Around June 2008: Clinton’s first private email server is set up in her house.

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The Apple Power Macintosh G4 Server (Credit: public domain)

According to the FBI, around 2007, Justin Cooper purchased an Apple OS X server. Cooper is a personal aide to former President Bill Clinton at the time. On February 1, 2008, the domain names clintonemail.com, wjcoffice.com, and presidentclinton.com were registered, but apparently the server that uses them won’t be operational until a few months later. The server is physically located in a house in Chappaqua, New York, where Bill and Hillary Clinton live.

The server consists of an Apple Power Macintosh G4 or G5 tower and an HP printer. According to Cooper, around June 2008, an Apple employee installs the server in the basement of the Chappaqua house. Cooper is the only person with administrative access to the server. However, the Clinton family and their house staff have physical access to it.

Hillary Clinton uses her att.blackberry.net email account as her primary email address until around mid-to-late January 2009 when she will switch to a newly created hdr22@clintonemail.com account hosted on this server. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)

Mid-August 2008: The Chinese government apparently hacks into the 2008 presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and John McCain.

Admiral Dennis Blair (Credit: Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA)

Admiral Dennis Blair (Credit: Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA)

Hacking teams traced back to China are caught breaking into the computers of the Obama and McCain campaigns, resulting in high-level warnings to Chinese officials to stop. The computers, laptops, and mobile devices of top campaign aides and advisers who receive high-level briefings are particularly targeted. “Spear phishing” is used to get targets to open an attachment containing a virus that would allow data to be stolen from their computer.

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe will later say he got a call in the middle of August 2008 alerting him to the attack and that the FBI was investigating. However, the virus is extremely sophisticated, and it takes months for it to be completely removed from the networks of the two campaigns.

In a May 2009 speech, President Obama will make a general mention of the attacks: “Hackers gained access to emails and a range of campaign files, from policy position papers to travel plans.” However, the involvement of China’s government won’t be publicly revealed until June 2013.

Dennis Blair, director of national intelligence from 2009 to 2010, will comment that year, “Based on everything I know, this was a case of political cyberespionage by the Chinese government against the two American political parties. They were looking for positions on China, surprises that might be rolled out by campaigns against China.” (NBC News, 6/6/2013)

January 5, 2013: Someone accesses the email account of one of Bill Clinton’s staffers on the private server used to host Hillary Clinton’s emails.

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The Tor Logo (Credit: public domain)

This is according to a FBI report that will be released in September 2016. It is known the staffer whose account gets breached is female, but her name will be redacted. The unnamed hacker uses the anonymity software Tor to browse through this staffer’s messages and attachments on the server.

The FBI will call this the only confirmed “successful compromise of an email account on the server.” But the FBI will not be able to determine who the hacker is or how the hacker obtained the staffer’s username and password to access her account. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)

Wired will later comment, “The compromise of a Bill Clinton staffer—who almost certainly had no access to any of then-Secretary Clinton’s classified material—doesn’t make the security of those classified documents any clearer. But it will no doubt be seized on by the Clintons’ political opponents to raise more questions about their server’s security.”

Dave Aitel (Credit: Immunity)

Dave Aitel (Credit: Immunity)

Clinton’s computer technician Bryan Pagliano is in charge of monitoring the server’s access logs at the time.

But Dave Aitel, a former NSA security analyst and founder of the cypersecurity company Immunity, will later comment that the breach shows a lack of attention to the logs. “They weren’t auditing and restricting IP addresses accessing the server. That’s annoying and difficult when your user is the secretary of state and traveling all around the world… But if she’s in Russia and I see a login from Afghanistan, I’d say that’s not right, and I’d take some intrusion detection action. That’s not the level this team was at.” (Wired, 9/2/2016)

When Pagliano is interviewed by the FBI in December 2015, he will claim that he knew of no instance when the server was successfully breached, suggesting he didn’t know about this incident. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)

And when Justin Cooper, a Bill Clinton aide who helped Pagliano manage the server, will be asked about the incident in September 2016, he will say he knew nothing about it until he read about it in the FBI report released earlier that month. (US Congress, 9/13/2016)

March 15, 2013—March 21, 2013: Clinton’s private server is repeatedly scanned from Russia shortly after Guccifer’s hack revealed her server domain.

On March 14, 2013, the Romanian hacker known as Guccifer broke into the email account of Clinton confidant Sid Blumenthal and learned Clinton’s private email address and thus her clintonemail.com server domain.

A September 2016 FBI report will reveal that “An examination of log files [of Clinton’s server] from March 2013 indicated that IP addresses from Russia and Ukraine attempted to scan the server on March 15, 2013, the day after the Blumenthal compromise, and on March 19 and March 21, 2013. However, none of these attempts were successful, and it could not be determined whether this activity was attributable to [Guccifer].” (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)

April 8, 2015—June 9, 2015: A hacking attack on a French TV network is blamed on a Russian group that will later be accused of hacking political entities in the US.

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The headquarters of French television network TV5 Monde in Paris, France. (Credit: Pierre Verdy / Agence France Presse)

The French television network TV5 Monde is attacked by hackers on April 8, 2015. A group claiming to be linked to ISIS (also known as the Islamic State) and calling itself “Cyber Caliphate” shuts down the network’s TV channels for several hours. The group also posts pro-ISIS propaganda on the station’s website.

However, on June 9, 2015, it is reported by the BBC and elsewhere that French police have decided that attack was actually done by hackers based in Russia. The “Cyber Caliphate” claim was a false front to deflect blame. Police are said to be focusing their investigation on the Russian hacking group known as Fancy Bear or APT 28. French media reports that the group has also targeted the computer systems of Russian dissidents, Ukrainian activists, and others. (BBC, 6/9/2015) (France24, 6/10/2015)

In July 2016, the Washington Post will report that French authorities believe the Glavnoje Razvedyvatel’noje Upravlenije (GRU) was behind the cyberattack. This is one of two Russian military intelligence agencies that will be accused of hacking the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in 2015 and 2016. The GRU has been linked to the Fancy Bear or APT 28 hacking group. The Post will also claim that some analysts believe the attack was Russian retaliation against France for backing out of an agreement to sell helicopter carriers to Russia because of Russian aggression in Ukraine. (The Washington Post, 7/24/2016)

 

April 15, 2015: A computer expert privately advises the Clinton campaign to hire a company to investigate if Clinton’s private server was hacked.

