Rus­sian sub­plot in US elec­tion raises in­trigue

Lesotho Times - - International -

WASH­ING­TON — An un­usual ques­tion is cap­tur­ing the at­ten­tion of cy­ber­spe­cial­ists, Rus­sia ex­perts and Demo­cratic Party lead­ers in Philadel­phia: Is Vladimir V. Putin try­ing to med­dle in the Amer­i­can pres­i­den­tial elec­tion?

Un­til Fri­day, that charge, with its eerie sug­ges­tion of a Krem­lin con­spir­acy to aid Don­ald J. Trump, has been only whis­pered.

But the re­lease on Fri­day of some 20,000 stolen emails from the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee’s com­puter servers, many of them em­bar­rass­ing to Demo­cratic lead­ers, has in­ten­si­fied dis­cus­sion of the role of Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence agen­cies in dis­rupt­ing the 2016 cam­paign.

The emails, re­leased first by a sup­posed hacker and later by Wik­ileaks, ex­posed the de­gree to which the Demo­cratic ap­pa­ra­tus fa­vored Hil­lary Clin­ton over her pri­mary ri­val, Sen­a­tor Bernie San­ders of Ver­mont, and trig­gered the res­ig­na­tion of Deb­bie Wasser­man Schultz, the party chair­woman, on the eve of the con­ven­tion’s first day.

Prov­ing the source of a cy­ber­at­tack is no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult. But re­searchers have con­cluded that the na­tional com­mit­tee was breached by two Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence agen­cies, which were the same at­tack­ers be­hind pre­vi­ous Rus­sian cy­ber­op­er­a­tions at the White House, the State De­part­ment and the Joint Chiefs of Staff last year. And me­ta­data from the re­leased emails sug­gests that the doc­u­ments passed through Rus­sian com­put­ers.

Though a hacker claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for giv­ing the emails to Wik­ileaks, the same agen­cies are the prime sus­pects. Whether the thefts were or­dered by Mr Putin, or just car­ried out by ap­pa­ratchiks who thought they might please him, is any­one’s guess.

On Sun­day morn­ing, the is­sue erupted, as Mrs. Clin­ton’s cam­paign man­ager, Robby Mook, ar­gued on ABC’S “This Week” that the emails were leaked “by the Rus­sians for the pur­pose of help­ing Don­ald Trump” cit­ing “ex­perts” but of­fer­ing no other ev­i­dence. Mr Mook also sug­gested that the Rus­sians might have good rea­son to sup­port Mr Trump: The Repub­li­can nom­i­nee in­di­cated in an in­ter­view with The New York Times last week thathe might not back NATO na­tions if they came un­der at­tack from Rus­sia — un­less he was first con­vinced that the coun­tries had made suf­fi­cient con­tri­bu­tions to the At­lantic al­liance.

It was a re­mark­able mo­ment: Even at the height of the Cold War, it was hard to find a pres­i­den­tial cam­paign will­ing to charge that its ri­val was es­sen­tially se­cretly do­ing the bid­ding of a key Amer­i­can ad­ver­sary.

But the ac­cu­sa­tion is emerg­ing as a theme of Mrs. Clin­ton’s cam­paign, as part of an at­tempt to por­tray Mr Trump not only as an iso­la­tion­ist, but also as one who would go soft on con­fronting Rus­sia as it threat­ens na­tions that have shown too much in­de­pen­dence from Mos- cow or, in the case of Lithua­nia, Latvia and Es­to­nia, joined NATO.

Mr Trump has also said he would like to “get along with Rus­sia” if he is elected, and com­pli­mented Mr Putin, say­ing he is more of a leader than Pres­i­dent Obama. Mr Putin has in turn praised Mr Trump.

But Trump cam­paign of­fi­cials on Sun­day strongly re­jected any con­nec­tions be­tween their can­di­date and ef­forts to un­der­mine the Democrats.

“Are there any ties be­tween Mr Trump, you or your cam­paign and Putin and his regime?” Ge­orge Stephanopou­los, of “This Week,” asked Paul Manafort, Mr Trump’s cam­paign chair­man.

“No, there are not,” Mr Manafort shot back. “That’s ab­surd. And, you know, there’s no ba­sis to it.”

One of Mr Trump’s sons, Don­ald Trump Jr., was more de­fin­i­tive, charg­ing the Clin­ton camp with a smear cam­paign. “I can’t think of big­ger lies,” he said on CNN. The younger Mr Trump mock­ingly sug­gested that Mr Mook’s “house cat at home once said this is what hap­pened with the Rus­sians.’’

It may take months, or years, to fig­ure out the mo­tives of those who stole the emails, and more im­por­tant, whether they were be­ing com­manded by Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties, and specif­i­cally by Mr Putin. But the theft from the na­tional com­mit­tee would be among the most im­por­tant state-spon­sored hacks yet of an Amer­i­can or­ga­ni­za­tion, ri­valed only by the at­tacks on the Of­fice of Per­son­nel Man­age­ment by state-spon­sored Chi­nese hack­ers, and the at­tack on Sony Pic­tures En­ter­tain­ment, which Mr Obama blamed on North Korea. There, too, em­bar­rass­ing emails were re­leased, but they had no po­lit­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance. The Wik­ileaks re­lease, how­ever, has more of a tinge of Rus­sian-style in­for­ma­tion war, in which the in­tent of the rev­e­la­tions is to al­ter po­lit­i­cal events. Ex­actly how, though, is a bit of a mys­tery, apart from em­bar­rass­ing Democrats and fur­ther alien­at­ing Mr San­ders’s sup­port­ers from Mrs. Clin­ton.

Ev­i­dence so far sug­gests that the at­tack was the work of at least two sep­a­rate agen­cies, each ap­par­ently work­ing with­out the knowl­edge that the other was in­side the Democrats’ com­put­ers.

It is un­clear how Wik­ileaks ob­tained the email trove. But the pre­sump­tion is that the in­tel­li­gence agen­cies turned it over, ei­ther di­rectly or through an in­ter­me­di­ary.

More­over, the tim­ing of the re­lease, be­tween the end of the Repub­li­can con­ven­tion and the be­gin­ning of the Demo­cratic one, seems too well planned to be co­in­ci­den­tal.

Mr Trump him­self leapt on the news after the Wik­ileaks re­lease on Satur­day. In a Twit­ter mes­sage he wrote: “Leaked emails of DNC show plans to de­stroy Bernie San­ders. Mock his her­itage and much more. On-line from Wik­ileakes, re­ally vi­cious. RIGGED.”

—NY Times

PRE­SUMP­TIVE demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton and her run­ning mate Sen­a­tor tim Kaine.

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