It seems that the noise created over Russian hacking saga is not going to die down soon. The story that unravelled has the makings of a spy thriller. It all began in September 2015 with an FBI agent informing Democratic National Committee that FBI had identified a Russian-linked cyber-spy group in its network. It was followed by a Washington Post report that Russian government hackers were able to penetrate the DNC servers. The report says that opposition files on Republican nominee Donald Trump and email and chat exchanges were compromised. The Russian government denied the allegations.
In July 2016, members of Clinton’s campaign accused Russia of the hack of DNC emails. But trump refuted the Democratic Party’s claim and went on say that it probably is not Russia. But if it was, Trump said, “I will tell you this, Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” He commented pertaining to the emails Hillary Clinton deemed personal and deleted from her private server before turning over official emails to the State Department.
During the first general election debate, Clinton raked up the hacking issue. Trump continued to express skepticism that Russia was behind it.
But it was in October 2016 that the US government spoke explicitly about the hacking. The Department of Homeland Security and Office of Director of National Intelligence said, “ we are confident that the Russian government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations” and that the goal was to “interfere with the US election process.”
But the report lacked details about how the US learned what it claimed to know. It didn’t say about any intercepted conversations or electronic messages among Russian leaders. It didn’t talk about specific hacker techniques or digital tools that make Russia a culprit.
Later, in December, Obama declared that the hacks were initiated by the ‘highest levels of the Russian government.’ On December 29, Obama announced sanctions against Russian officials, including expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats and the closing of Russian compounds in Maryland and New York on suspicion they were used for intelligence gathering.
Trump was not very much impressed by Obama’s decision. Nevertheless, he promised to meet the leaders of the intelligence community to get to the bottom of the fact.
Now, a new, declassified report on Russian efforts to influence the US presidential election says Moscow is not done yet intruding in US politics and policymaking. It claims that immediately after Election Day, Russia began a ‘spear-phishing’ campaign to try to trick people into revealing their email passwords, targeting US government employees and think tanks that specialize in national security, defense and foreign policy.
This campaign could provide material for future influence efforts as well as foreign intelligence collection on the incoming administration’s goals and plans.
The new report is explicitly tying Russian President Vladimir Putin to the meddling. It further claims that Russia had a ‘clear preference’ for Trump in his race against Hillary Clinton.
And despite having been briefed by intelligence agency, Trump dismissed the assessment and said the focus on Russia’s involvement is a ‘political witch hunt’ by his adversaries.
But if it turns out to be true, the fresh report can create an awkward situation for President-elect Donald Trump. Trump wants to warm relations with Russia and has repeatedly denounced the intelligence community’s assessment that the Kremlin interfered in the election.