Barbara Simons (Credit: public domain)

Barbara Simons (Credit: public domain)

Barbara Simons, a renowned computer expert, writes Clinton campaign chair John Podesta in an email, “I am following up on our very brief discussion, held as you were leaving the DA meeting, about Hillary Clinton’s emails.  I’ve included a summary of the issues and a precautionary step that I think should be taken.”

Simons attaches a short document to the email, which is entitled, “Hillary Clinton’s emails and what to do about them.” In it, she writes, “I believe that this is a more serious situation than perhaps Secretary Clinton and her aides realize. … There is a very real risk that the system was broken into, possibly by Republican operatives (or China or some other country or organization).  If this has happened and if there is anything that might appear problematic in those emails, whether or not it actually is, the relevant emails might be released to the press shortly before the election.  Even if the system was not broken into, there is the threat that opponents might release forged emails that are difficult to impossible to distinguish from real ones.”

Jeremy Epstein a program manager with I2O, took his official photo on March 8, 2016 at DARPA in Arlington, Va. (Photo By: Sun L. Vega)

Jeremy Epstein (Credit: Sun L. Vega)

As a result, she and a prominent computer security expert Jeremy Epstein suggest that the Clinton campaign hire a cybersecurity company called Mandiant. They are said to be competent and discrete in dealing with major corporate hacks. They will try to determine if Clinton’s private server was hacked. However, Simons notes that “if nothing serious is uncovered by a forensics examination, that does not prove that nothing happened.  Regrettably, the absence of proof of a break-in is not proof of the absence of a break-in.” (WikiLeaks, 10/23/2016)

Whatever reply Podesta gives is unknown. It is also unknown if Mandiant or any other company is ever hired. However, the FBI’s Clinton email investigation final report will make no mention of any evidence of such a forensic examination.

December 2015: The FBI warns the DNC (Democratic National Committee) that it is a target of a hacker attack.

According to a July 2016 Yahoo News article, the FBI contacts the DNC in late 2015 and tells their IT (information technology) staffers that there has been a hacking attack on the DNC’s computer network. The FBI provides no details, such as who the hackers might be.

It will later be discovered that a hacker broke into the DNC network in the summer of 2015. Despite the FBI warning, the hacker won’t be ejected from the network until around June 2016. (Yahoo News, 7/29/2016)

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)

Around April or May 2016: The FBI warns “dozens of lawmakers” that they are being targeted by hackers.

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Former senator Tom Daschle (Credit: NY Magazine)

On July 25, 2016, the Washington Post will report that the FBI warns the “Clinton campaign and dozens of lawmakers” that they are being targeted by hackers. Later reporting by Yahoo News will indicate that the Clinton campaign is first warned by the FBI in March 2016. The timing of the warning to lawmakers is less clear, except that the Post mentions it takes place “weeks before” a media report on June 14, 2016 that hackers had broken into the Democratic National Committee (DNC) computer network.

It still has not been proven that hack on the lawmakers have been successful. However, former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle (D) has told the Post that his email account was hacked recently. But he hasn’t been given any indication if law enforcement is investigating or who the hacker might be. (The Washington Post, 7/25/2016)

 

Late April 2016—Early May, 2016: Hacking attacks on a DNC consultant researching pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine lead DNC leaders to conclude the Russian government is behind such attacks.

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Alexandra Chalupa (Credit: Linked In)

Alexandra Chalupa, a consultant for the Democratic National Committee (DNC), has been working for several weeks on an opposition research file about Paul Manafort, the campaign manager of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Manafort has a long history of advising politicians around the world, including controversial dictators. Logging into her Yahoo email account, she gets a warning entitled “Important action required” from a Yahoo cybersecurity team. The warning adds, “We strongly suspect that your account has been the target of state-sponsored actors.”

Paul Manafort (Credit: Linked In)

Paul Manafort (Credit: Linked In)

Paul Manafort was a key adviser to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych from 2004 until 2010. Yanukovych is a controversial figure frequently accused of widespread corruption and was overthrown after a massive series of protests in February 2014, and has since been living in Russia, protected by the Russian government. Chalupa had been drafting memos and writing emails about Manafort’s link to pro-Russian Ukrainian leaders such as Yanukovych when she got the warning. She had been in contact with investigative journalists in Ukraine who had been giving her information about Manafort’s ties there.

Chalupa immediately alerts top DNC officials. But more warnings from Yahoo’s security team follows. On May 3, 2016, she writes in an email to DNC communications director Luis Miranda, “Since I started digging into Manafort, these messages have been a daily occurrence on my Yahoo account despite changing my password often.”

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A photo capture of the Yahoo security warning appearing on DNC consultant Alexandra Chalupa’s computer screen. (Credit: Yahoo News)

In July 2016, she will tell Yahoo News, “I was freaked out,” and “This is really scary.” Her email message to Miranda will later be one of 20,000 emails released by WikiLeaks on July 22, 2016, showing that there was good reason to be concerned about hacking attempts.

Chalupa’s email to Miranda, results in concern amongst top level DNC officials. One unnamed insider will later say. “That’s when we knew it was the Russians,” since Russia would be very interested in Chalupa’s research and other countries like China would not. This source also says that as a precaution, “we told her to stop her research.”

Yahoo will later confirm that it did send numerous warnings to Chalupa, and one Yahoo security official will say, “Rest assured we only send these notifications of suspected attacks by state-sponsored actors when we have a high degree of confidence.” (Yahoo News, 7/25/2016)

May 26, 2016: In an FBI interview, Guccifer says he lied about getting into Clinton’s private server.

