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)

February 24, 2009: A security official warns that BlackBerry could be easily hacked on overseas trips.

Joel Brenner (Credit: Kera News)

Joel Brenner (Credit: Kera News)

Joel Brenner, chief of counterintelligence at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, gives a speech to government officials and urges them to consider what possible attacks could have occurred during a visit to the recent Beijing Olympics. “Your phone or BlackBerry could have been tagged, tracked, monitored and exploited between your disembarking the airplane and reaching the taxi stand at the airport. And when you emailed back home, some or all of the malware may have migrated to your home server. This is not hypothetical.”

Clinton had just returned from a trip to China and other Asian countries.

Although top State Department officials are aware of Brenner’s warning, she takes her BlackBerry on her future overseas trips despite it still not being inspected and secured by department officials. (The Washington Post, 3/27/2016)

June 6, 2013: Chinese government hacker attacks on US government targets have steadily increased since 2008.

Shawn Henry (Credit: public domain)

Shawn Henry (Credit: public domain)

In the summer of 2008, the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and John McCain had their computers successfully breached by hackers apparently working for the Chinese government. According to NBC News, “US officials say that Chinese intrusions have escalated in the years since, involving repeated attacks on US government agencies, political campaigns, corporations, law firms, and defense contractors—including the theft of national security secrets and hundreds of billions of dollars in intellectual property.”

Shawn Henry headed up the FBI’s investigation of the 2008 attacks and now is president of the computer security company CrowdStrike. He says there’s “little doubt” the Chinese government has an aggressive electronic espionage program targeting the US government and the commercial sector. “There’s been successful exfiltration of data from government agencies (by the Chinese) up and down Pennsylvania Avenue.” (NBC News, 6/6/2013)

October 2013—February 2014: Clinton’s private email server is the subject of repeated attempted cyber attacks, originating from China, South Korea, and Germany.

The attempts are foiled due to threat monitoring software installed in October 2013. However, from June to October 2013, her server is not protected by this software, and there is no way of knowing if there are successful attacks during that time.

A 2014 email from an employee of SECNAP, the company that makes the threat monitoring software, describes four attacks. But investigators will later find evidence of a fifth attack from around this time. Three are linked to China, one to South Korea, and one to Germany. It is not known if foreign governments are involved or how sophisticated the attacks are.

Clinton had ended her term as secretary of state in February 2013, but more than 60,000 of her emails remained on her server. (The Associated Press, 10/7/2015) 

In March 2013, a Romanian hacker nicknamed Guccifer discovered Clinton’s private email address and the exact address was published in the media.

October 29, 2013: In a private speech, Clinton says she had to leave her phone and computer in a special box when traveling to China and Russia, but there is evidence she sent at least one email from Russia.

Clinton is greeted by Vice-Governor of St. Petersburg Oleg Markov as US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul looks on in St. Petersburg, Russia, on June 28, 2012.

Clinton is greeted by Vice-Governor of St. Petersburg Oleg Markov, as US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul looks on in St. Petersburg, Russia, on June 28, 2012. (Credit: public domain)

Clinton gives a private paid speech for Goldman Sachs, a financial services company. In it, she says, “[A]nybody who has ever traveled in other countries, some of which shall remain nameless, except for Russia and China, you know that you can’t bring your phones and your computers. And if you do, good luck. I mean, we would not only take the batteries out, we would leave the batteries and the devices on the plane in special boxes. Now, we didn’t do that because we thought it would be fun to tell somebody about. We did it because we knew that we were all targets and that we would be totally vulnerable.”

She will make similar comments in a private paid speech on August 28, 2014: “[E]very time I went to countries like China or Russia, I mean, we couldn’t take our computers, we couldn’t take our personal devices, we couldn’t take anything off the plane because they’re so good, they would penetrate them in a minute, less, a nanosecond. So we would take the batteries out, we’d leave them on the plane.”

The comments from both speeches will be flagged as potentially politically embarrassing by Tony Carrk, Clinton’s research director. Although the comments are made in private, Carrk’s January 2016 email mentioning the quotes will be made public by WikiLeaks in October 2016. (WikiLeaks, 10/7/2016)

Based on information from 2016 FBI interviews of Clinton and her aide Huma Abedin, it appears Clinton used her BlackBerry while still secretary of state to send an email to President Obama from St. Petersburg, Russia on June 28, 2012.

