In Part I of this revelation, we proved to our readers/listeners that there actually WAS Russian hacking attempts that in some cases were successful during the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. There really is “there-there.” Today as promised we go into “who” and “how” it happened.
This is really important information — stuff Americans need to understand. Read and listen closely! And make certain you look-in to our Summary at the completion of this story.
Leaks and Counterfeit Profiles
Russia has been quite open about playing its hacking card. At a conference in Moscow, a top cyberintelligence adviser to President Vladimir Putin hinted that Russia was about to unleash a devastating information attack on the United States.
“We are living in 1948,” said the adviser, Andrey Krutskikh, referring to the eve of the first Soviet atomic bomb test, in a speech reported by The Washington Post. “I’m warning you: We are at the verge of having something in the information arena that will allow to us to talk to the Americans as equals.”
Mr. Putin’s denials of Russian meddling have been tongue-in-cheek. He allowed that “free-spirited” hackers might have awakened in a good mood one day and spontaneously decided to contribute to “the fight against those who say bad things about Russia.” Speaking to NBC News, he rejected the idea that evidence pointed to Russia — while showing a striking familiarity with how cyberattackers might cover their tracks.
“IP addresses can be simply made up,” Mr. Putin said, referring to Internet protocol addresses, which can identify particular computers. “There are such IT specialists in the world today, and they can arrange anything and then blame it on whomever. This is no proof.”
Mr. Putin had a point. Especially in the social media realm, attributing fake accounts — to Russia or to any other source — is always challenging. The Central Intelligence Security Agency concluded“with high confidence” that Mr. Putin had ordered an influence operation to damage Mrs. Clinton’s campaign and eventually aid Donald J. Trump’s. Facebook published a public report on information operations using fake accounts. It shied away from naming Russia as the culprit until when the company said it had removed 470 “inauthentic” accounts and pages that were “likely operated out of Russia.” Facebook officials fingered a St. Petersburg company with Kremlin ties called the Internet Research Agency.
Russia deliberately hides its role in influence operations, American intelligence officials say. Even skilled investigators often cannot be sure if a particular Facebook post or Twitter bot came from Russian intelligence employees, paid “trolls” in Eastern Europe or hackers from Russia’s vast criminal underground. A Russian site called buyaccs.com(“Buy Bulk Accounts at Best Prices”) offers for sale a huge array of pre-existing social media accounts, including on Facebook and Twitter; like wine, the older accounts cost more, because their history makes hacking harder to spot.
The trail that leads from the Russian operation to the bogus Melvin Redick, however, is fairly clear. United States intelligence concluded that DCLeaks.com was created in June 2016 by the Russian military intelligence agency G.R.U. The site began publishing a collection of hacked emails, notably from George Soros, the financier and Democratic donor, as well as a former NATO commander and some Democratic and Republican staffers. Some of the website’s language — calling Mrs. Clinton “President of the Democratic Party” and referring to her “electional staff” — seemed to contradict its pose as a forum run by American activists.
DCLeaks would soon be followed by a blog called Guccifer 2.0, which would leave even more clues of its Russian origin. Those sites’ posts, however, would then be dwarfed by those from WikiLeaks, which American officials believe got thousands of Democratic emails from Russian intelligence hackers. At each stage, a Large group of Facebook and Twitter accounts — alongside many legitimate ones — would applaud the leaks.
During its first weeks online, DCLeaks saw no media attention. But The Times found that some Facebook users somehow discovered the new site quickly and began promoting it on June 8, 2016. One was the Redick account, which posted about DCLeaks to the Facebook groups “World News Headlines” and “Breaking News — World.”
Melvin Redick’s Facebook Profile
Inconsistencies in the contents of Mr. Redick’s Facebook profile suggest that the identity was fake.
- Neither Central High School nor Indiana University of Pennsylvania has any record of Mr. Redick attending.
- According to his profile, Mr. Redick was born and raised in Pennsylvania, but one image shows him seated in a restaurant in Brazil, and another shows a Brazilian-style electrical outlet in his daughter’s bedroom.
- Mr. Redick’s posts were never of a personal nature. He shared only news articles reflecting a pro-Russian worldview.