Cynthia McFadden interviews Guccifer in Romania on May 4, 2016. (Credit: NBC News)

Cynthia McFadden interviews Guccifer in Romania in April 2016. (Credit: NBC News)

Guccifer, whose real name Marcel-Lehel Lazar, is interviewed by the FBI as part of the FBI’s Clinton email investigation. He appears to have spoken to the FBI previously, but these may have been about other matters, since he hacked dozens of US citizens.

Around the end of April 2016, Guccifer had high-profile interviews with Fox News and NBC News. It was already known that he broke into the email account of Clinton confidant Sid Blumenthal in March 2013 and learned Clinton’s private email address. In both media interviews, Guccifer claimed that he then gained access to Clinton’s private server. But the FBI will later say that Guccifer admitted in his FBI interview that he lied about this.

Additionally, “FBI forensic analysis of the Clinton server during the timeframe [Guccifer] claimed to have compromised the server did not identify evidence that [he] hacked the server.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)

July 2016—August 18, 2016: Hackers target the election databases in two US states, but the motives and identities of the hackers are unclear.

In July 2016, the FBI uncovers evidence that two state election databases may have been recently hacked, in Arizona and Illinois. Officials shut down the voter registration systems in both states in late July 2016, with the Illinois system staying shut down for ten days.

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Jeh Johnson (Credit: public domain)

On August 15, 2016,  Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson heads a conference call with state election officials and offers his department’s help to make state voting systems more secure. In the call, he emphasizes that he is not aware of “specific or credible cybersecurity threats” to the November 2016 presidential election.

Three days later, the FBI Cyber Division issues a warning, titled “Targeting Activity Against State Board of Election Systems.” It reveals that the FBI is investigating hacking attempts on the Arizona and Illinois state election websites. The warning suggests the hackers could be foreigners and asks other states to look for signs that they have been targeted too. Out of the eight known IP addresses used in the attacks, one IP address was used in both attacks, strongly suggesting the attacks were linked.

An unnamed “person who works with state election officials calls the FBI’s warning “completely unprecedented. … There’s never been an alert like that before that we know of.” In the Arizona case, malicious software was introduced into its voter registration system, but apparently there was no successful stealing of data. However, in the Illinois case, the hackers downloaded personal data on up to 200,000 state voters.

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Tom Kellermann (Credit: BBC News)

It is not known who was behind the attacks. One theory is that the Russian government is responsible. A former lead agent in the FBI’s Cyber Division said the way the hack was done and the level of the FBI’s alert “more than likely means nation-state attackers.” Tom Kellermann, head of the cybersecurity company Strategic Cyber Ventures, believes Russian President Vladimir Putin is ultimately behind the attacks, and thinks it is connected to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and other recently targeted US political targets. Kellermann says of Putin, “I think he’s just unleashed the hounds.”

But another leading theory is that common criminals are trying to steal personal data on state voters for financial gain. Milan Patel, former chief technology officer of the FBI’s Cyber Division, says, “It’s got the hallmark signs of any criminal actors, whether it be Russia or Eastern Europe.” But he adds, “the question of getting into these databases and what it means is certainly not outside the purview of state-sponsored activity.” Some cybersecurity experts note that hackers often target government databases for personal information they can sell.

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Rich Barger (Credit: Threat Connect)

So far, the motive and identity of the hackers remains uncertain. Rich Barger, chief intelligence officer for ThreatConnect, says that one of the IP addresses listed in the FBI alert previously surfaced in Russian criminal underground hacker forums. However, sometimes these groups work alone, and other times they work for or cooperate with the Russian government. Barger also claims the method of attack on one of the state election systems appears to resemble methods used in other suspected Russian state-sponsored cyberattacks. But cybersecurity consultant Matt Tait says that “no robust evidence as of yet” connects the hacks to the Russian government or any other government.

US officials are considering the possibility that some entity may be attempting to hack into voting systems to influence the tabulation of results in the November 2016 election. A particular worry is that all of six states and parts of four others use only electronic voting with no paper verification. Hackers could conceivably use intrusions into voter registration databases to delete names from voter registration lists. However, this is still considered only a remote possibility. But the FBI is warning states to improve their cybersecurity to reduce the chances this could happen.

News of these attacks and FBI alerts will be made public by Yahoo News on August 29, 2016. (Yahoo News, 8/29/2016) (Politico, 8/29/2016)

July 7, 2016: FBI Director Comey says people other than Blumenthal who regularly communicated with Clinton were successfully hacked.

In a Congressional hearing, Representative Blake Farenthold (R) points out that it has long been known that the hacker nicknamed Guccifer broke into the email account of Clinton confidant Sid Blumenthal and gained access to hundreds of her emails. Then he asks FBI Director James Comey, “During your investigation, were there other people in the State Department or that regularly communicated with Secretary Clinton that you can confirm were successfully hacked?”

Comey replies, “Yes.”

Farenthold confirms, “And were these folks that regularly communicated with the secretary?”

Comey again replies, “Yes.” However he doesn’t give any more details, such as how many such cases there were, or who they were. (Note that this is the only time Blumenthal is mentioned in Comey’s hearing.) (CNN, 7/7/2016)

A September 2016 FBI report will mention an incident in early January 2013, when an unnamed member of Bill Clinton’s staff has her email account on Clinton’s private server broken into by a hacker.

July 8, 2016: Clinton denies that she was “extremely careless” and says there’s no reason to believe that hackers got hold of her emails.

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Clinton appears with MSNBC’s Lester Holt on July 8, 2016. (Credit: MSNBC)

When asked to respond to FBI Director James Comey’s July 5, 2016, comment that she had been “extremely careless” with highly classified material, Clinton says, “Well, I think the director clarified that comment to some extent, pointing out that some of what had been thought to be classified apparently was not.”