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.

August 11, 2015: Secretary of State John Kerry suggests the Russian and Chinese governments could be reading his email.

Secretary of State John Kerry (Credit: Andrew Burton / Getty Images)

Secretary of State John Kerry (Credit: Andrew Burton / Getty Images)

Discussing this possibility, Kerry says, “It is very likely. It is not outside the realm of possibility, and we know they have attacked a number of American interests over the course of the last few days.” He adds that given the number of recent cyber attacks, he “certainly writes things with that awareness.” (Time, 8/12/2015)

August 14, 2015: The FBI is trying to find out if foreign countries, especially China or Russia, broke into Clinton’s private server.

The New York Times reports that according to several unnamed US officials, “specially trained cybersecurity investigators will seek to determine whether Russian, Chinese, or other hackers breached the account or tried to transfer any of Mrs. Clinton’s emails…” (The New York Times, 8/14/2015)

September 2, 2015: It is widely believed foreign governments have intercepted Clinton’s emails.

The Daily Beast reports on Clinton’s email scandal, “There’s a widely held belief among American counterspies that foreign intelligence agencies had to be reading the emails on Hillary’s private server, particularly since it was wholly unencrypted for months. ‘I’d fire my staff if they weren’t getting all this,’ explained one veteran Department of Defense counterintelligence official, adding: ‘I’d hate to be the guy in Moscow or Beijing right now who had to explain why they didn’t have all of Hillary’s email.’ Given the widespread hacking that has plagued the State Department, the Pentagon, and even the White House during Obama’s presidency, senior counterintelligence officials are assuming the worst about what the Russians and Chinese know.”

An unnamed senior official who is “close to the investigation” says, “Of course they knew what they were doing, it’s as clear as day from the emails. I’m a Democrat and this makes me sick. They were fully aware of what they were up to, and the Bureau knows it.” (The Daily Beast, 9/2/2015)

January 21, 2016: Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates believes foreign countries hacked into Clinton’s private email server.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (Credit: ABC News)

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (Credit: ABC News)

He says in an interview, “Given the fact that the Pentagon acknowledges that they get attacked about 100,000 times a day, I think the odds are pretty high.” Russia, China, and Iran are suggested as countries that would have targeted her server. Gates was defense secretary from 2006 to 2011, under Presidents Bush and Obama. In 2015, Gates praised Clinton, saying, “She was a good secretary of state.” (The Hill, 1/21/2016)

January 21, 2016: Former US Attorney General Michael Mukasey writes an editorial entitled “Clinton’s Emails: A Criminal Charge Is Justified.”

Attorney General Michael Mukasey (Credit: Charles Dharapak / The Associated Press)

Attorney General Michael Mukasey (Credit: Charles Dharapak / The Associated Press)

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Mukasey argues that “intelligence community investigators believe it is nearly certain that Mrs. Clinton’s server was hacked, possibly by the Chinese or the Russians… [F]rom her direction that classification rules be disregarded, to the presence on her personal email server of information at the highest level of classification, to her repeated falsehoods of a sort that juries are told every day may be treated as evidence of guilty knowledge—it is nearly impossible to draw any conclusion other than that she knew enough to support a conviction at the least for mishandling classified information.” (The Wall Street Journal, 1/21/2016)

February 1, 2016: Some US intelligence officials are “mad as hell” about Clinton’s deleted emails.

An unnamed Pentagon counterintelligence official expresses concern that some of the 30,840 emails Clinton deleted may have been work-related. “I’ll spend the rest of my career trying to figure out what classified information was in those. […] Everybody is mad as hell right now.” This official adds, “The worst part is that Moscow and Beijing have that information but the [US] Intelligence Community maybe never will.” (The New York Observer, 2/1/2016)

March 4, 2016: A former NSA senior intelligence analyst claims concerns about Clinton’s email account getting hacked misses a bigger threat.

Computers in the White House Situation Room, with a yellow screensaver, indicating they are connected to a TOP SECRET/SCI computer network. (Credit: Screenshot from White House video)

Computers in the White House Situation Room, with a yellow screensaver, indicating they are connected to a TOP SECRET/SCI computer network. (Credit: Screenshot from White House video)

John Schindler, who spent time as the technical director of the NSA’s largest operational division, says that instead of focusing on hacking, foreign governments more often collect signals intelligence, or SIGINT remotely through high-tech means such as spy satellites.

