U.S. intelligence agencies have told the White House they now assess with “high confidence” that Russia was responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee’s email server, officials with knowledge of the briefings told The New York Times.
The precise motivations for the hack are not yet known to the U.S. government. Russia may have been deliberately targeting Hillary Clinton, gathering routine information on major political candidates, or may have had the intention all along of trying to get Donald Trump elected President.
President Obama acknowledged to NBC Nightly News on July 26 that “Russians hack our systems — not just government systems, but private systems.” Obama added “on a regular basis, they try to influence elections in Europe.”
The release of the leaks is viewed as a “weaponization” of information gathered for intelligence purposes. While Russia has engaged in such activity in European elections, such a breach into U.S. politics would surpass any actions of the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War.
A well-known Soviet tactic against western democracies is known as “active measures.” A retired KGB general defined active measures as “to drive wedges in the Western community alliances of all sorts, particularly NATO, to sow discord among allies, to weaken the United States in the eyes of the people.” Russia’s current spy apparatus is almost entirely run by former agents of the KGB. Russian President Vladimir Putin himself was a KGB agent for years, before embarking on a life in politics.
Russia has engaged in active measure campaigns across Europe, tying itself to far right parties who seek to dissociate Western European nations from supranational organizations like NATO and the EU. The Budapest-based Political Capital Institute has found definitive connections between Russia and 15 far right parties in countries like the U.K., Denmark, Italy, and Austria.
Russia’s previous active measures against the U.S. have included releasing a sensitive conversation between two senior U.S. diplomats, in which one diplomat said “Fuck the EU.” The remark caused consternation among U.S. allies in western Europe, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the comment “absolutely unacceptable.”
Two independent cyber security expert firms have unequivocally attributed the hack to Russian intelligence agencies. How the hacked emails made their way to Wikileaks is a matter of significant controversy. Wikileaks head Julian Assange suggested on Monday that any DNC staffer could have been responsible for providing them the emails.
Assange’s claim is dubious, given the complex and sophisticated nature of the DNC hack and Russia’s employment of active measures. Cyber security experts, and now the U.S. government, suspect Russian intelligence agencies provided the emails to Wikileaks. Assange is a paid contributor to RT, a well-known Russian propaganda outlet. John Schindler, a former NSA agent and national security expert, wrote in the New York Observer on Monday ““that Assange and Wikileaks are surrogates for Putin is now obvious.”
Yesterday, Russia’s foreign minister refused to answer U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s question about Democratic National Committee (DNC) hacking allegations because he didn’t “want to use four-letter words.”
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