Comey also said that “it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal email account.” But Clinton responds, “I think he was speculating. But if you go by the evidence, there is no evidence that the system was breached or hacked successfully.  And I think that what’s important here is to follow the evidence.” (The New York Times, 7/8/2016)

July 22, 2016: WikiLeaks releases almost 20,000 DNC emails as the first of a series of Clinton-related leaks.

WikiLeaks publicly releases 19,252 emails and 8,034 email attachments recently hacked from the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The emails are from seven DNC officials: Communications Director Luis Miranda (10,770 emails), National Finance Director Jordon Kaplan (3,797 emails), Finance Chief of Staff Scott Comer (3,095 emails), Finance Director Zachary Allen (1,611 emails), Finance Director of Data and Strategic Initiatives Daniel Parrish (1,472 emails), Senior Advisor Andrew Wright (938 emails) and Northern California Finance Director Robert (Erik) Stowe (751 emails). The emails are from January 2015 until May 25, 2016.

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The seven DNC officials are left to right Luis Miranda (Credit: public domain), Jordan Kaplan (Credit: Facebook), Scott Comer (Credit: Linked In), Zachary Allen (Credit: Twitter), Daniel Parrish (Credit: Linked In), Andrew Wright (Credit: Linked In), Robert (Erik) Stowe (Credit: Linked In)

In announcing the release, WikiLeaks mentions this is “part one of our new Hillary Leaks series.” (WikiLeaks, 7/22/2016)

Julian Assange, head of WikiLeaks, mentioned in a June 2016 interview that other coming releases will relate to the Clinton Foundation and to Clinton’s emails (although it’s not clear how many there are or where and when they are from). It also was reported in June 2016 that the DNC computer network had been recently hacked, along with other political entities, such as the Clinton campaign. It also was suspected that the Russian government was behind the DNC hack. However, a previously unknown hacker named Guccifer 2.0 emerged and claimed to be behind the hack, and also claimed to have no ties to Russia. He furthermore claimed to have given thousands of documents to WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks has a policy of never revealing the sources of their leaked material, and has maintained that policy for this release.

July 22, 2016: Guccifer 2.0 takes credit for the DNC emails posted by WikiLeaks.

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Tweet posted by Guccifer 2.0 on July 22, 2016. (Credit: Guccifer 2.0 / Twitter)

Shortly after WikiLeaks publishes almost 20,000 emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC), the hacker known as Guccifer 2.0 takes credit. His website is not updated, but he writes at his Twitter account: “@wikileaks published #DNCHack docs I’d given them!!!” (Twitter, 6/22/2016)

He has previously posted many DNC files on his own website, starting on June 15, 2016. And on that same day, he claimed that he had given “thousands of files and mails” to WikiLeaks.

 

July 24, 2016: It is suggested that the Russian government has attempted to influence elections in other countries, sometimes by using front groups.

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Michael Vickers (Credit: BAE Systems, Inc.)

Michael Vickers, who was undersecretary of defense for intelligence from 2011 to 2015, says that if the Russian government is behind the recent leak of Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails by WikiLeaks, it would be unprecedented for the US. “What is really new here is the attempt to influence the politics of the United States. That is the problem.”

However, he also points out that there is evidence the Russians have attempted to influence elections in European countries close to their border. For instance, in 2004, a Russian hacker group calling itself Cyber Berkut claimed it hacked and disabled the electronic vote-counting system of the Ukraine central election commission three days before the presidential election. However, analysts believe the hack was actually done by the Glavnoje Razvedyvatel’noje Upravlenije (GRU), one of two Russian military intelligence agencies accused of recently hacking the DNC. These analysts claim the GRU created Cyber Berkut as a false front to deflect responsibility. (The Washington Post, 7/24/2016)

July 25, 2016: Democratic Party officials believe recent hacks are “far more widespread than initially thought.”

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Sample of DNC spreadsheet released by Wikileaks, titled “Boards and Commissions” listing generous DNC donors who are being considered for appointments to various Boards and Commissions. Donor email addresses and phone numbers were blacked out by thompsontimeline. (Credit: Wikileaks)

Yahoo News reports about the series of hacking attacks targeting the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Clinton campaign, and other US political targets starting in the summer of 2015 and continuing until at least June 2016. “Two sources familiar with the [DNC] breach said that the hackers’ reach was far more widespread than initially thought and includes personal data about big party contributors and internal ‘vetting’ evaluations that include embarrassing comments about their business dealings (as well as gossipy internal emails about the private affairs of DNC staffers). … Party officials are bracing for more damaging document dumps after Labor Day [September 7, 2016]. ‘They’re having to do serious damage control with the donors right now,’ said a party official familiar with the matter.”

Additionally, Yahoo News mentions, “There are also signs that the hackers have penetrated the personal email of some Clinton campaign staffers — at least those who were in communication with senior DNC staff members.” (Yahoo News, 7/25/2016)

July 25, 2016: Former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley suggests the Russian government wants to affect the US presidential election with hacking.

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Bill Daley (Credit: Pinterest)

Daley says, “I don’t think anybody would be surprised if [Russian President Vladimir] Putin would try to affect the election. That’s like the old ‘Casablanca’ — there’s gambling in the casino. It doesn’t surprise me at all. Period. I think anybody who dismisses that is living in fairy land here.”

He also calls the possibility that the Russian government was behind the hack of Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails “pretty frightening.”

He was White House chief of staff from 2011 to 2012. (The Washington Post, 7/25/2016)

July 25, 2016: The FBI formally acknowledges it is investigating the Democratic National Committee (DNC) hack.

The FBI has been investigating the hack of the DNC and related political entities for months. For instance, the FBI warned the Clinton campaign they were the target of hacking attacks in March 2016. However, this is the first public admission of an investigation. An FBI spokesperson says the bureau will “investigate and hold accountable those who pose a threat in cyberspace.” This announcement comes three days after WikiLeaks publicly posted almost 20,000 emails from the DNC.

