Politico reports that nervous Democrats are warning the next batch of leaked documents could contain information planted by Russia:
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is among those sounding that alarm, echoing security experts who say Russian security services have been known to doctor documents and images or bury fictitious, damaging details amid genuine information. For hackers to resort to such tactics would be highly unusual, but security specialists say it’s a realistic extension of Moscow’s robust information warfare efforts.
This story is entirely self-serving for Democrats. It lays the groundwork for them to suggest anything embarrassing that turns up in the next batch of emails could be a forgery planted by a foreign government. It’s also a way to once again move the discussion from the leaks themselves to the meta-story about the origin of the leaks. Again, it’s entirely self-serving for Democrats to make this claim.
It’s also possible they could be right.
The hack of the DNC, the DCCC and the Clinton Foundation was almost certainly carried out by Russia. We know this because our intelligence agencies were aware of the hack a year ago, months before the FBI even alerted the DNC to what was happening. So if Russia hacked the Democrats, as our intelligence agencies believe, is it possible they might attempt to manipulate the material they took before handing it over to WikiLeaks? From Politico:
In the weeks since the DNC email leaks, cyber specialists on Twitter have been circulating a passage from the memoirs of a former East German spymaster who wrote about the “creative” use of forgeries in conjunction with genuine leaks.
“Embarrassed by the publication of genuine but suppressed information, the targets were badly placed to defend themselves against the other, more damaging accusations that had been invented,” wrote Markus Wolf, who had headed East Germany’s foreign intelligence division for more than three decades. (On the other hand, he added that, “my principle was to stick as close to the truth as possible, especially when there was so much of it that could easily further the department’s aims.”)…
“Standard Russian modus operandi,” said James Lewis, an international cyber policy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, via email. “They’ve done it before in the Baltics and other parts of Europe: Leak a lot of real data and slip in some fakes (or more often, things that have been subtly modified rather than a complete fake).”
The counter-argument is that a release of fake or manipulated material would be a serious blow to a group like WikiLeaks that prides itself on releasing factual material. Would Julian Assange risk his entire operation for a chance to damage Hillary Clinton? It’s hard to say, though he’s clearly not very fond of her.
Democrats are planting this idea about fake leaks because doing so could help insulate them from completely accurate leaks. Still, given the source of this information, what they are suggesting is at least possible.
This clip by the Washington Free Beacon is a good reminder of the time, not so long ago, when Democrats mocked Mitt Romney for suggesting Russia was our number one geopolitical foe. As they await the next leaks, they seem to feel a bit differently about the idea now.