If you are like me, and most people I know, you are tired of hearing about Russia and potential collusion by the Trump campaign to influence the outcome of the 2016 election. For that reason, we are tackling this first to get it over with and move on. Though we hear about this issue every day, on every station, and on every news program you can find, it is difficult to point to any facts or evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia or that Russia was even the source of any cyber- attacks. The intent of this is not to argue the guilt or innocence of any party, but rather an attempt to sift through what has become such a convoluted issue that it has more twists and turns than a country road.
According to reports, it was known at least two years ago by intelligence agencies that the systems at the DNC had been compromised. News reports indicated that the Russians were responsible for penetrating the DNC’s system in 2015 and in 2016. Though someone known as Gucifer 2.0 claimed credit for the breach the cybersecurity firm, Crowdstrike, that originally investigated the breach reiterated its conclusion that Russia was the source of the breach. In addition, the cybersecurity firms of Fidelis Cybersecurity and Mandiant indicated agreement with the conclusions of Crowdstrike. Based upon this information, one might assume that it is evidence enough to confirm Russia’s involvement. However, reports went on to say that it was suspected that Gucifer 2.0 was part of a Russian group responsible for the hack but that they do not have any had evidence this was the case. Analysts also went on to say as the documents posted were done so anonymously they could not prove their origin. Researchers indicated the possibility that someone other than Russia had been in the network and accessed the documents. Okay, so what do we know based upon the above reporting? We know that the DNC’s system was breached on at least two occasions, we know that cybersecurity firms concluded Russia was the source of the breaches based upon techniques used to gain access, we know that someone referred to as Gucifer 2.0 claimed responsibility for the hacks, and we know that the conclusions reached by the cybersecurity firms have indicated they could not prove the origin of the anonymously posted documents. No real evidence of anything beyond the fact that the DNC was compromised.
The claim is that these hacks were performed to influence the election in Trump’s favor, however, the hackers reportedly stole DNC research on Trump in addition to the damning emails between top DNC officials.
As a sidebar, it has been reported that the Chinese compromised then Senator Obama and Senator McCain’s networks in 2008, and in 2012 attempts were made by hackers from both outside and within the United States to access the networks of then candidates Obama and Romney.
Next, the NSA indicated that Russian began a spear phishing campaign in attempt to gain access to VR Systems, a voting technology vendor; however, it was not known if this campaign was successful or what data could have been obtained. Attackers then attempted to pose as employees and use malicious Word documents to compromise voter checkin software at some polling locations. Reportedly, there were 122 of these emails sent to election officials across the country. There does not seem to be any information known beyond this and it is unknown, at least publicly, if anything malicious occurred beyond or as a result of the spear phishing campaign.
Now let’s bring the Trump campaign in. The Washington Post reported that President Obama knew as far back as August that Putin was attempting to influence the presidential campaign in favor of Trump but the administration waited until December to acknowledge this publicly. This is where the ICA report dated January 6, 2017 comes in. The report states the assessment is based upon information known as of December 2016. While the FBI and CIA state they have high confidence in the report’s conclusions, the NSA’s confidence was listed as only moderate. This may be due to the report being full of supposition and more wiggle words than a first-year law student’s initial case brief.
The report gives an assessment that Putin ordered an influence campaign with the goal of undermining public faith in the democratic process and to denigrate and harm Secretary Clinton and her electability. They continued their assessment concluding that Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for Trump and set out to influence the election in his favor. Again, the NSA only has moderate confidence in this judgment. Explanations for assessments were stated in terms of proffers such as “Putin most likely wanted to discredit Secretary Clinton because he publicly blamed her since 2011 for inciting mass protests against his regime in late 2011 and early 2012, and because he holds a grudge for comments he almost certainly saw as disparaging him.” And, “The General Staff Main Intelligence Dictorate (GRU) probably began cyber-operations aimed at the US election by March 2016.” The report also notes that Russian TV showed a clear preference for then candidate Trump. While the report makes no accusation or assessment regarding Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, it is full of innuendo based upon reporting and social media emanating from Russia that was positive towards then candidate Trump. Pay close attention to the consistent use of terms throughout the report such as “most likely”, “probably”, “may have”, etc.
Granted, this is a declassified version of the report that provides identical conclusions but may not include full supporting information. However, I find no real evidence that proves any of the conclusions proffered. A link to the full report will be supplied at the end of this post so that you may read it and come to your own conclusions. After all, that’s what we are all about, encouraging the people to obtain the information and arrive at their own conclusions based upon all of the information available.
There are currently five investigations underway regarding the Russian interference in the 2016 election as well as any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
- Senate Intelligence Committee begun January 10
- Senate Judiciary Committee begun February 25
- House Intelligence Committee begun March 1
- House Oversight and Government Reform Committee begun March 27
- Special Counsel via the Justice Department begun May 17.
While those pushing the issue of the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia have continued to point to contact, in some cases incidental contact, by Michael Flynn, Jeff Sessions, Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort with the Russian ambassador and/or Russian businessmen, they have provided no proof that any unethical conversations or collusion took place. There have been reports stating that collusion by the Trump campaign is undisputed. I find that rather confusing as neither Trump nor any of his associates have admitted to such collusion, in fact that have denied it. Is denial of the act not disputing it?
I do not know if Russia hacked the DNC, I do not know if anyone from the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to influence the election in any way. What I do know, is that after close to a year’s worth of investigations I have not seen any actual evidence that serves to prove anything either way. Is it possible that investigations by multiple agencies and committees have not yielded any proof positive that has been shared with the public could be because there is none?