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Emblem of the Glavnoje Razvedyvatel’noje Upravlenije (GRU) (Credit: public domain)

The Washington Post reports that according to unnamed ” individuals familiar with the investigation,” the FBI is focusing on the Russian military intelligence agency, known as the Glavnoje Razvedyvatel’noje Upravlenije or GRU, and looking into if it was responsible for giving the emails to WikiLeaks. However, it is believed that the Russian Federal Security Service, known as the Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti or FSB, broke into the DNC’s computers as well.

The FBI wants to determine with certainty whether the Russian government passed the emails to WikiLeaks. This is likely to involve other US intelligence agencies, such as the NSA and the CIA, which potentially could intercept communications or gather intelligence overseas.

If it is definitively proven that the Russians are responsible, then the US would have to consider what to do next. The Post comments, ” Responses could range from a diplomatic wrist slap or warning to countermeasures.” In 2014, Sony Pictures was hacked, and there were reports that the government of North Korea was responsible. The US government imposed economic sanctions on North Korea in response. President Obama also signed an executive order enabling US officials to impose economic sanctions in response to significant hacking attacks. (The Washington Post, 7/25/2016)

July 25, 2016: Former CIA Director Michael Hayden says the Russians could be “weaponizing information” with leaks of hacked emails.

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Former CIA director Michael Hayden (Credit: Luis M. Alvarez / The Associated Press)

Hayden says that if the Russian government is behind the recent leaks of Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails by WikiLeaks, this would mean “they’re clearly taking their game to another level. It would be weaponizing information. You don’t want a foreign power affecting your election. We have laws against that.”

Hayden was appointed head of the NSA by President Bill Clinton and then he was later appointed head of the CIA by President George W. Bush. (The Washington Post, 7/25/2016)

July 25, 2016: WikiLeaks discourages suggestions that the Russian government is behind its release of DNC emails.

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Wikileaks cartoon that accompanied the DNC documents release. (Credit: Latoff / Wikileaks)

In an interview with NBC News, Wikileaks leader Julian Assange won’t say who gave WikiLeaks the Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails they have recently made public, as the group has a policy to never reveal their sources.

However, Assange discourages the widespread speculation that the emails come from hackers linked to the Russian government. Assange suggests that the DNC’s security was so weak that it could have been hacked by multiple groups. He also insists, “The emails that we have released are different sets of documents to the documents of those [that] people have analyzed.”

A hacker or hacking group going by the name of Guccifer 2.0 claims to have given the emails to WikiLeaks, but WikiLeaks has not confirmed this.

A WikiLeaks representative also comments, “Our publication of leaked DNC emails and the many DNC hacks over the last two years are separate incidents and should not be conflated.” (The Daily Beast, 7/26/2016)

July 26, 2016: WikiLeaks head Julian Assange says WikiLeaks might release “a lot more material” relevant to the US presidential campaign.

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CNN’s Matthew Chance interviews Julian Assange over a video link on July 26, 2016. (Credit: CNN, Moscow)

Assange is vague on details about future releases. He is asked by CNN about reports that the Russian government might be behind the recent hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) computer network. WikiLeaks has a policy of never revealing its sources, and Assange maintains that policy by refusing to confirm or deny anything. He says, “Perhaps one day the source or sources will step forward and that might be an interesting moment. Some people may have egg on their faces. But to exclude certain actors is to make it easier to find out who our sources are.”

He additionally says that Clinton and other Democratic officials are using the specter of Russian involvement to distract from the content of the emails. “It raises questions about the natural instincts of Clinton that when confronted with a serious domestic political scandal, she tries to blame the Russians, blame the Chinese, et cetera. Because if she does that while in government, it could lead to problems.” (CNN, 7/27/2016)

July 26, 2016: US intelligence agencies have “high confidence” that the Russian government is behind the hack of DNC emails.

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Emblem of the Russian Federal Security Service (Credit: public domain)

The New York Times claims this is according to unnamed “federal officials who have been briefed on the evidence.” But these officials are uncertain if the hack is part of “fairly routine cyberespionage” or part of an effort to manipulate the 2016 US presidential election. The DNC (Democratic National Committee) emails were  published by WikiLeaks on July 22, 2016, causing political turmoil for Democrats and resulting in the resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, from her position as DNC chair.

The federal investigation, involving the FBI and other intelligence agencies began in April 2016, when the hack was first detected. It has concluded that the Russian Federal Security Service (Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti or FSB) entered the DNC’s computer network in the summer of 2015. (This corresponds with previous reports of a hacking by a Russian group known as Cozy Bear or APT 29.) The Rusian Main Intelligence Directorate (Glavnoje Razvedyvatel’noje Upravlenije or GRU) independently penetrated the same network later. (This corresponds with previous reports of a hacking by a Russian group known as Fancy Bear or APT 28.) Investigators believe the GRU has been playing a larger role in publicly releasing the emails.

The Times says the intelligence community’s conclusion puts pressure on President Obama to publicly accuse Russia of orchestrating the hacking, which could negatively impact the diplomatic relationship between the US and Russia in general. (The New York Times, 7/26/2016)

July 27, 2016: US intelligence hasn’t found proof that the Russian government is responsible for WikiLeaks getting recently hacked emails.

The Washington Post reports that “Intelligence officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an issue under investigation, said there is little doubt that agents of the Russian government hacked the Democratic National Committee [DNC], and the White House was informed months ago of [Russia’s] culpability.” However, days after WikiLeaks posted almost 20,000 DNC emails, the Post adds, “The intelligence community, the officials said, has not reached a conclusion about who passed the emails to WikiLeaks.”

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Former NSA director Keith Alexander, testifying before Congress in 2013. (Credit: The Associated Press)

One unnamed US official says, “We have not drawn any evidentiary connection to any Russian intelligence service and WikiLeaks — none.”

Former NSA Director Keith Alexander says, “Determining with confidence who was behind it — if the Russians were the hackers, seeing them pass that data to WikiLeaks — is probably much more difficult than attributing it to the initial hacker. That’s a tough one — especially because there are different ways of passing that information, not all electronic.”

