July 27, 2016: Ex-CIA head Panetta questions Trump’s loyalty after Trump asks Russia to help him win election.

Leon Panetta (Credit: ChipSomodevilla / Agence France Presse / Getty Images)

Leon Panetta (Credit: Chip Somodevilla / Agence France Presse / Getty Images)

Former CIA Director Leon Panetta criticizes Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for his recent comments encouraging the Russian government to find and leak Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails from when she was secretary of state.

Panetta says, “You have a presidential candidate who is, in fact, asking the Russians to engage in American politics. I think that’s beyond the pale… he is truly not qualified to be president of the United States.”

Panetta served as both CIA director and defense secretary under President Obama. His comments come on the same day he gives a speech to support Clinton at the Democratic National Convention. (Raw Story, 7/27/2016)

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 12, 2016: Whoever hacked DNC and other Democrat-related emails in the last year may have also targeted Republicans.

The Daily Beast reports that cybersecurity experts believe the hacker or hackers who stole emails from the DNC (Democratic National Committee) are behind a website known as DCLeaks. The site went public in June 2016 to little media attention. But the site contains emails from hundreds of Republican and Democratic US politicans, including staffers to Republican Senators John McCain and Linsey Graham, plus staffers to former Republican Repesentative Michelle Bachmann.  An unnamed “an individual close to the investigation of the Democratic Party hacks” says the evidence is growing that both parties have been targeted. “Everyone is sweating this right now. This isn’t just limited to Democrats.”

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Senators John McCain (left) and Linsey Graham (right) (Credit: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)

The cybersecurity company ThreatConnect has been investigating the recent hacks of US political targets, and they call DCLeaks a “Russian-backed influence outlet.” In particular, they have linked it to Fancy Bear (a.k.a. APT 28), a hacking group also accused of hacking the DNC, an believed by many to be working for the Russian government. “DCLeaks’ registration and hosting information aligns with other Fancy Bear activities and known tactics, techniques, and procedures.” They also claim that the hacker or hacking group known as Guccifer 2.0, who claims to be behind the hacking of the DNC emails that WikiLeaks publicly posted in July 2016, is linked to DCLeaks.
The Daily Beast reports that “researchers, at ThreatConnect and elsewhere, also now believe that Guccifer 2.0 was WikiLeaks’ source and that the group is acting as a front for the Russian government.” (The Daily Beast, 8/12/2016)

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: Putin denies that Russia was involved in the DNC hack.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says in an interview about accusations of Russian government in the hacking of Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails: “Listen, does it even matter who hacked this data? The important thing is the content that was given to the public …. There’s no need to distract the public’s attention from the essence of the problem by raising some minor issues connected with the search for who did it. … But I want to tell you again, I don’t know anything about it, and on a state level Russia has never done this.”

However, an internal probe conducted by CrowdStrike Inc. traced the source of the hack to two Russian hacking groups connected with Russian intelligence, “Cozy Bear” and “Fancy Bear.”

John Lewis (Credit: public domain)

James Lewis (Credit: public domain)

James Lewis, a cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, claims that Russia has engaged in state hacking in the past and that Putin’s denials are “not credible.”

Putin continues: “You know how many hackers there are today? They act so delicately and precisely that they can leave their mark — or even the mark of others — at the necessary time and place, camouflaging their activities as that of other hackers from other territories or countries. It’s an extremely difficult thing to check, if it’s even possible to check. At any rate, we definitely don’t do this at a state level.” (Bloomberg News, 9/1/2016)

September 5, 2016: Obama claims the US has “had problems with cyber intrusions from Russia.”

US President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet at the G-20 summit in China.

Obama and Putin have a pull-aside meeting at the G20 Summit in China on September 5, 2016. (Credit: Hamari Web)

Obama and Putin have a pull-aside meeting at the G20 Summit in China on September 5, 2016. (Credit: Hamari Web)

When Obama is questioned by reporters about accusations that Russia has been behind the hacking of US political entities, he answers: “I will tell you’ve had problems with cyber intrusions from Russia in the past and from other countries in the past.”

He adds, “the goal is not to duplicate in the cyber area the cycle of escalation,” and his intent is “instituting some norms so that everybody’s acting responsibly.” (The Hill, 9/5/2016)

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)

 

October 7, 2016: WikiLeaks publishes the first batch of emails belonging to Clinton’s campaign chair John Podesta.

John Podesta (Credit: The Associated Press)

John Podesta (Credit: The Associated Press)

WikiLeaks publishes 2,060 emails it claims belong to John Podesta. Podesta is chair of the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, as well as being chair of the left-wing think tank Center for American Progress (CAP), and was once chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, as well as a top advisor to President Obama. WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange says the emails focus on Podesta’s “communications relating to nuclear energy, and media handling over donations to the Clinton Foundation from mining and nuclear interests.” (WikiLeaks, 10/7/2016) (The Hill, 10/7/2016)

Tony Carrk (Credit: CSpan)

Tony Carrk (Credit: CSpan)

However, one email, sent by Clinton’s campaign research director Tony Carrk to Podesta and other Clinton aides on January 25, 2016, contains excerpts from dozens of Clinton’s private speeches, and draws most of the media attention. (Politico, 10/7/2016)

WikiLeaks labels the release as “Part I of the Podesta emails.” The emails date from 2007 to late March 2016. The next day, a WikiLeaks Tweet claims, “We have published 1% of the #PodestaEmails so far. Additional publications will proceed throughout the election period.” (WikiLeaks, 10/8/2016) (WikiLeaks, 10/7/2016) Another Tweet claims therre are “well over 50,000” Podesta emails to be released. (WikiLeaks, 10/7/2016)

WikiLeaks refuses to say where it got its material from, which is its usual policy. However, earlier in the day, the US intelligence community formally accused the Russian government of being behind the hacking of Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails, which were publicly posted by WikiLeaks as well.

Clinton’s campaign doesn’t confirm the authenticity of the emails, but doesn’t explicitly deny it either. However, Podesta comments that he is “not happy about being hacked by the Russians,” which indicates the emails are his. (Politico, 10/7/2016) (Politico, 10/7/2016)

WikiLeaks soon beginss posting more of Podesta’s emails on a daily basis.

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.”