Was the Russian Government Behind the DNC Email Hack?

Over the weekend, the opening of the DNC convention was rendered a footnote as some 20,000 DNC emails were released via Wikileaks. These emails resulted in the ouster of DNC chair-gopher, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, and a near mutiny of Sanders-supporting delegates. The Democrats have reacted to this by trying to change the narrative. Just like any good totalitarian organization, they immediately looked about for a foreign enemy… other than Republicans… and they found one: Russia.

According to the Democrats and their loyalists in the press, Putin has long disliked and feared Hillary Clinton (stop laughing, dammit, I’m serious):

When mass protests against Russian President Vladimir Putin erupted in Moscow in December 2011, Putin made clear who he thought was really behind them: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

With the protesters accusing Putin of having rigged recent elections, the Russian leader pointed an angry finger at Clinton, who had issued a statement sharply critical of the voting results. “She said they were dishonest and unfair,” Putin fumed in public remarks, saying that Clinton gave “a signal” to demonstrators working “with the support of the U.S. State Department” to undermine his power. “We need to safeguard ourselves from this interference in our internal affairs,” Putin declared.

Five years later, Putin may be seeking revenge against Clinton. At least that’s the implication of the view among some cybersecurity experts that Russia was behind the recent hack of the Democratic National Committee’s email server, which has sowed confusion and dissent at the Democratic National Convention and undercut Clinton’s goal of party unity.

While Donald Trump’s budding bromance with Vladimir Putin is well known — the two men have exchanged admiring words about each other and called for improved relations between Washington and Moscow — Putin’s hostility towards Clinton draws less attention.

Former U.S. officials who worked on Russia policy with Clinton say that Putin was personally stung by Clinton’s December 2011 condemnation of Russia’s parliamentary elections, and had his anger communicated directly to President Barack Obama. They say Putin and his advisers are also keenly aware that, even as she executed Obama’s “reset” policy with Russia, Clinton took a harder line toward Moscow than others in the administration. And they say Putin sees Clinton as a forceful proponent of “regime change” policies that the Russian leader considers a grave threat to his own survival.

…But Clinton knew how to play tough with the Russian officials, some of whom referred to her with both derision and respect as “a lady with balls.”…

If you were awake at all between 2009 and 2012, you are probably shaking your head over this assessment. Under Hillary Clinton, much more attention was paid to Vladimir Putin’s needs, wants, and desires than happened under Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. Any conflicts with Russia were rhetorical as Clinton ensured that Russia got pretty much a free hand wherever it wished. It was Hillary Clinton that green-lighted the transfer of a US owned mineral company, Uranium One, to Russian ownership after the Clinton Foundation received massive contributions from Russian sources. It was Hillary Clinton that brought Russia into the the Iran Nuclear Talks as the nation to represent the views of the side that allegedly opposed Iran getting a nuke. Her decision to bring in a Russia with strategic interests in an alliance with Iran to be the interlocutor for anti-nuclear powers remains a prime example of Clinton’s cravenness. Putin’s pique over Clinton’s criticism of Russian elections can best be explained by the fact that this kind of public criticism was unusual for Clinton and she was viewed as so tame that her attack caught Putin off guard.

Today, the DNC is pushing this story:

Just weeks after she started preparing opposition research files on Donald Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort last spring, Democratic National Committee consultant Alexandra Chalupa (Chalupa? Really?) At this point I started got an alarming message when she logged into her personal Yahoo email account.

“Important action required,” read a pop-up box from a Yahoo security team that is informally known as “the Paranoids.” “We strongly suspect that your account has been the target of state-sponsored actors.”

Chalupa — who had been drafting memos and writing emails about Manafort’s connection to pro-Russian political leaders in Ukraine — quickly alerted top DNC officials. “Since I started digging into Manafort, these messages have been a daily oc­­­­currence on my Yahoo account despite changing my p­­a­ssword often,” she wrote in a May 3 email to Luis Miranda, the DNC’s communications director, which included an attached screengrab of the image of the Yahoo security warning.

A Yahoo spokesman said the pop-up warning to Chalupa “appears to be one of our notifications” and said it was consistent with a new policy announced by Yahoo on its Tumblr page last December to notify customers when it has strong evidence of “state sponsored” cyberattacks.

And a Democrat-hired cybersecurity firm is helpfully pointing the finger at the Russians.

The company noted strong similarities between the attack on the DNC by the suspected GRU hackers and previous cyberintrusions of unclassified systems at the White House, the State Department and the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (After discovering the data breach, a DNC security source said its cyberexperts noted that the hackers’ exfiltration of files took place “9 to 5, Moscow time.”)

Why “9 to 5” Moscow time is proof of anything other than lazy thinking is beyond me. Is there evidence that Russian hackers, government or not, work only 9-to-5? As there is a 7 hour time difference between DNC HQ and Moscow wouldn’t it be logical for even American hackers to conduct attacks at “9-to-5” Moscow time because that is outside DNC business hours and less likely to be noticed? And there are other interesting places that are in that same time zone

europe-time-zone-map

I’d be the last person to deny that, given his anti-NATO and anti-American power rhetoric, Donald Trump is probably a preferable candidate in Moscow to a doctrinaire neo-communist like Hillary Clinton. And Paul Manafort’s financial and personal ties into Putin’s ruling circle and his alleged role as as Russian mob fixer should be a red flag for any presidential candidate not named Donald Trump. All of this increases the plausibility of a story about foreigners trying to influence our election, but none of this actually creates “evidence” that a) Russians did the hack or b) that Russian security services were involved in the hack, or c) that the release is anything more than a fundraising ploy by Wikileaks.

What the DNC are attempting to do is turn a story about the endemic fraud, graft, and corruption inside the DNC into a story about how the Russians are intervening in the election on behalf of Donald Trump:

Party officials are privately pushing the White House to publicly blame the Russians in the same way it blamed North Korea for the cyberattack on Sony and China for intrusions into U.S. companies. “The last time somebody broke into the DNC, it led to the resignation of a president,” said the Democratic Party security source, referring to the Watergate scandal. In some ways, the source insisted, the current cyberheist — what some in party circles are already calling a “21st century Watergate” — is even more sinister, the source said. “This is the Russians screwing with the integrity of our election process.”

This is not new. The DNC indicated this would be its strategy back in June when the hack was first revealed:

If the Democrats can show the hidden hand of Russian intelligence agencies, they believe that voter outrage will probably outweigh any embarrassing revelations, a person familiar with the party’s thinking said.

Did Russian security services actually hack the DNC and deliver some 20,000 emails to Wikileaks? Did they do it with the intent of electing Donald Trump president?

We don’t know and may never know. No one in their right mind would believe any announcement coming from the White House or the FBI after the way they have carried Hillary Clinton’s chamber pot during this primary season. What we do know is that the DNC see this as a way to change the conversation from their criminality and ineptitude to a real or fanciful Trump/Russia connection.