Furthermore, even if Russia is behind the leaks to WikiLeaks, the motivation is unclear. A key question is if Russia is attempting to influence the November 2016 US presidential election. Michael Hayden, former director of both the NSA and the CIA, states, “Frankly, I don’t think they’re motivated by thinking they can affect the election itself.” He thinks the Russians may be flexing their muscles “to demonstrate that they can — not necessarily to make [Donald] Trump win or Hillary [Clinton] lose.”

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Leo Taddeo (Credit: Twitter)

Leo Taddeo, a former FBI agent who worked with cybersecurity operations, says, “This is not [Russian leader Vladimir] Putin trying to help Trump. I think they were messaging Hillary Clinton, telling her that they can get in the way of her election if she doesn’t show some flexibility in her position toward them.”

Representative Adam Schiff (D) believes that if Russia is ultimately responsible, the Obama administration “should make it known publicly and forcefully. Even if they’re not able to lay out the evidence because it would disclose sources and methods, they should make the attribution.” (The Washington Post, 7/27/2016)

July 28, 2016: Director of National Intelligence James Clapper shows reluctance to blame Russia for recent hacks on US political entities.

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Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (Credit: public domain)

Clapper says the US government is not “quite ready yet” to “make a public call” about who is responsible for the hacking on the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) computer network that resulted in almost 20,000 emails being released by WikiLeaks. However, he hints that one of “the usual suspects” is likely to blame. He also says, “We don’t know enough [yet] to … ascribe a motivation, regardless of who it may have been.”

Yahoo News reports that there is a vigorous debate inside the Obama administration about whether to publicly blame the Russian government for the hacking. One unnamed senior law enforcement official says the Russians are “most probably” involved, but investigation is ongoing.

Clapper is said to be amongst a faction who is resisting publicly blaming the Russians, since it is the kind of activity that intelligence agencies regularly engage in, including the US at times. Clapper also publicly comments, “[I’m] taken aback a bit by … the hyperventilation over this,” He adds in a sarcastic tone, “I’m shocked somebody did some hacking. That’s never happened before.” (Yahoo News, 7/29/2016)

August 18, 2016: The Clinton Foundation’s computer network may have been recently hacked.

Reuters reports that the foundation has recently hired the cybersecurity company FireEye to investigte and combat hacking after seeing indications of possible hacking. This is according to two unnamed “sources familiar with the matter.”

No stolen emails or documents from the foundation have been made public so far. However, one of the sources plus two unnamed US security officials say that hackers appear to have used “spear phishing” techniques to gain access to the foundation’s network, in the same way they’ve hacked the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and other political targets. (Reuters, 8/18/2016)

August 18, 2016: The Clinton Foundation claims its computers have not been hacked.

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Logo of FireEye (Credit: public domain)

Earlier in the day, Reuters reported from several sources that it is likely the Clinton Foundation’s computer network has been recently hacked. But the foundation says, “We have no evidence Clinton Foundation systems were breached and have not been notified by law enforcement of an issue.”

Reuters also reported the foundation recently hired the cybersecurity company FireEye to combat hacking. The foundation has not responded to this. (Politico, 8/18/2016)

August 23, 2016: US officials believe hackers have been targeting the New York Times and other US news outlets, and the Russian government might be responsible.

Cyber attacks on such media organizations have been “detected in recent months,” and are being investigated by the FBI and other US agencies. CNN reports, “Investigators so far believe that Russian intelligence is likely behind the attacks and that Russian hackers are targeting news organizations as part of a broader series of hacks that also have focused on Democratic Party organizations,” according to unnamed US officials.

Little has been publicly revealed about the media attacks except for the attacks on the New York Times. The Times says their email services are outsourced to Google and they have no evidence that their computer networks have been compromised. CNN claims that individual reporters have been targeted, not entire networks, but it is unclear how many were targeted or how many had their email accounts breached.

CNN further reports, “US intelligence officials believe the picture emerging from the series of recent intrusions is that Russian spy agencies are using a wave of cyber attacks, including against think-tanks in Washington, to gather intelligence from a broad array of non-governmental organizations with windows into the US political system. News organizations are considered top targets because they can yield valuable intelligence on reporter contacts in the government, as well as communications and unpublished works with sensitive information…” (CNN, 8/23/2016)

The Associated Press is less definitive about who might be responsible, saying that an unnamed US official claims the FBI is looking into whether Russian intelligence agencies are responsible for the hacking attempts. (The Associated Press, 8/23/2016)

September 1, 2016: The Romanian hacker known as Guccifer is sentenced to four years and three months in prison.

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Marcel-Lehel Lazar aka Guccifer (Credit: NBC News)

Guccifer, whose real name is Marcel-Lehel Lazar, pled guilty in a US court to two charges earlier in the year, eliminating the need for a trial. He admitted to targeting over 100 Americans over a 14-month period. When he broke into the email account of Clinton confidant Sid Blumenthal in March 2013, he publicly exposed Clinton’s private email address for the first time.

Guccifer has been cooperating with US officials, but federal prosecutors sought a maximum penalty of four and a half years anyway. US District Judge James Cacheris imposes sentence only three months short of that, saying a tough penalty is needed to deter future hacking. Furthermore, while Guccifer confessed, he showed no remorse.

He had already been sentenced to a seven year prison term for hacking in Romania, and was extradited to the US to face charges there. The Romanian government has asked that he be immediately returned to Romania to finish serving his time there. Then, in 2018, he would be sent back to the US to serve his US prison sentence. (The Washington Post, 9/1/2016)

September 5, 2016: Clinton is “concerned” about Russian election-rigging in Trump’s favor.

