The scandal over alleged connections between the 2016 Donald Trump presidential campaign and Russia took a new turn Monday with a report stating that a Russian hacker confessed in a Moscow courtroom that last year's hack of the Democratic National Committee was directly ordered by the feared Russian government intelligence agency, the FSB. Cyber-attackers stole thousands of private DNC emails that were later posted online and on the document-dumping site Wikileaks.
United States intelligence agencies have long believed that the Russian state security services, acting on orders from President Vladimir Putin himself, were behind the hacks and said so in an unclassified report issued in January of 2017. But Monday's report marks the first time that a Russian hacker has claimed to be both involved in the DNC hacking operation and acting on orders from the FSB.
The FSB, the full name of which is the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation, is considered the successor to the powerful and dreaded Soviet security agency the KGB. According to a report in the Guardian newspaper, the FSB "is much more than just an ordinary security service." The agency combines "the functions of an elite police force with those of a spy agency, wielding immense power."
According to a report Monday in the independent Russian media newsletter the Bell — run by Elizaveta Osetinskaya, former editor-in-chief of Forbes Magazine's Russian edition — a Russian hacker currently under arrest in another hacking case made the confession in Moscow City Court on August 15.
Hacker Konstantin Kozlovskiy, who is currently facing charges in a bank-hacking case involving the cyber-theft of 3 billion rubles (about $50 million) also posted a summary of his court testimony on his Facebook page, in Russian, as well as posting a letter in which he is said to offer more details about the hacking operation. The Bell said it had confirmed the authenticity of the documents on Kozlovskiy's Facebook page with two separate sources.
In his testimony and the posted documents, Kozlovskiy claims that he took part in hacking the DNC servers on the orders of an FSB officer he first refers to only as "Ilya." Later, Kozlovskiy reveals that "Ilya" is, in fact, Dmitry Dokuchaev, an FSB major and former hacker currently in custody in Russia and charged with treason.
According to media reports out of Russia, the treason charges against Dokuchaev stem from allegations that he leaked details of the Russian hacking operation to American intelligence agents, contributing to the U.S. intelligence agencies' conclusion that Russia was behind the DNC hacks.
According to the Bell report, Kozlovskiy also apparently claimed that the FSB ordered hacking of 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, stealing her emails as well. But while Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta, was the victim of a hack, no reports have yet surfaced that Clinton herself was hacked.
However, Trump during his campaign last year repeatedly called on Russia to "find the 30,000 [Hillary Clinton] emails that are missing." And this year, in court documents related to the guilty plea of former Trump adviser George Papadopoulos, Russia investigation special counsel Robert Mueller revealed that Russians claimed to possess "dirt" on Clinton in the form of "thousands" of emails as early as April of 2016.
In an interview on Sunday, Democratic House member Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, said that existing evidence strongly points to collusion between Trump and Russia on the email hacks.The hacked DNC emails were published online just prior to last year's Democratic National Convention and led to vocal unrest at the convention by supporters of Clinton's opponent, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schulz resigned after the emails revealed her and DNC staff members saying unkind words about Sanders.
The Sanders campaign has also faced allegations recently that it, too, benefited from the Russian hacking operation, which was reportedly designed not only to help Trump win the presidency but to worsen divisions already existing in the Democratic Party and the American electorate. Sanders himself has acknowledged that the Russian interference that used his campaign to damage Clinton was "no great secret."