He asserts that “unencrypted IT systems don’t need ‘hacking’—normal SIGINT interception will suffice. Ms. Clinton’s ‘private’ email, which was wholly unencrypted for a time, was incredibly vulnerable to interception, since it was traveling unprotected on normal commercial networks, which is where SIGINT operators lurk, searching for nuggets of gold. They hunt for data with search terms called ‘selectors’—a specific phone number, a chatroom handle, an email address: here Ms. Clinton’s use of the ‘clintonmail.com’ server was the SIGINT equivalent of waving a huge ‘I’m right here’ flag at hostile intelligence services. Since the number of spy agencies worldwide capable of advanced SIGINT operations numbers in the many dozens, with Russia and China in the top five, that Ms. Clinton’s emails wound up in the wrong hands is a very safe bet, as any experienced spy will attest.” (The New York Observer, 3/4/2016)

May 25, 2016: A former senior State Department military adviser claims Clinton’s “sloppy communications with her senior staff” may have compromised at least two counterterrorism operations.

Wanted Poster for terrorist Umbra Jumdail a.k.a. Dr. Abu (Credit: NBC News)

Wanted Poster for terrorist Umbra Jumdail a.k.a. Dr. Abu (Credit: NBC News)

Bill Johnson was the department’s political adviser to the special operations section of the US Pacific Command (PACOM) from 2010 to 2011, after a long military career. He says secret plans targeting Umbra Jumdail, the leader of a Filipino Islamist separatist group, as well as plans to intercept Chinese-made weapons components being smuggled into Iraq, were both repeatedly foiled.

He claims that he and his team determined unprotected phone calls of Clinton and her aides were the likely problem, after eliminating other possibilities. Johnson says, “I had several missions that went inexplicably wrong, with the targets one step ahead of us.” For instance, his target Jumdail in the Philippines was repeatedly tipped off. He traced the problem to unsecure communications between Washington, DC, and the US embassy in Manila. “Anyone can just sit outside the embassy and listen” with off-the-shelf eavesdropping devices, he claims.

He argues that the leaks stopped after Special Operations Command stopped giving advance warning to senior State Department officials about the raids. Jumdail was killed in a US-based airstrike not long thereafter.

Johnson says such problems “could’ve been avoided if the CIA gave her a secure phone. She requested one, but they turned it down.”

A Clinton spokesperson calls the allegations “patently false.” (Newsweek, 5/25/2016)

June 29, 2016: US intelligence is said to be looking closely to see if Russia could be covertly trying to release all of Clinton’s emails to the public.

Russian president Vladimir Putin (Credit: Agence France Presse)

Russian President Vladimir Putin (Credit: Agence France Presse)

The Washington Times claims that an unnamed US intelligence official says US intelligence agencies are closely watching Russian online blogs and other Internet locations for any signs that Russian hackers have obtained Clinton’s emails from her time as secretary of state and are preparing to publicly release them. At least two postings suggest this could be happening, but the evidence cannot be confirmed as authoritative.

Additionally, an unnamed State Department official says Russia, China, and Israel are the three foreign governments most likely to have obtained all of Clinton’s emails, including her deleted ones, through covert hacking operations.

It is known that many organizations and people connected to Clinton have been hacked in recent months, and the Russian government is suspected, but their involvement has not been confirmed. If the Russians are involved, one possible motive would be to influence the FBI’s Clinton investigation and thus the 2016 presidential election. Russian President Vladimir Putin has praised Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, calling him someone he could “get along very well with,” while Clinton espouses policies that frequently conflict with Russian aims. (The Washington Times, 6/29/2016)

July 5, 2016—July 6, 2016: Comey’s comments indicate it is “very likely” Clinton’s emails were hacked, but solid proof may never be found.

In a July 5, 2016 public speech, FBI Director James Comey addresses the possibility that Clinton’s emails were accessed by outsiders. He says, “We did not find direct evidence that Secretary Clinton’s personal email domain, in its various configurations since 2009, was successfully hacked. But, given the nature of the system and of the actors potentially involved, we assess that we would be unlikely to see such direct evidence. We do assess that hostile actors gained access to the private commercial email accounts of people with whom Secretary Clinton was in regular contact from her personal account. We also assess that Secretary Clinton’s use of a personal email domain was both known by a large number of people and readily apparent. She also used her personal email extensively while outside the United States, including sending and receiving work-related emails in the territory of sophisticated adversaries. Given that combination of factors, we assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal email account.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 7/5/2016)

The next day, the New York Times reports that although Comey said there was no “direct evidence” Clinton’s email account had been successfully hacked, “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.”

