The Intercept On NSA Report Of Russian Hacking Attempt Prior To The Election

Previously claims of Russians “rigging” the election were primarily based upon the belief that Russia was responsible for release of the Wikileaks emails. This was also extended to still unsubstantiated claims of collusion with the Trump campaign. The Intercept now reports that there is evidence that Russia also attempted to hack computers connected to voter registration. From their report:

Russian military intelligence executed a cyberattack on at least one U.S. voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials just days before last November’s presidential election, according to a highly classified intelligence report obtained by The Intercept.

The top-secret National Security Agency document, which was provided anonymously to The Intercept and independently authenticated, analyzes intelligence very recently acquired by the agency about a months-long Russian intelligence cyber effort against elements of the U.S. election and voting infrastructure. The report, dated May 5, 2017, is the most detailed U.S. government account of Russian interference in the election that has yet come to light.

While the document provides a rare window into the NSA’s understanding of the mechanics of Russian hacking, it does not show the underlying “raw” intelligence on which the analysis is based. A U.S. intelligence officer who declined to be identified cautioned against drawing too big a conclusion from the document because a single analysis is not necessarily definitive…

The NSA analysis does not draw conclusions about whether the interference had any effect on the election’s outcome and concedes that much remains unknown about the extent of the hackers’ accomplishments. However, the report raises the possibility that Russian hacking may have breached at least some elements of the voting system, with disconcertingly uncertain results.

The NSA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence were both contacted for this article. Officials requested that we not publish or report on the top secret document and declined to comment on it. When informed that we intended to go ahead with this story, the NSA requested a number of redactions. The Intercept agreed to some of the redaction requests after determining that the disclosure of that material was not clearly in the public interest.

The report adds significant new detail to the picture that emerged from the unclassified intelligence assessment about Russian election meddling released by the Obama administration in January. The January assessment presented the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusions but omitted many specifics, citing concerns about disclosing sensitive sources and methods. The assessment concluded with high confidence that the Kremlin ordered an extensive, multi-pronged propaganda effort “to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.”

That review did not attempt to assess what effect the Russian efforts had on the election, despite the fact that “Russian intelligence obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple US state or local electoral boards.” According to the Department of Homeland Security, the assessment reported reassuringly, “the types of systems we observed Russian actors targeting or compromising are not involved in vote tallying.”

The NSA has now learned, however, that Russian government hackers, part of a team with a “cyber espionage mandate specifically directed at U.S. and foreign elections,” focused on parts of the system directly connected to the voter registration process, including a private sector manufacturer of devices that maintain and verify the voter rolls. Some of the company’s devices are advertised as having wireless internet and Bluetooth connectivity, which could have provided an ideal staging point for further malicious actions…

The full report has far more information on how the hacking was attempted. Shortly after the report was posted, the FBI arrested a contractor who allegedly released the report to The Intercept. The Daily Caller portrays the leaker as “A Bernie Supporter Who ‘Resists’ Trump.” I’m sure we will continue to see many attempts to politicize the news, but what is needed is the facts as to what Russia actually did, and whether there was any collusion from the Trump campaign, without using this to promote any political agendas.

It is premature to come to any conclusions, but so far there is a lot of suggestion of a cover-up from the Trump administration, including the firing of James Comey, but far less conclusive evidence of any initial crimes which they might be covering up. I have suspected that in the end this very well might come down to financial dealings on the part of Trump and his associates. Along these lines, NBC News is reporting that Congressional committees are looking into whether Jared Kushner was seeking a back channel with Russia in order to obtain a bailout for a Manhattan building he owns.

Such a reason makes more sense than the theories that this was tied into alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign to rig the election. If there was really such collusion, there would have presumably been some sort of back channels already present prior to the election.

Update: The first paragraph was updated to clarify that the hacking attempt was directed towards computers involved with voter registration, not voting machines themselves.

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3 Comments

  1. 1
    KP says:

    I don't know how this all will play out but I have a hunch the Obama legacy and Hillary herself may take a hit the Dems didn't anticipate.

    Who let the dawgs out?(!)

  2. 3
    Ron Chusid says:

    The value in it is of how little it shows. Assuming the NSA’s evaluation is correct (which cannot be evaluated as it excludes the raw data) it shows at most that Russia has attempted to hack our computers. It does nothing to confirm the claims of Clinton Democrats that any votes were changed, or that there was any collusion between Trump and Russia to change the election results.

    I was glad to see that the response from Congressional Democrats so far was to get this information to the states to protect their computer systems. It is worthwhile to improve the security of the voting systems regardless of whether it is true that Russia is attempting to hack the computers.

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