US Intelligence Report on 'Russian Hacking' Lacks Evidence and Credibility

The United States Intelligence Community published a joint report on "Russian activities and intentions" in the recent US presidential elections. According to the document, Moscow used various tools, including cyberattacks and media activities, to influence the results of the election.

Highlights of the Report

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The document was prepared by analysts of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National Security Agency (NSA).

According to the author, the report covers "the motivation and scope of Moscow’s intentions regarding US elections and Moscow’s use of cyber tools and media campaigns to influence US public opinion."

The report read that "Russian intelligence obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple US state or local electoral boards." However, according to the report, the targeted or compromised systems were not involved in vote tallying.

As for the recent presidential campaign, the authors of the report concluded that the campaign was intended to "undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency."

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The document also read the "influence campaign" was ordered personally by Russian President Vladimir Putin. According to US intelligence, President Putin and his entourage were interested in boosting Republican candidate Donald Trump’s chances of winning the election.

"Moscow’s influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations – such as cyber activity – with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or 'trolls,'" the report read.

The document does not contain the names of hackers or hacker groups allegedly involved in the cyber activities. However, previously issued US intelligence reports linked such hacker groups as Fancy Bear (APT 28) and Cozy Bear (APT 29) to Russian intelligence.

In particular, according to US intelligence analysts, Cozy Bear were one of the hacker groups behind the of Democratic National Committee (DNC) email hack.

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In July, whistleblowing website WikiLeaks published almost 20,000 pages of hacked emails that revealed top DNC officials deliberately worked to obstruct Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders' campaign in order to boost his then-rival Hillary Clinton's chances of becoming the party's presidential nominee.

After the emails were leaked, Clinton said that Russia was responsible for the hack as well as the publication of some unspecified DNC documents.

On Saturday, President-elect Donald Trump said that the DNC were negligent in securing their private information.

"Gross negligence by the Democratic National Committee allowed hacking to take place. The Republican National Committee had strong defense!" Trump wrote on Twitter.

Mysterious Hacker

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The authors of the report assessed that the Russian military intelligence (GRU) used the Guccifer 2.0 persona to publish all the information they obtained.

In early-summer, Guccifer 2.0 wrote in his blog that he obtained access to the DNC email leaks and then handed over the leak to WikiLeaks. The hacker illustrated his post with a report on Donald Trump, which was allegedly prepared by Hillary Clinton’s electoral office.

The pseudonym Guccifer 2.0 refers to Romanian hacker Marcel Lehel Lazar, known as Guccifer, who obtained access to Hillary Clinton’s personal emails in 2013.

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Speaking from prison in a Wednesday interview with Fox News, Lazar stressed that the allegations of Russia’s attempts to interfere with the US electoral system are "a fake cyber war" and that there is "hysteria" in the US regarding Russia stemming from the Cold War era.

Nevertheless, US intelligence analysts assess that there is a group of people linked to the Russian government behind the Guccifer 2.0 persona. Previously, the same assumption was made by cybersecurity specialists from ThreatConnect and CrowdStrike.

"Guccifer 2.0, who claimed to be an independent Romanian hacker, made multiple contradictory statements and false claims about his likely Russian identity throughout the election. Press reporting suggests more than one person claiming to be Guccifer 2.0 interacted with journalists," according to the report.

At the same time, Guccifer 2.0 has made repeated statements that he did not like Moscow’s foreign policy. The hacker has also repeatedly denied media allegations of his links to Russia.

"I read several reports, some experts found out that my proxy IP is hosted at a service that’s somehow connected with Russia and has a version in Russian as well as in English," Guccifer 2.0 wrote. "This is their strong evidence," he ironically added, as cited by The Wall Street Journal.

WikiLeaks and Russian Media

The US intelligence report also touched upon alleged links between the Russian government and the whistleblowing project WikiLeaks founded by Julian Assange.

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According to the authors, Moscow "most likely chose WikiLeaks because of its self-proclaimed reputation for authenticity."

"Disclosures through WikiLeaks did not contain any evident forgeries," the US intelligence assessed.

As a piece of evidence, the report cited Russian President Vladimir Putin’s comment that it was important the DNC data was exposed to WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks commented on the report: "US government's declassified 'Russian hacking' report has the curious disclaimer that it is based on watching TV and reading Tweets."

​This is not the first time that the whistleblowing project has been accused of working in the interests of certain states. WikiLeaks has repeatedly denied such allegations.

"Nothing in today's declassified ODNI report alters our conclusion that WikiLeaks' US election related sources are not state parties," WikiLeaks said in Twitter.

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Another piece of evidence, according to the document, is the alleged collaboration between the Russian broadcaster RT and Assange. Margarita Simonyan, RT’s editor-in-chief, visited Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in August 2013.

"RT routinely gives Assange sympathetic coverage and provides him a platform to denounce the United States," the authors concluded.

The report described RT’s activities as a "broader and long-standing anti-US messaging" campaign.

On Thursday, Director of the US National Intelligence James Clapper said at a US Senate hearing on cybersecurity that RT had been "disparaging" of the US political system and was active in promoting its views on US hypocrisy regarding human rights and generally seeking out fissures in US society. Clapper also accused RT of spreading fake news stories.

In response, Simonyan said that the broadcaster only reports on real events happening in the US.

"The national intelligence head says that RT undermines the American system merely by reporting on what is happening in his country," Simonyan said.

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