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 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 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 26, 2016: President Obama suggests Russians could be behind the hack that led to the WikiLeaks release of DNC emails.

President Obama is asked if Russia could be behind hacks that led to 20,000 Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails getting released by WikiLeaks. He says the FBI is still investigating but also “experts have attributed this to the Russians.”

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Obama (left) is interviewed by Today’s Savannah Guthrie on July 26, 2016. (Credit: NBC)

He adds, “What we do know is is that the Russians hack our systems. Not just government systems, but private systems. But you know, what the motives were in terms of the leaks, all that — I can’t say directly. What I do know is that Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed admiration for Vladimir Putin.”

Asked if he’s suggesting that Russian leader Vladimir Putin could be motivated to help Trump win the November 2016 election, Obama replies, “I am basing this on what Mr. Trump himself has said. And I think that — Trump’s gotten pretty favorable coverage­­­ — back in Russia.” (Politico, 7/26/2016)

He stops stopped short of accusing Russia of trying to manipulate the election, but says “anything’s possible.” He also claims that “on a regular basis, [the Russians] try to influence elections in Europe.” (The New York Times, 7/26/2016)

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)

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)