Ever since the hack of the Democratic National Committee became news it has seemed as if everyone involved was relatively certain Russia was responsible. One reason for that confidence is revealed today in a story by Reuters. It turns out the intelligence community has been aware of what was going on for a long time. In fact, some top congressional leaders were informed about the attack on Democrats a year ago:
U.S. intelligence officials told top congressional leaders a year ago that Russian hackers were attacking the Democratic Party, three sources familiar with the matter said on Thursday, but the lawmakers were unable to tell the targets about the hacking because the information was so secret.
The disclosure of the Top Secret information would have revealed that U.S. intelligence agencies were continuing to monitor the hacking, as well as the sensitive intelligence sources and the methods they were using to do it.
Eight members of congress were informed last summer including four Republicans and four Democrats. However, the DNC did not learn of the problem until months later:
DNC officials have said they did not learn about the hacking until months after the initial congressional briefing, when an agent from an FBI cybersecurity squad asked them last fall about the party’s data security arrangements.
When the Clinton campaign detected an intrusion in March, the FBI gave them some general information but did not tell them how long the intrusion had been going on or mention that Russia was responsible.
This story raises all sort of questions that we are not likely to get answered any time soon. First off, how could the NSA/FBI know about attacks on the DNC (and know where the attacks were coming from) so quickly? The Reuters story suggests the answer to that question is very highly classified since the FBI was willing to allow the hack to continue rather than risk revealing that the U.S. was aware of it.
The other question that comes to mind: What changed? If the fact that the U.S. was aware of this a year ago was very sensitive then, isn’t it just a sensitive now? If the point was to not let Russia know about our ability to detect cyber intrusion, hasn’t this leak just blown that?
I guess the upside here is that the Russian hackers must not be feeling so cocky right now. They thought they were getting away with something but it turns out our intelligence agencies were quietly watching them the whole time.