If this is an October surprise, it’s a particularly unpleasant and criminal example — or it just might be carelessness. The Wisconsin GOP has notified the FBI that hackers managed to steal $2.3 million from its coffers. The theft first got noticed last week after suspicious invoice activity signaled a potential problem, and the large haul suggests that they may have been at it for a while:
Hackers stole $2.3 million from the Wisconsin Republican Party’s account that was being used to help reelect President Donald Trump in the key battleground state, the party’s chairman told The Associated Press on Thursday.
The party noticed the suspicious activity on Oct. 22 and contacted the FBI on Friday, said Republican Party Chairman Andrew Hitt.
Hitt said the FBI is investigating. FBI spokesman Leonard Peace did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
This puts a serious dent in efforts by the state’s Republican Party to use the cash for last-minute efforts to bolster Donald Trump in the key swing state. It leaves them with fewer options for spot spending and advertising, the Associated Press notes:
Hitt said the stolen money would have been used in the final days of the campaign to make snap spending decisions based on the state of the race.
He said the hackers manipulated invoices from four vendors who were being paid to send out direct mail for Trump’s reelection efforts and to provide pro-Trump material such as hats that could be handed out to supporters. Invoices and other documents were altered so when the party paid them, the money went to the hackers instead of the vendors, Hitt said.
It’s especially damaging, since the WI GOP lagged far behind Democrats in the state in fundraising. That amounts to nearly ten percent of their overall fundraising over the last two years, although more recent donations have yet to be reported.
So is this a dirty trick, or is this just a case of carelessness? Hitt acknowledges that this started off with a phishing “attempt,” according to the AP’s report, but that could be either/or. Hitt also acknowledges that the RNC warned all its state organizations to protect against suspected cyber attacks. Thus far, it seems that Wisconsin’s GOP is the only one to be victimized. Did they fail to take the threat seriously enough? Or did someone with a specific motive against the GOP have superior resources to target them?
Perhaps we’ll find out soon, but the lack of other attacks makes this look more like a crime of opportunity. If this had been a dirty-trick plot, we would see similar attacks in other swing states, and perhaps those where Republicans had more resources — like Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and so on. If that kind of a pattern emerges, then perhaps we can assume that this has political motives. Until then, though, it looks more like the usual hacking motives — greed and glory, of sorts.
It does remind me of the too-smug finale/epilogue from Sneakers, which unfortunately is not available on YouTube. Don’t necessarily put a political motive out of mind, even if it turns out to be only a secondary or tertiary motive.
Addendum: If we’re laying out all possibilities, don’t discount the idea of an inside job, too. That’s a lot of money to lose without attracting notice. If this got drained over a period of time, the FBI will want to know who was supposed to supervise these accounts and why the losses went unspotted long enough for the organization to lose 10% of its donations.