March 2016: The FBI warns the Clinton campaign that it is a target of a hacker attack, but the campaign doesn’t assist the FBI.

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The Clinton campaign logo superimposed over the FBI logo. (Credit: public domain)

This is according to what two unnamed “sources who have been briefed on the matter” will tell Yahoo News in July 2016. FBI officials privately meet with senior Clinton campaign officials and express concern that hackers are using “spear phishing” techniques to access the campaign’s computers. They ask the campaign to turn over internal computer logs and the personal email addresses of top campaign staffers to help the FBI’s investigation. But the campaign declines to do so after deciding the request for personal data is too broad and intrusive. The FBI doesn’t give any mention as to who the hackers might be.

One month later, the campaign will learn on its own that its computers have been hacked and they will use a private cybersecurity company to combat the hackers.

Yahoo News will comment that the FBI’s “warning also could raise new questions about why the campaign and the DNC didn’t take the matter more seriously.”

At the time, the FBI has an active investigation into Clinton’s email usage while she was secretary of state, and Clinton’s campaign isn’t sure how extensive that inquiry is. There have been media reports that the investigation extended into unethical practices at the Clinton Foundation, which could theoretically include interest in more recent communications.

Yahoo News will report that, according to an unnamed internal source, “Campaign officials had reason to fear that any production of campaign computer logs and personal email accounts could be used to further such a probe.” But the FBI insists that its request for data to combat the hacking has no connection to any other investigation, and since there is no subpoena forcing the issue, the Clinton campaign turns down the request. (Yahoo News, 7/29/2016)

March 2016: The same hacking group that allegedly breaches the DNC [Democratic National Committee] computer network may also breach computers of some Clinton presidential campaign staffers.

Clinton's Deputy Communications Director, Kristina Schake (Credit: Getty Images)

Clinton’s Deputy Communications Director, Kristina Schake (Credit: Getty Images)

The hacker or hacking group is known by the nickname Fancy Bear, and is alleged to be working for the Russian government. Fancy Bear gets into the DNC network in April 2016, which makes it separate from the efforts of Cozy Bear (alleged also to be linked to Russia) or Guccifer 2.0 (alleged to be a “lone hacker”) which in either case got into the network for about a year. Fancy Bear’s attack on Clinton’s staffers is said to start in March 2016, according to the security firm SecureWorks. Targets include Clinton’s communications and travel organizers, speechwriters, policy advisers, and campaign finance managers.

The hackers use the “spear phishing” technique of sending an email from a seemingly trusted source in order to get the target to click on a link. In this case, the links are shortened by an Internet service known as Bitly to make it hard to notice that they’re bogus. They take the target to a fake Google login page, since most or all of Clinton’s staffers use Gmail. Once the target gives their user name and password, the hacker can log into the real account and access all the data. The hackers create 213 links targeting 108 hillaryclinton.com addresses. Twenty of those are clicked, raising the possibility that some accounts are successfully breached. (Forbes, 6/16/2016)

March 2016: The State Department’s internal Clinton email server investigation is put on hold.

The pause happens some unknown time this month, due to the FBI’s investigation taking precedence. A State Department spokesperson says, “Law enforcement comes first,” and “We are prioritizing the law enforcement investigation.” (Bloomberg News, 4/1/2016) Note that this is different from the State Department inspector general’s investigation, which continues.

March 1, 2016: FBI Director James Comey says he is “very close personally” to the Clinton investigation.

Speaking to Congress, Comey comments about the FBI’s investigation into Clinton’s emails. “As you know, we don’t talk about our investigations. What I can assure you is that I am very close personally to that investigation to ensure that we have the resources we need, including people and technology, and that it’s done the way the FBI tries to do all of its work: independently, competently and promptly. That’s our goal, and I’m confident that it’s being done that way, but I can’t give you any more details beyond that.” (The Hill, 3/1/2016) 

These are very similar to comments Comey made on October 22, 2015.