Clinton holds an in-flight press conference on September 5, 2016. (Credit: Andrew Harnik / The Associated Press))

Clinton holds an in-flight press conference on September 5, 2016. (Credit: Andrew Harnik / The Associated Press))

Clinton comments about allegations of Russian hacking of US political entities: “I’m really concerned about the credible reports about Russian government interference in our elections … The fact that our intelligence professionals are now studying this, and taking it seriously… raises some grave questions about potential Russian interference with our electoral process.”

Clinton voices suspicions that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s could be colluding with Russia: “We’ve never had the nominee of one of our major parties urging the Russians to hack more… I think it’s quite intriguing that this activity has happened around the time Trump became the nominee… I often quote a great saying that I learned from living in Arkansas for many years: If you find a turtle on a fence post, it didn’t get there by itself.” (Politico, 9/5/2016)

 

September 13, 2016: Colin Powell’s recently hacked emails are published.

On September 13, 2016, hacked emails belonging to former Secretary of State Colin Powell appear on a website known as DCLeaks.com.  It is unclear who owns the DCLeaks website, which only appeared on the Internet a few months earlier. They are known for previously publishing hacked emails belonging to prominent Democrats and Republicans, including General Philip M. Breedlove, the former commander of NATO forces in Europe, and George Soros, a wealthy backer of liberal causes. It is also reported to have ties to Guccifer 2.0, who in turn has been accused of having links to the Russian government.

Colin Powell (Credit: Paul Morigi / Getty Images)

Colin Powell (Credit: Paul Morigi / Getty Images)

Powell’s aide Peggy Cifrino states, “We are confirming that General Powell has been hacked and that they are his emails. We have no further comment at this time.” The dates of Powell’s hacked emails range from June 24, 2014 to as recently as August 29, 2016.

Some of the emails are first reported by BuzzFeed and the Intercept, followed by many other prominent mainstream news sources.

The New York Times reports, “A hack of Mr. Powell’s email this week has ripped away the diplomatic jargon and political niceties to reveal his unvarnished disdain of Donald J. Trump as a ‘national disgrace,’ his personal peeves with Hillary Clinton and his lingering, but still very raw, anger with the Republican colleagues with whom he so often clashed a decade ago.” (New York Times, 09/14/16)

October 7, 2016: The US government formally accuses the Russian government of hacking and publishing emails related to US political entities.

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James Clapper (Credit: Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper releases a statement in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security claiming that leaked emails that have appeared on a variety of websites “are intended to interfere with the US election process. … We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.”

The New York Times comments that the statement does “not name President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, but that appear[s] to be the intention.”

Many thousands of emails and other documents have been posted in recent months on the WikiLeaks website, but WikiLeaks won’t say where their leaks come from. Two newly created websites attributed to DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 have also posted leaks. Both groups claim to have no ties to the Russian government, but the US government claims otherwise.

The statement adds that US intelligence agencies are less certain who is responsible for “scanning and probing” online voter registration lists in various US states in recent months. Those “in most cases originated from servers operated by a Russian company,” but the statement doesn’t assert that the Russian government is responsible.

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Kerry (left) and Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov meet in Geneva to discuss the Syrian crisis on September 9, 2016. (Credit: Agence France Presse)

The Times notes that the “announcement [comes] only hours after Secretary of State John Kerry called for the Russian and Syrian governments to face a formal war-crimes investigation over attacks on civilians in Aleppo and other parts of Syria. Taken together, the developments mark a sharp escalation of Washington’s many confrontations with [Russia] this year.”

US officials had debated for months whether or not to formally accuse Russia, and if so, when. An unnamed “senior administration official” says that with only about a month to go before the November presidential election, President Obama was “under pressure to act now,” in part because the closer the declaration would be to election day, the more political it would seem.

It is unclear what action the US will take in an attempt to punish Russia, if any. A range of options are being considered, including economic sanctions and covert cyber attacks against Russian targets. (The New York Times, 10/7/2016)

October 7, 2016—October 12, 2016: A claim that recently released WikiLeaks emails contain “obvious forgeries” is quickly debunked.

Malcolm Nance (Credit: MSNBC)

Malcolm Nance (Credit: MSNBC)

Politico calls Malcolm Nance a “former US intelligence analyst who has spoken frequently in defense of the Democratic nominee” Hillary Clinton. Within hours of WikiLeaks posting the first 2,000 hacked emails from Clinton campaign manager John Podesta, Nance writes in a tweet: “Warning: #PodestaEmails are already proving to be riddled with obvious forgeries & #blackpropaganda not even professionally.” (Twitter,10/7/2016)

However, no such evidence of any forgeries emerges. Five days later, on October 12, 2016, Nance reverses his claim of “obvious forgeries,” saying, “We have no way of knowing whether [the WikiLeaks emails are] real or not unless Hillary Clinton goes through everything they’ve said and comes out and says it cross-correlates and this is true.”

Politico also notes that cybersecurity experts have examined the Podesta emails released so far, and have found no evidence any of them were faked. (Politico, 10/12/2016)

October 11, 2016: Clinton’s campaign chair John Podesta blames Russia and Trump for the leak of his personal emails.

John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chair, publicly comments about the fact that WikiLeaks started releasing his personal emails on October 7, 2016.

Clinton campaign chair John Podesta speaks to the press on October 7, 2016 as Clinton’s Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri looks on. (Credit: Reuters)

He blames the Russian government for hacking his Gmail account, though he offers no specific evidence. “I’ve been involved in politics for nearly five decades, and this definitely is the first campaign that I’ve been involved with in which I’ve had to tangle with Russian intelligence agencies, who seem to be doing everything they

can on behalf of our opponent.”

He also says that the FBI communicated with him on October 9, 2016, and told him the breach of his email account has become part of a larger investigation into recent hacks of US political entities, for which the US government generally blames the Russian government.