The same morning, “Katherine Fulton” also began promoting DCLeaks in the same awkward English Mr. Redick used. “Hey truth seekers!” she wrote. “Who can tell me who are #DCLeaks? Some kind of Wikileaks? You should visit their website, it contains confidential information about our leaders such as Hillary Clinton, and others http://dcleaks.com/.”
So did “Alice Donovan,” who pointed to documents from Mr. Soros’s Open Society Foundations that she said showed its pro-American tilt and — in rather formal language for Facebook — “describe eventual means and plans of supporting opposition movements, groups or individuals in various countries.”
Might Mr. Redick, Ms. Fulton, Ms. Donovan and others be real Americans who just happened to notice DCLeaks the same day? No. The Times asked Facebook about these and a half-dozen other accounts that appeared to be Russian creations. The company carried out its standard challenge procedure by asking the users to establish their bona fides. All the suspect accounts failed and were removed from Facebook.
On Twitter, meanwhile, hundreds of accounts were busy posting anti-Clinton messages and promoting the leaked material obtained by Russian hackers. Investigators for FireEye spent months reviewing Twitter accounts associated with certain online personas, posing as activists, that seemed to show the Russian hand: DCLeaks, Guccifer 2.0, Anonymous Poland and several others. FireEye concluded that they were associated with one another and with Russian hacking groups, including APT28 or Fancy Bear, which American intelligence blames for the hacking and leaking of Democratic emails.
Lee Foster, who leads the FireEye team examining information operations, said some of the warlist Twitter accounts had previously been used for illicit marketing, suggesting that they may have been purchased on the black market. Some were genuine accounts that had been hijacked. Rachel Usedom, a young American engineer in California, tweeted mostly about her sorority before losing interest in 2014. In November 2016, her account was taken over, renamed #ClintonCurruption, and used to promote the Russian leaks.
Rachel Usedom’s Twitter account was taken over and used to post political leaks.
Ms. Usedom had no idea that her account had been commandeered by anti-Clinton people who used her account to spread propaganda . “I was shocked and slightly confused when I found out,” she said.
Notably, the warlist tweets often included the Twitter handles of users whose attention the senders wanted to catch — news organizations, journalists, government agencies and politicians, including @realDonaldTrump. By targeting such opinion-shapers, Mr. Foster said, the creators of the warlists clearly wanted to stir up conversation about the leaked material.
J. M. Berger, a researcher in Cambridge, Mass., helped build a public web “dashboard” for the Washington-based Alliance for Securing Democracy to track hundreds of Twitter accounts that were suspected of links to Russia or that spread Russian propaganda. During the campaign, he said, he often saw the accounts post replies to Mr. Trump’s tweets.
Mr. Trump “received more direct replies than anyone else,” Mr. Berger said. “Clearly this was an effort to influence Donald Trump. They know he reads tweets.”
Only a small fraction of all the suspect social media accounts active during the election have been studied by investigators. But there is ample reason to suspect that the Russian meddling may have been far more widespread.
Several activists who ran Facebook pages for Bernie Sanders, for instance, noticed a suspicious flood of hostile comments about Mrs. Clinton after Mr. Sanders had already ended his campaign and endorsed her.
John Mattes, who ran the “San Diego for Bernie Sanders” page, said he saw a shift from familiar local commenters to newcomers, some with Eastern European names — including four different accounts using the name “Oliver Mitov.”
“Those who voted for Bernie, will not vote for corrupt Hillary!” one of the Mitovs wrote on Oct. 7. “The Revolution must continue! #NeverHillary”
While he was concerned about being seen as a “crazy cold warrior,” Mr. Mattes said he came to believe that Russia was the likely source of the anti-Clinton comments. “The magnitude and viciousness of it — I would suggest that their fingerprints were on it and no one else had that agenda,” he said.
Both on the left and the pro-Trump right, though, some skeptics complain that Moscow has become the automatic boogeyman, accused of misdeeds with little proof. Even those who track Russian online activity admit that in the election it was not always easy to sort out who was who.
“Yes, the Russians were involved. Yes, there was a lot of organic support for Trump,” said Andrew Weisburd, an Illinois online researcher who has written frequently about Russian influence on social media. “Trying to disaggregate the two was difficult, to put it mildly.”
Mr. Weisburd said he had labeled some Twitter accounts “Kremlin trolls” based simply on their pro-Russia tweets and with no proof of Russian government ties. The Times contacted several such users, who insisted that they had come by their anti-American, pro-Russian views honestly, without payment or instructions from Moscow.
