russian state security apparatus, also succeeded in breaching systems belonging to the Clinton Foundation, as recently as mid-June, three people familiar with the matter say. Foundation officials say the organization has no evidence its systems were compromised and hasn’t been notified by law enforcement.
The hacks set the stage for what could be a Washington remake of the public shaming that shook Sony in 2014, when thousands of internal e-mails filled with casual gossip about world leaders and Hollywood stars were made public. A hacker (or group of hackers) calling himself Guccifer 2.0 has already posted documents purportedly from the DNC, including what he said was a list of donors who had made large contributions to the Clinton Foundation. Guccifer 2.0 publicly threatened to release thousands of internal memos and other documents.
A Clinton campaign spokesman, Glen Caplin, says he can’t comment on government briefings about cybersecurity but that the campaign had no evidence that its systems were compromised. “What appears evident is that the Russian groups responsible for
the DNC hack are intent on attempting to influence the outcome of this election,” he says. The DNC said in a statement that it believes the leaks are “part of a disinformation campaign by the Russians.” Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, denies the Russian government was involved.
Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks didn’t respond to e-mails seeking comment; neither did the Republican National Committee. A Sanders spokesman, Michael Briggs, says he wasn’t aware of the warnings.
The U.S. Secret Service, the FBI, and the National Security Agency are all involved in the investigation; none of the agencies have made statements about the inquiry. The FBI has kept its investigation separate from the review of Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server while she was secretary of state, says a person briefed on the matter.
Russia uses information operations to advance foreign policy. The audience for sensitive internal documents and damaging information wouldn’t be U.S. voters, says Brendan Conlon, who formerly led an NSA hacking unit. “Why would Russia go to this trouble? Simple answer: Because it met their foreign policy objectives, to weaken the U.S. in the eyes of our allies and adversaries,” says Conlon, now chief executive officer of Vahna, a cybersecurity company in Washington. “The end result is a weaker president once elected.”
Russia has been accused of similar hacks in Europe. The German intelligence agency has concluded that Russia was responsible for a 2015 hack that forced the shutdown of the Bundestag’s computer systems. Security software maker Trend Micro said in May that Russian hackers had been trying to steal data from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party, and that they also tried to hack the Dutch Safety Board—to obtain an advance copy of a report that tied the downing of a Malaysian aircraft over Ukraine in July 2014 to a Russianmade Buk surface-to-air missile.