It's been a busy week already on Capitol Hill. We've heard yet again revelations of Russian hackers breaking into US Republican and Democrat campaign computers – and interfering with France's presidential election.
In a Senate judiciary committee meeting on Monday, former Director of National Security James Clapper was asked about Putin-backed miscreants meddling with last year's race to the White House. He said that, after an extensive probe, he and all the heads of the intelligence agencies – including the CIA – had concluded that Kremlim-controlled hackers thoroughly ransacked both political parties: the Republicans and the Democrats.
The Democrats subsequently had their emails and documents leaked online in an obvious attempt to embarrass and derail Clinton and her campaign. Presumably, Vladimir is keeping the Republicans' files for blackmail purposes.
"The Russians used cyber operations against both political parties, including hacking into servers used by the Democratic National Committee and releasing stolen data to WikiLeaks and other media outlets," Clapper said on Monday afternoon.
"Russia also collected on certain Republican party-affiliated targets, but did not release any Republican-related data. The Intelligence Community Assessment concluded first that President Putin directed and influenced the campaign to erode the faith and confidence of the American people in our presidential election process."
Clapper said Russia has been trying to influence American elections since the 1960s, and had scored a major win in 2016 with very little effort, thanks to its hacking crews. In light of this they would be emboldened, he said, and we should expect more attacks.
As to why the Russians hacked both parties' servers but only released data from the Democratic party, Clapper said the intent was clear. Putin was seeking to "advantage" Trump and to "demean" the Clinton campaign.
On the crucial question of whether Trump officials colluded with the Russians, Clapper said that he had no information to share. He admitted that European security services had warned about contacts between Trump associates and Russians, and said, "the specifics are quite sensitive." Before the hearing, President Trump expressed his own views on the matter:
Director Clapper reiterated what everybody, including the fake media already knows- there is "no evidence" of collusion w/ Russia and Trump.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 8, 2017
You can trace the clear links between Russia and members of Team Trump here. In March, FBI director James Comey confirmed his agents are "investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts."
And on Monday, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates told the Senate hearing that she had warned that Trump's national security adviser – retired Lt General Michael Flynn – could be potentially blackmailed by the Russians over his discussions with the Russian ambassador to the United States about sanctions.
'We're watching the Russians penetrate your infrastructure'
On Tuesday, it was the turn of the National Security Agency's boss Admiral Michael Rogers, who was addressing the Senate Armed Services Committee to give an update on the United States Cyber Command. He was asked about the theft and leaking of internal emails and documents stolen from computers used by Emmanuel Macron, the French President-elect. About 9GB of data was dumped online over the weekend as France went to the polls – choosing Macron over the revolting Le Pen.
"We had become aware of Russian activity," he told the senate committee. "We had talked to our French counterparts and gave them a heads-up – 'Look, we're watching the Russians. We're seeing them penetrate some of your infrastructure. Here's what we've seen. What can we do to try to assist?'"
Rogers said that the French, German, and British intelligence services were working with the US to monitor the situation and they would be gathering evidence and trying to formulate counter policies. “We're all trying to figure how we can learn from each other,” he said.
The Russian government has consistently denied involvement in any election hacking, sometimes with a straight face. Every nation snoops on others – the CIA on the French 2012 elections, for example – but this is a whole new gear: a blatant, even clumsy, attempt at influencing public opinion. ®
PS: The website DC Leaks, which was used to spread stolen Democrat party emails, also disclosed some internal Republican memos – but bear in mind they were quite boring messages involving establishment types like John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) who weren't particularly thrilled with Trump's rise to power. How convenient.