The Times says that Comey’s comments were a “blistering” critique of Clinton’s “email practices that left Mrs. Clinton’s systems wide open to Russian and Chinese hackers, and an array of others.” However, “the central mystery — who got into the system, if anyone — may never be resolved.”

Adam Segal (Credit: public domain)

Adam Segal (Credit: public domain)

Adam Segal, a cybersecurity expert at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), says, “Reading between the lines and following Comey’s logic, it does sound as if the FBI believes a compromise of Clinton’s email is more likely than not. Sophisticated attackers would have known of the existence of the account, would have targeted it, and would not have been seen.”

Before Comey’s comments, Clinton and her spokespeople had said on numerous occasions that her server had never been hacked. In an October 2015 interview, President Obama came to a similar conclusion about her server: “I don’t think it posed a national security problem.”

The Times also comments that Comey’s “most surprising suggestion” may have been his comment that Clinton used her private email while in the territory of “sophisticated adversaries.” This is understood to mean China and Russia and possibly a few more countries.

Former government cybersecurity expert James Lewis says, “If she used it in Russia or China, they almost certainly picked it up.” (The New York Times, 7/6/2016)

Cybersecurity consultant Morgan Wright says the most likely suspects are Russia, China and Israel, “in that order.”

Ben Johnson, a former National Security Agency official and security strategist, says “Certainly foreign military and intelligence services” would have targeted Clinton’s emails. “They’re going to have a lot of means and motives to do this.” He also says it wasn’t just likely countries such as China and Russia, but “any country that’s looking to potentially have adversarial relations with us or just [desires] more relations with us.” He specifically cites Middle East countries specifically as having a likely motive. (Politico, 7/5/2016)

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

160727AssangeMatthewChanceCNN

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 27, 2016: Trump says he hopes Russia or someone else has Clinton’s deleted emails; he wants them given to the FBI.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at Trump National Doral, Wednesday, July 27, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Trump speaks during a news conference at Trump National Doral on July 27, 2016, in Tampa, Florida. (Credit: Evan Vucci / The Associated Press)

In a press conference, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump says about Russia and Clinton’s emails, “By the way, if they hacked, they probably have her 33,000 emails. I hope they do. They probably have her 33,000 emails that she lost and deleted.”

He also addresses the country directly: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you can find the 33,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

Trump is then asked by NBC News reporter Katy Tur, “Do you have any qualms about asking a foreign government, Russia, China, anybody, to interfere, to hack into a system of anybody’s in this country?”

He replies, “It’s up to the president. Let the president talk to them. Look, here’s the problem, here’s the problem, Katy. He has no respect-”

Tur interrupts him to say, “You said, ‘I welcome them to find those 30,000 emails-‘”

But Trump then interrupts her to say, “Well, they probably have them. I’d like to have them released.”

Tur asks, “Does that not give you pause?”

He replies, “Nope, gives me no pause. If they have them, they have them.”

Later in the day, Trump posts an additional comment on Twitter: “If Russia or any other country or person has Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 illegally deleted emails, perhaps they should share them with the FBI!”

Clinton’s senior policy adviser Jake Sullivan issues a critical statement in response to Trump’s comments: “This has to be the first time that a major presidential candidate has actively encouraged a foreign power to conduct espionage against his political opponent. This has gone from being a matter of curiosity and a matter of politics, to being a national security issue.” (Talkingpointsmemo.com, 7/27/2016)

Also later in the day, Trump spokesperson Jason Miller says that “clearly saying” Russia should share emails with the FBI. “To be clear, Mr. Trump did not call on, or invite, Russia or anyone else to hack Hillary Clinton’s email today.” (The Hill, 7/27/2016)

The next day, Trump calls the suggestion that Russia is trying to help him by leaking the emails is a “joke.” He also says that when he said he hoped Russian hackers found Clinton’s emails and shared them with the FBI,  he was only “being sarcastic.” (The Hill, 7/28/2016)

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.”