Report: FBI already suspects Russia is behind the DNC leak

So says the Daily Beast, adding that several “U.S. officials” are also willing to hypothesize about a motive — namely, that elements of the Russian state, maybe up to and Putin himself, are trying to tilt the presidential election to Trump.

There’s no way to prove motive. But there’s also no obvious alternative theory that explains (a) why the contents of the hack would be leaked now and (b) why nothing similar happened to the RNC. I can believe a lot of outlandish things. Believing that the RNC’s digital operation is too advanced for the FSB to hack in is beyond my abilities.

The FBI suspects that Russian government hackers breached the networks of the Democratic National Committee and stole emails that were posted to the anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks on Friday. It’s an operation that several U.S. officials now suspect was a deliberate attempt to influence the presidential election in favor of Donald Trump, according to five individuals familiar with the investigation of the breach…

“The release of emails just as the Democratic National Convention is getting underway this week has the hallmarks of a Russian active measures campaign,” David Shedd, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told The Daily Beast. Shedd said that additional leaks were likely, echoing an opinion expressed by U.S. officials and experts who said that the release of emails on Friday may just be an opening salvo…

Any FBI investigation likely would not be released until after the election, and any could be read as sending a political message. Should Trump win, for example, and the FBI announces it found a Russian connection to the hack, some might argue that the FBI is trying to taint Trump’s victory. That would also come on the heels of the FBI’s decision to not charge Clinton with having classified email on her private email server, a decision that outraged many Republicans.

Imagine Jim Comey calling a press conference in mid-December, a month after Trump’s victory, to confirm that Russia sabotaged the Democrats’ chances. How excited do you think natsec pros would be to work for President-elect Trump suspecting that he’s in office thanks in part to the efforts of Putin and the FSB? How would Trump and the GOP even begin to spin the FBI findings? “Okay, Putin meddled in the election and we benefited, but it wasn’t decisive”? Having a nationalist authoritarian sweep to power in the U.S. with help from the Kremlin is Cold-War-era potboiler pulp. And yet here we are.

The obvious response is “Why should we trust the FBI when they let Hillary walk on mishandling classified info? They’re in the tank.” Remember, though, Comey went much further than he needed to in his press conference on July 5th to question Clinton’s integrity. He all but accused her of “gross negligence,” a felony under federal law. Charges weren’t recommended not because she was innocent but because traditionally people haven’t been prosecuted under that law. She avoided prison but the political damage from that presser was brutal: Her polls began to slip shortly afterward and continued slipping until her lead was finally erased by Trump’s convention bounce today. Comey could have averted all of that by simply saying “there’s not enough here to charge.” Only he knows why he didn’t, but my guess is that he thought it was a reasonable compromise to make in ensuring that she paid some price for her natsec sins. He didn’t want to rock a presidential election by recommending indictment, so instead he let her walk away but made sure the country knew he thought she was guilty of malfeasance. Mission accomplished.

But if you’re still not convinced that we can trust the FBI to fairly identify the provenance of the DNC leak, take 10 minutes and read this superb Vice analysis of all of the evidence (obtained from private security specialists) pointing squarely at Russia. The tradecraft was advanced; the command-and-control IP found in the DNC’s servers was the same as the one found in a hack of the German parliament’s servers, which has been traced to Russian intelligence; there was even some hastily deleted Cyrillic in some of the files. The Times is also reporting that metadata has been discovered in the leaked documents suggesting that the material passed through Russian computers. A former chief technology officer for the DIA tells Eli Lake that, yep, it sure looks like Russia’s handiwork. Meanwhile, Yahoo News notes that a DNC oppo researcher charged with investigating Paul Manafort found herself the target of state-sponsored hackers shortly after she started work. Which state might those state-sponsored hackers hail from? Oh, by the way: Manafort used to work for Yanukovych, the Putinist stooge president of Ukraine.

Here’s the most damning bit from Vice, though. There’s no reason to think this is over — or that everything that might be leaked down the road is authentic:

The Russian spies got their hands on a large number of files from inside and beyond the Democratic National Committee. APT 29—the suspected FSB-controlled group—had protracted access to the DNC’s email messages, chats, attachments, and more. Russian groups have also targeted Clinton’s wider campaign organisation at least since October 2015. Guccifer 2.0, in an email to The Smoking Gun, even claimed to have “some secret documents from Hillary’s PC she worked with as the Secretary of State.” It is unclear if this assertion is accurate, and indeed it is unclear if all leaked documents are actually sourced from the DNC breach. About three weeks later, on July 5, the FBI’s James Comey assessed that it was “possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal email account.” The DNC intruders are likely to retain or regain some of this access…

Second, stolen documents leaked in an influence operation are not fully trustworthy. Deception operations are designed to deceive. The metadata show that the Russian operators apparently edited some documents, and in some cases created new documents after the intruders were already expunged from the DNC network on June 11. A file called donors.xls, for instance, was created more than a day after the story came out, on June 15, most likely by copy-pasting an existing list into a clean document.

I’ve read half a dozen items about the DNC leak today in which the author openly speculates that the Kremlin must be sitting on Hillary’s private e-mails and will leak those too at an opportune moment to further damage her. I joked on Twitter that we should start a pool as to when; someone tweeted back smartly that it’d make sense to do it around the time of the presidential debates, since that would throw Clinton badly off her game and put her on the defensive. There’s no better way to summarize the filth, incompetence, and insanity of this election than that we’re now semi-credibly gaming out when Putin is going to dox Hillary to help Trump. And as far as the point above goes about Russia editing or manufacturing documents, I’d add that it’d be brilliant strategy to engineer one or two major leaks in which all of the documents are authentic — as appears to be the case in the DNC leak — and then to spring an October surprise consisting of something manufactured yet explosive. Who’s going to believe Hillary at that point if she claimed that a leaked e-mail was fake? She has no credibility to begin with and, given her server idiocy, it’d be entirely plausible that the FSB would have the contents of what was on there before she wiped it. They could leak an e-mail in which she says “I’m glad that bastard Chris Stevens is dead” and no one would know what to believe, especially since the DNC material appears to be real. This is the point we’ve reached.

And if they have Hillary’s worst stuff, rest assured they have plenty on Trump, his team, and the RNC too. Is that being held back for blackmail later?

Here’s Obama’s former ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, speculating on why Putin might want to influence the U.S. election. It’s not just a matter of being pro-Trump. It’s a matter of payback to Hillary Clinton for questioning the legitimacy of his own election. She thought the Russian system was rigged? He’ll show you what a rigged system looks like.