The news has been full of this story: The Obama Administration has expelled Russian diplomats and closed two of their facilities in retaliation for Russian hacking of the political process in the United States during the 2016 election. The case against Russia was laid out in a public FBI report called “GRIZZLY STEPPE – Russian Malicious Cyber Activity” [tl;dr]. Donald Trump is of course vulnerable to negative perception on this issue because of his various ties to Russian interests.
In response to what Obama did, Trump told reporters:
I know a lot about hacking. And hacking is a very hard thing to prove. So it could be somebody else. And I also know things that other people don’t know, and so they cannot be sure of the situation. You’ll find out on Tuesday or Wednesday.
President-elect Donald Trump praised Vladimir Putin as “very smart” after the Russian leader ruled out a tit-for-tat retaliation for the Obama administration’s expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats over cyberattacks aimed at interfering with the U.S. election.
So I’ll identify the “conspiracy theory” as the claim that Russia was behind the hacking of Democratic political emails. That they were hacked is fact, but the controversy is over who did it.
The story has legs: Vermont Governor, Peter Shumlin, joined in the Russki conspiracy theory (referring to malware found on a laptop owned by a Vermont Electric utility):
One of the world’s leading thugs, Vladimir Putin, has been attempting to hack our electric grid, which we rely upon to support our quality of life, economy, health, and safety.
It’s entirely possible that what Trump said is true and that he may have known things that others including myself didn’t on the subject. He could have read (or heard about) the ARS Technica article the day before saying “White House fails to make case that Russian hackers tampered with election,” or perhaps he saw the Fortune headline earlier in the day, “Grizzly Misstep: Security Experts Call Russia Hacking Report ‘Poorly Done,’ ‘Fatally Flawed.” I didn’t know about those until today, a day after I learned about the Trump comment. (I should add that the FBI is not the only group that identified Russian intelligence in the DNC hack.)
I am tempted to play the apologist and say that obviously the intelligence services aren’t going to show all their sources and methods to the public. In any case, news reports say that Trump hasn’t had an intelligence briefing on the hacking report yet, and he personally wouldn’t be competent to judge them if he had. When he does, then he will certainly know more about the subject than others, but if indeed there is more to the intelligence community’s case against Russia, the only way we’re going to hear about it is from Donald Trump, and that’s unlikely.
Update: The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has released its own report.
- Election Hack Report FAQ: What You Need to Know – WordFence blog
- Grizzly Steppe IP and Hash Analysis – Jerry Gamblin
- Grizzly Steppe IP address list – GitHub
- Bears in the Midst: Intrusion into the Democratic National Committee – Crowdstrike