Roger Stone (Credit: The Hill)

Roger Stone (Credit: The Hill)

Podesta claims that it is likely the Russians are trying to help the presidential campaign of Donald Trump (R), due to Trump having policies that are more politically favorable to Russia. He points to a Tweet made by Trump confidant Roger Stone on August 21, 2016, in which Stone wrote that it would soon be “Podesta’s time in the barrel.” Due to this Tweet, Podesta says, “I think it’s a reasonable assumption, or at least a reasonable conclusion, that Mr. Stone had advanced warning and the Trump campaign had advanced warning about what Assange was going to do.” (The Washington Post, 10/11/2016)

The next day, the official WikiLeaks Twitter account posts the Tweet, “As we have already stated clearly: WikiLeaks has had no contact with Roger Stone.” (WikiLeaks, 10/12/2016)

One day after that, Stone claims that his Tweet was in reference to a separate story he was working on that would accuse Podesta of possible criminal wrongdoing. But he also says that he has had “back-channel communications” with WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange through a mutual friend. (CBS Miami, 10/12/2016)

October 12, 2016: The Clinton campaign suggests that some emails released by WikiLeaks could be forgeries, but experts have found no evidence of this.

Tim Kaine appears on CNN's "State of the Union" on October 9, 2016. (Credit: CNN)

Tim Kaine appears on CNN’s “State of the Union” on October 9, 2016. (Credit: CNN)

Since October 7, 2016, WikiLeaks has been publishing an average of about 2,000 emails from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta every day. Podesta and the Clinton campaign has admitted his account got hacked, but they have suggested that some of the emails could be forgeries. For instance, on October 9, 2016, Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine said in a CNN interview, “I don’t think we can dignify documents dumped by WikiLeaks and just assume they are all accurate and true. Anybody who hacks in to get documents is completely capable of manipulating them.”

However, Politico reports, “Clinton’s team hasn’t challenged the accuracy of even the most salacious emails… And numerous digital forensic firms told Politico that they haven’t seen any proof of tampering in the emails they’ve examined — adding that only the hacked Democrats themselves could offer that kind of conclusive evidence.”

Laura Galante (Credit: Bloomberg News)

Laura Galante (Credit: Bloomberg News)

Laura Galante, a director of the cybersecurity company FireEye, says, “It’s very hard to go verify what is true and what’s not. Even the victims of the accounts that are getting exposed are having a hard time.”

Politico also comments, “Experts have warned for months about the possibility that the document leaks may eventually include a sprinkling of falsehoods to stoke their impact, noting that Russian and Soviet intelligence services had long used such techniques against their enemies.” The US government alleges that the Russian government has been behind some recent hacking of US political entities.

A WikiLeaks spokesperson dismisses claims some of the emails are fake. “Standard nonsense pushed by those who have something to hide. WikiLeaks has won a great many awards for its journalistic work and has the best vetting record of any media organization. … In fact, it’s completely legitimate to everyone in the journalism industry that [the emails] are exactly as we say they are, which is why everyone is running with them.”

Thomas Rid (Credit: Kings College, London)

Thomas Rid (Credit: Kings College, London)

However, some experts point out that hackers could have tampered with emails before giving them to WikiLeaks, or they may choose to only selectively hand over emails that promote a certain political agenda.

Thomas Rid, a cybersecurity researcher and professor, says, “Of course it would be more effective for [the Russians] not to undermine the credibility of WikiLeaks in any way by altering documents. But if we look at their past behavior, that is certainly something that has been considered and actually done in the past.” (Politico, 10/12/2016)

October 12, 2016: The Russian government denies the US government allegation that it is behind the hacking of US political figures.

Sergei Lavrov (Credit: Kirill Kudryavtsev / Agence France Press / Getty Images)

Sergey Lavrov (Credit: Kirill Kudryavtsev / Agence France Press / Getty Images)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov comments in a CNN interview about the US government formally accusing the Russian government of being behind recent hacks and public releases of emails from prominent US political figures. Lavrov says, “Now everybody in the United States is saying that it is Russia which is running the presidential debate. …. We have not seen a single fact, a single proof.” (Politico, 10/12/2016)

October 27, 2016: Putin scoffs at allegations of Russian involvement in the hacking of US presidential politics.

Vladimir Putin meets with members of the Valdai Discussion Club on October 27, 2016. (Credit: The Valdai Discussion Club)

Vladimir Putin meets with members of the Valdai Discussion Club on October 27, 2016. (Credit: The Valdai Discussion Club)

In a public speech at the Valdai Discussion Club, a Russian think tank outside of Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses allegations that the Russian government is behind the hacking of US political entities.

“Another mythical and imaginary problem is what I can only call the hysteria the USA has whipped up over supposed Russian meddling in the American presidential election. The United States has plenty of genuinely urgent problems, it would seem, from the colossal public debt to the increase in firearms violence and cases of arbitrary action by the police. You would think that the election debates would concentrate on these and other unresolved problems, but the elite has nothing with which to reassure society, it seems, and therefore attempt to distract public attention by pointing instead to supposed Russian hackers, spies, agents of influence and so forth.”

He adds, “I have to ask myself and ask you too: Does anyone seriously imagine that Russia can somehow influence the American people’s choice? America is not some kind of ‘banana republic’, after all, but is a great power.” (Valdaidclub.com, 10/27/2016)

November 2, 2016: It is alleged there is 99% certainty that Clinton’s private server was hacked by at least five foreign intelligence agencies.

Bret Baier (Credit: public domain)

Bret Baier (Credit: public domain)

During a story about new developments in the FBI’s Clinton Foundation investigation, Fox News journalist Bret Baier claims that his sources also say the FBI has a greater than 99 percent confidence that Clinton’s private email server was hacked by at least five foreign intelligence agencies. Also, information had been successfully taken from the server.

However, further details, such as which five countries these are, what information was taken, or how the FBI has learned this, are not mentioned. (Real Clear Politics, 11/2/2016)

On July 5, 2016, FBI Director James Comey said there was no “direct evidence” Clinton’s email account had been successfully hacked. But the next day, the New York Times reported that “both private experts and federal investigators immediately understood his meaning: It very likely had been breached, but the intruders were far too skilled to leave evidence of their work.”