“Hillary’s a warmonger,” said Marilyn Justice, 66, who lives in Nova Scotia and tweets as @mkj1951. Of Mr. Putin, she said in an interview, “I think he’s very patient in the face of provocations.”
Another of the so-called Kremlin trolls, Marcel Sardo, 48, a web producer in Zurich, describes himself bluntly on his Twitter bio as a “Pro-Russia Media-Sniper.” He said he shared notes daily via Skype and Twitter with online acquaintances, including Ms. Justice, on disputes between Russia and the West over who shot down the Malaysian airliner hit by a missile over Ukraine and who used sarin gas in Syria.
“It’s a battle of information, and I and my peers have decided to take sides,” said Mr. Sardo, who constantly cites Russian sources and bashed Mrs. Clinton daily during the campaign. But he denied he had any links to the Russian government.
But if Russian officials are happy at their success, in 2016’s election and beyond, they rarely let the mask slip. In an interview with Bloomberg before the election, Mr. Putin suggested that reporters were worrying too much about who exactly stole the material.
“Listen, does it even matter who hacked this data?” he said, in a point that Mr. Trump has sometimes echoed. “The important thing is the content that was given to the public.”
In the wake of the nonstop claims from absolutely everyone on the Left about Russian meddling in 2016 and even some Republicans, it’s good to finally have verification that it really happened. Even though the world knew the Russians were proficient and committed to diligently working to thwart the wills of voters not only in the U.S. but in other countries, it has been extremely puzzling to locate, identify, and confirm factual occurrences of their election tampering attempts. It’s even more difficult in the case of the 2016 U.S. election to find factual confirmation of any of their efforts having any substantial impact yet alone that they changed or affected actual vote counts.
But what it most certainly has done is alert Americans — ALL Americans — to the fact that several countries have been and are trying to interfere with our elections. I’m certain part of their hopes in doing so is to distract Americans and the government from foreign policies that impact their countries directly. Let’s be honest: the U.S. has consistently and diligently worked hard to do the same things in the elections of our foreign foes.
Intelligence spying capabilities throughout the world have far exceeded the capabilities that in the 1970s were seen and heard only in James Bond movies that we all thought were impossible and would never be achieved. Yes, in part we conduct such activities to keep Americans safe and our country free from outside interference from other countries. But let’s be clear about this: we are at a tipping point in how we not only listen-in and watch through spying and electronic surveillance the activities of our foreign enemies, we found out daily just how much our government is using these tactics in the name of the Law to monitor every aspect of AMERICANS’ lives. No matter what the leaders of the “Spook” agencies tell us, that capability with very little accountability to Americans is deadly. The scary stories contained in Orwells 1984 are actually reality today and have been for much longer than we even thought was possible.
What about Russia? No doubt they’re our #1 enemy. Even with our weakened economy for 8 years from Obama Administration financial starvation, we still have the #1 military on Earth. With the rebuilding of the military and our intelligence infrastructure being cleaned of those who have perpetrated these frauds on our public, we’re well on our way to putting significant space between us and Russia. But we better be smart. Unearthing their attempts to tamper with our elections is a big victory for us, but only if we take demonstrative actions.
Let their secrecy from those in the Obama Administration going unseen by our CIA, NSA, and FBI during the 2016 election cycle a warning. Unless we take care of our own country using every opening available to ferret out their foreign intelligence ploys, they will be here in great force very soon. Vladimir’s greatest desire is to instigate processes through KGB leftover ideas that dismantle the intelligence structure of the U.S., thereby forcing us to our knees. Say what you will about Donald Trump, but he promised to rebuild and re-establish the American military might and he’s started that process with a vengeance.
We close with this: did Russia change by their actions any votes from Hillary to Trump in 2016? We probably will never know. But what we DO know is they could have and almost certainly will going forward unless we take demonstrative steps to prevent those.
I know secrecy is critical regarding many elements of these efforts by our intelligence community. But certainly there are ways of communication they can use to make Americans feel comfortable that these agencies are really working for us. And instead of Congress chasing cameras all day every day to talk about Russia collusion, obstruction of justice, and impeachment, how about they instead pass meaningful legislation to make and keep America safe?
And they might start with stopping the aliens from storming our southern border. Those aliens are actually breaking the law!