Russian hackers have been deployed to rig the U. S. 2016 election in favor of Donald Trump, said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and his fellow Democrats, urging the FBI to probe even deeper into the issue than it used to.
Expressing their concerns about the alleged Russian hackers’ activities, Sen. Reid said in a letter addressed to FBI Director James Comey, as published by The New York Times, that “the threat of the Russian government tampering in our presidential election is more extensive than widely known and may include the intent to falsify official election results.”
“The evidence of a direct connection between the Russian government and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign continues to mount and has led Michael Morrell, the former Acting Intelligence Director, to call Trump an ‘unwitting agent’ of Russia and Kremlin,” the Democratic senator from Nevada went on to say.
Prompting Sen. Reid and other Democratic leaders were recent reports of cyber attacks perpetrated by Russian hackers against Arizona’s state voter registration and some Washington, D.C.-based think tanks’ databases alongside computer intrusions of the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations.
U.S. intelligence officials hinted that hackers based in Russia may have been behind these activities purportedly backed by the Russian government itself. The theft of data included as many as 200,000 voters record in Illinois, NBC News reported.
“This is the closest we’ve come to tying a recent hack to the Russian government,” an intelligence official told NBC News.
An exclusive report from technology editor Patrick Tucker of Defense One, a U.S. defense and national security news agency, revealed that the attack came from “the group called COZY BEAR, or APT29, one of the two groups that cybersecurity company CrowdStrike blamed for the DNC hack, according to founder Dmitri Alperovitch.”
CrowdStrike, which provides security services to the think tanks, discovered the attack on the DNC.
At least five organizations and 10 staffers monitoring Russia were hit by the “highly targeted operation,” Alperovitch was quoted to say. Those hit were immediately alerted right after CrowdStrike “detected the breaches and intruders were unable to exfiltrate any information.”
According to Alperovitch, it is possible that the Russian hackers must have been targeting former government officials that serve on the board on these think tanks because they “still advise current government officials.”
The goal could have been “to look at their communications with government officials to see if they may have some plundered information that’s been shared with them, or use them as a way to target government,” Alperovitch said, as quoted by Tucker.
One of the think tanks reportedly monitoring Russian foreign policies, the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), confirmed that its databases were indeed attacked by Russian hackers on Tuesday, Tucker said.
“Last week we were under attack, but our small staff was very responsive. Beyond that, I’m not going to discuss the details because it is under active investigation,” said CSIS senior vice-president for external relations H. Andrew Schwartz in an email.
Another CSIS executive, senior vice-president and director for strategic technologies program, James Andrew Lewis, said, “It’s like a badge of honor — any respectable think tank has been hacked. The Russians just don’t get the idea of independent institutions, so they are looking for secret instructions from Obama. Another benefit is they can go to their bosses and show what they took to prove their worth as spies.”
Not surprisingly for its part, the Russian government denied the accusations, according to Sputnik, a Moscow-based news agency, saying that “the Kremlin and the Russian Foreign Ministry refuted the reports of Moscow’s involvement in the hacking activities.”
RT.com, another Russian news organization, confirmed Russia’s denial of all accusations, noting that it was “voiced by the Hilary Clinton camp, US politicians and cybersecurity experts.”
“President Putin on several occasions said that Russia never interferes in external policy and elections in other countries,” Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted, as quoted by RT.com.
“Moscow avoids any actions or words that could be considered as an intervention in the electoral process,” Peskov added.
Dismissing the cyber attacks allegedly perpetrated by Russian hackers as “propaganda warfare” was Executive Intelligence Review Washington bureau chief William Jones.
“What is going on is largely propaganda warfare. They have made Vladimir Putin – they have demonized him. They are attacking Russia for everything,” RT.com quoted Jones as saying. “Just today Russia is the target of it, tomorrow it will be China, and then they’ll go back to Russia.”
Ironically, a Washington Post report noted that both Russia and China have little interest in voting systems in the U.S., pointing rather to some experts’ opinion “that if a foreign government gained the ability to tamper with voter data — for instance by deleting registration records — such a hack could cast doubt on the legitimacy of U.S. elections.”
[Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images]