An Associated Press investigation into the digital break-ins that disrupted the U.S. presidential contest has sketched out an anatomy of the hack that led to months of damaging disclosures about the Democratic Party’s nominee. It wasn’t just a few aides that the hackers went after; it was an all-out blitz across the Democratic Party. They tried to compromise Clinton’s inner circle and more than 130 party employees, supporters and contractors.
While U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia was behind the email thefts, the AP drew on forensic data to report Thursday that the hackers known as Fancy Bear were closely aligned with the interests of the Russian government.
The AP’s reconstruction— based on a database of 19,000 malicious links recently shared by cybersecurity firm Secureworks — shows how the hackers worked their way around the Clinton campaign’s top-of-the-line digital security to steal chairman John Podesta’s emails in March 2016.
It also helps explain how a Russian-linked intermediary could boast to a Trump policy adviser, a month later, that the Kremlin had “thousands of emails” worth of dirt on Clinton.
The Fancy Bear job remains the key to how the Russians were able to bog Clinton down for months but hitting her campaign and the DNC's email servers as well. But once they had the raw data, they needed to distribute it for maximum damage, and that's where Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks came in.
Guccifer 2.0 acted as a kind of master of ceremonies during the summer of leaks, proclaiming that the DNC’s stolen documents were in WikiLeaks’ hands, publishing a selection of the material himself and constantly chatting up journalists over Twitter in a bid to keep the story in the press.
He appeared particularly excited to hear on June 24 that his leaks had sparked a lawsuit against the DNC by disgruntled supporters of Clinton rival Bernie Sanders.
“Can it influence the election in any how?” he asked a journalist with Russia’s Sputnik News, in uneven English.
Later that month Guccifer 2.0 began directing reporters to the newly launched DCLeaks site, which was also dribbling out stolen material on Democrats. When WikiLeaks joined the fray on July 22 with its own disclosures the leaks metastasized into a crisis, triggering intraparty feuding that forced the resignation of the DNC’s chairwoman and drew angry protests at the Democratic National Convention.
Guccifer 2.0, WikiLeaks and DCLeaks ultimately published more than 150,000 emails stolen from more than a dozen Democrats, according to an AP count.
The AP has since found that each of one of those Democrats had previously been targeted by Fancy Bear, either at their personal Gmail addresses or via the DNC, a finding established by running targets’ emails against the Secureworks’ list.
There's no doubt that the DC Leaks emails were bait for hungry journalists who were more than happy to print whatever would hurt the hated Hillary Clinton, the woman that the DC media had been trying to bring down for 25 years.
And now they would.
All three leak-branded sites have distanced themselves from Moscow. DCLeaks claimed to be run by American hacktivists. WikiLeaks said Russia wasn’t its source. Guccifer 2.0 claimed to be Romanian.
But there were signs of dishonesty from the start. The first document Guccifer 2.0 published on June 15 came not from the DNC as advertised but from Podesta’s inbox, according to a former DNC official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
The official said the word “CONFIDENTIAL” was not in the original document.
Guccifer 2.0 had airbrushed it to catch reporters’ attention.
Of course the emails were doctored. Enough real email data was included to assure the veracity of the sources, but the flashing lights and bells and whistles were tailor-made to attract DC media sharks.
They took the bait.
Within hours of the devastating Trump Access Hollywood tape being released, Guccifer and friends had flooded the airwaves with SCANDALOUS CLINTON EMAIL LEAKS, edited for consumption, and the Trump rape story was forgotten.
It was exactly what Trump needed to stay in the race, and it was planned for months, if not years. The Russians owned us on this and are happy to destroy us with Trump and the GOP.
Soon, we may not be able to stop them from doing so any longer.