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)

October 13, 2012: Clinton receives an email that reveals undercover CIA officers use State Department cover in Afghanistan.

Jeremy Bash (left) Leon Panetta (right) (Credits: public domain)

Jeremy Bash (left) Leon Panetta (right) (Credits: public domain)

Jeremy Bash, who is chief of staff to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at the time, sends an email to four other US officials, including Clinton aides Jake Sullivan and Cheryl Mills. Sullivan then forwards the email to Clinton. The email has the subject heading: “This a.m. Green on Blue.” That is an idiom referring to when police attacks soldiers. The email refers to an Afghan police officer triggering a suicide vest and killing or wounding 14 Americans or Afghans, including one dead American.

The email will later be classified at the “secret” level, suggesting some important classified information in it, but its redactions make it difficult to understand. There is no indication of a reply from Clinton. (US Department of State, 1/29/2016)

In Clinton’s July 2016 FBI interview, she will be specifically asked about this email, again suggesting something unusual about it. However, her answer will also be heavily reacted. For instance, “Clinton believed she would be speculating if she were to state what [redacted] meant when he referred to [redacted].” (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)

Dario Lorenzetti (public domain)

Dario Lorenzetti (public domain)

On February 4, 2016, NBC News will reveal that the email concerns undercover CIA officer Dario Lorenzetti. He died in the suicide attack described in the email. Lorenzetti’s CIA connection was leaked to the media by anonymous officials four days after his death and was widely reported in the news media, although his CIA cover was not lifted until later.

According to NBC News, in the redacted portions of the email, it seems Bash was trying “to preserve the CIA officer’s cover. But some of the language he used, now that Lorenzetti is known to have been a CIA officer, could be read as a US government acknowledgement that CIA officers pose as State Department personnel in a specific country, Afghanistan — something widely known but not formally admitted.” This is why the email is classified at the “secret” level.

Bash ends the email by instructing a CIA spokesperson to “please lash up with [redacted].” NBC News will indicate the missing word is “presumably either the spy agency or one of its employees.” (NBC News, 2/4/2016)

This may be the phrase that the FBI asked Clinton about, and to which she replied that “she would be speculating if she were to state what [redacted] meant when he referred to [redacted].” (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)

NBC News will also interview Bash about this email. Bash will claim that the email “did not reference the individual’s name, employer, nor any identifying description or information.” Additionally, once the CIA posthumously lifted Lorenzetti’s cover, “the original unclassified email could be read to confirm the general use of cover, prompting the redactions we now see. But any suggestion that this email contained confirmation about the person or his cover, or any inappropriate information, is flat wrong.” (NBC News, 2/4/2016)

February 1, 2016: Some of Clinton’s 22 “top secret” emails allegedly contain “operational intelligence” involving espionage sources and methods.

John Schindler, a former National Security Agency (NSA) counterintelligence officer, claims that, “Discussions with Intelligence Community officials have revealed that Ms. Clinton’s ‘unclassified’ emails included Holy Grail items of American espionage such as the true names of Central Intelligence Agency [CIA] intelligence officers serving overseas under cover. Worse, some of those exposed are serving under non-official cover. […] At a minimum, valuable covers have been blown, careers have been ruined, and lives have been put at serious risk.” Additionally, some names of foreigners who are on the CIA payroll are mentioned.

One unnamed senior Intelligence Community official says that because of the likelihood that foreign governments have accessed all of Clinton’s emails, “It’s a death sentence. If we’re lucky, only agents, not our officers, will get killed because of this.”

Schindler comments, “Her defense seems to be that neither she nor anybody on her staff were able to recognize that top secret information was actually top secret, which is hardly a ringing endorsement of Hillary’s qualifications to be our next commander-in-chief.” (The New York Observer, 2/1/2016)

Four days later, a NBC News article comments on the same topic with more modest claims. According to unnamed US officials, the references to undercover officers were indirect and Clinton made no comment about them.

The article adds, “Some of the references to covert intelligence officers, and other discussions of CIA drone strikes, were against classification rules and were ‘sloppy,’ one official said. But views are split on whether they were damaging to national security.” (NBC News, 2/4/2016)

March 27, 2016–March 31, 2016: Accounts differ on the number of FBI investigators.

Seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (Credit: FBI)

Seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (Credit: FBI)

A March 27, 2016 front-page Washington Post story claims that 147 FBI agents have been working on an investigation into Clinton’s emails. The Post soon issues a correction that states, “Two US law enforcement officials have since told the Washington Post that figure is too high. The FBI will not provide an exact figure, but the officials say the number of FBI personnel involved is fewer than 50.” (The Washington Post, 3/27/2016)

On March 30, an unnamed source tells NBC News, “There are currently about 12 FBI agents working full-time on the case.” (NBC News, 3/30/2016)

On March 31, Time Magazine says, “20 to 30 agents, technical specialists and analysts have been assigned to the investigation, according to sources familiar with it.” (Time, 3/31/2016) 

One explanation of the differing numbers could be that the number of people working on the case changed over time.

On March 27, the Los Angeles Times reports that the FBI has finished their work-intensive review of Clinton’s server and emails. (The Los Angeles Times, 3/27/2016)

May 4, 2016: Guccifer also tells NBC News he accessed Clinton’s private server in 2013.

Guccifer (left) being interviewed by Cynthia McFadden (right) inside a Romanian prison complex. (Credit: NBC News)

Guccifer (left) being interviewed by Cynthia McFadden (right) inside a Romanian prison complex. (Credit: NBC News)

Hours after Fox News reports on recently interviewing Romanian hacker Guccifer, NBC News reports on their recent interview with Guccifer. Like the Fox News interview, the main story is that Guccifer claims to have gained access to Clinton’s private email server. He tells NBC News, “It was like an open orchid on the Internet. […] There were hundreds of folders.” He also calls her server “completely unsecured.”

An unnamed source with knowledge of the FBI’s Clinton investigation claims “that with Guccifer in US custody, investigators fully intend to question him about her server.”

While Fox News recently interviewed him in a US prison, NBC News interviewed him from a prison in Bucharest, Romania, where he was until he was extradited to the US in late March 2016. (NBC News, 5/4/2016)

LawNewz notes the timing, and asks, “Why would a major news network sit on such an explosive allegation—especially when the claim directly relates to a presidential candidate and the biggest story the 2016 presidential election cycle?” NBC News has not commented. (LawNewz, 5/4/2016)

An FBI report in September 2016 will assert that Guccifer admitted in his FBI interview that he lied about his claim to have accessed Clinton’s server.