6 Problems With U.S. Intel on the Russian Hacks
JAN 9, 2017 11:42 AM EST
America’s intelligence-gathering bodies all agree that Russia interfered with last year’s U.S. election by various means. But the public account of what happened is strikingly defective. The danger is that erroneous policy responses could result. As talk of retaliation escalates, getting the story right is critical — both for the incoming Trump administration and also since Europe is now on high alert that Moscow may meddle in this year’s key elections.
It’s hard for someone who follows Russia and cybersecurity issues closely not to conclude from the declassified report that the intelligence services were under pressure in producing it. The narrative in the unclassified report is full of holes. One can only hope that the classified version has a good deal more chapter and verse.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation did not examine the allegedly hacked servers of the Democratic National Committee until it was too late. All the forensic evidence we know of apparently came from CrowdStrike, a private cybersecurity firm that portrays itself up as the premier expert on Russian government cyberattacks. Its claims on the DNC hack are based on the use of certain malware that security researchers have linked to the Russian government. But even if the link exists as described, using the same malware doesn’t automatically mean the same hacker was involved. And CrowdStrike has shown a propensity to overhype its stories in the past. The incoming U.S. president needs to understand how intelligence information is gathered and how robust it is; the declassified explanation doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.
Ahead of the report’s publication, anonymous officials leaked to the press that the classified version of the document traces the publication of leading Democrats’ emails to specific Russians, who allegedly passed the stolen data to Wikileaks through intermediaries. Such pre-preemptive revelations could undermine the ability of law-enforcement officials, and intelligence services, to help prosecute a crime (the theft of data by a foreign intelligence service and its intermediaries) as those cases take time to put together. From a law enforcement point of view, it made little sense to make that information public. Were the agencies forced to tip their hand too early?
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