In his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, FBI Director James Comey confirmed what sane people have known for months: Russia did not hack the 2016 presidential election.
Both Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers confirmed that there was no evidence that Russian agents ever manipulated or even attempted to manipulate vote totals—the commonly understood definition of what “hacking an election” would entail.
In spite of this, Democrats have pushed the “Russians hacked the election” narrative for months, knowing full well that a sizeable number of Americans would not realize that what they really meant was “Hackers with ties to the Russian Government hacked the Democratic National Committee’s email server and may have been behind a phishing link John Podesta stupidly clicked on.”
The sad reality for Democrats is that they have only their own incompetence to blame for the hacks that so thoroughly embarrassed them last year. Moreover, the hacking operation that successfully broke into the DNC’s server also targeted the Republican National Committee, but was rebuffed—indicating that this was not, as Democrats have claimed, an effort to help then-candidate Donald Trump, but rather to create general electoral chaos with no specific beneficiary.
As far back as September of 2015, the FBI was reportedly aware of a Russian hacking collective known as “the Dukes” effort to compromise the DNC’s servers. When FBI Special Agent Adrian Hawkins called the DNC to inform them of this effort, though, the DNC did nothing.
The New York Times reported that
[Hawkins’] message was brief, if alarming. At least one computer system belonging to the D.N.C. had been compromised by hackers federal investigators had named “the Dukes,” a cyberespionage team linked to the Russian government.
Yared Tamene, the tech-support contractor at the D.N.C. who fielded the call, was no expert in cyberattacks. His first moves were to check Google for “the Dukes” and conduct a cursory search of the D.N.C. computer system logs to look for hints of such a cyberintrusion. By his own account, he did not look too hard even after Special Agent Hawkins called back repeatedly over the next several weeks — in part because he wasn’t certain the caller was a real F.B.I. agent and not an impostor.
Because of Tamene’s refusal to take Agent Hawkins’ repeated warnings seriously, the DNC’s server was in grave danger and was eventually compromised and successfully hacked.
An examination by The Times of the Russian operation — based on interviews with dozens of players targeted in the attack, intelligence officials who investigated it and Obama administration officials who deliberated over the best response — reveals a series of missed signals, slow responses and a continuing underestimation of the seriousness of the cyberattack.
The D.N.C.’s fumbling encounter with the F.B.I. meant the best chance to halt the Russian intrusion was lost. The failure to grasp the scope of the attacks undercut efforts to minimize their impact. And the White House’s reluctance to respond forcefully meant the Russians have not paid a heavy price for their actions, a decision that could prove critical in deterring future cyberattacks.
The low-key approach of the F.B.I. meant that Russian hackers could roam freely through the committee’s network for nearly seven months before top D.N.C. officials were alerted to the attack and hired cyberexperts to protect their systems.
This indicates that the DNC wasn’t the only Democrat-controlled entity that did not take the hacking threat as seriously as it should have—the Obama Administration didn’t, either.
And this is telling, since by late December of 2016, the Obama White House had imposed strict sanctions on Russia and ordered 35 Russian diplomats out of Washington, D.C. Since the White House knew of the hacking operation more than a year earlier and, according to the Times, was refused “to respond forcefully,” this move reeks of politics—in particular anger over the results of the presidential election and not the DNC hacking itself.
In addition, the hack of the DNC was made public on July 22, 2016, when Wikileaks published the contents of those hacked emails just days before the Democratic National Convention. Had the Obama Administration really been that upset at Russian interference in the election, why didn’t it impose sanctions on Russia then?
The answer is fairly obvious: Because the Obama Administration didn’t think that the DNC hack was that big of a deal. Only after Democrats settled on the “Russia hacked the election” narrative as the excuse for Hillary Clinton’s stunning loss did the White House finally respond to Russian actions that the FBI had known about since at least September of 2015.
Interestingly enough, the White House also never sanctioned Russia over its nearly yearlong hack of the State Department’s computer system, which was discovered about seven months before the FBI first warned the DNC about Russian efforts to hack its servers.
As CNN reported in March of 2015,
Suspected Russian hackers have bedeviled State Department's email system for much of the past year and continue to pose problems for technicians trying to eradicate the intrusion.
Federal law enforcement, intelligence and congressional officials briefed on the investigation say the hack of the State email system is the "worst ever" cyberattack intrusion against a federal agency. The attackers who breached State are also believed to be behind hacks on the White House's email system, and against several other federal agencies, the officials say.
Last November, the State Department shut down its email system over a weekend to try to improve security and block the intruders.
At the time, the agency tried to send a re-assuring message that "activity of concern" by possible hackers only affected its unclassified email system.
But officials say that even a breach of the unclassified system poses major security risks, because sensitive information of value to foreign intelligence agencies is routinely shared in non-classified emails.
Russian hackers, likely working for the Russian government, are suspected in the State Department hack.
The FBI has been investigating the hacking activity.
In part because of the Russian attack on State, U.S. intelligence officials have increased their warnings about Russian hacking activity in the U.S.
Even though Russia-affiliated hackers had breached the State Department’s servers so badly that the Department was forced to shut them down, the Obama Administration did nothing in response.
Only when hackers could be blamed for an embarrassing Democratic Party loss did the Obama White House sanction Russia. Highly classified State Department secrets, it seems, were less important to the Obama Administration than Democratic Party secrets.
And, it should be noted, the Russian hacking effort wasn’t limited to the Democratic Party, further undercutting the belief that the operation was designed to hurt Clinton and help Trump.
On October 8, 2016, NBC News reported that:
The Russian government's cyber-espionage campaign against the American political system began more than a year ago and has been far more extensive than publicly disclosed, targeting hundreds of key people -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- whose work is considered strategically important to the Putin regime, official sources told NBC News.
The targets over the past two years have included a Who's Who of Hillary Clinton associates from her State Department tenure, the Clinton Foundation and her presidential campaign, as well as top Republicans and staffers for Republican candidates for president.
If Russia was targeting both Democrats and Republicans, then how could one justify the claim that Russia was actively trying to help the Republican candidate and hurt the Democrat through its hacking campaign?
A Wall Street Journal report on December 16th indicates that while hackers were able to gain access to the DNC servers, they were unable to penetrate RNC computer networks.
In a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing a month later, FBI Director Comey appeared to confirm this report when he testified that “there was evidence that there was hacking directed at state level organizations, state level campaigns and the RNC, but old domains of the RNC. That is, email domains that they were no longer using, and the information was harvested from there, but it was old stuff. None of that was released. We did not develop any evidence that the Trump campaign or the current RNC was successfully hacked.”
In other words, the hackers likely tried to hack the RNC’s current server, but failed. Politifact reported:
[Comey] added that the methods used to attack the RNC and DNC systems were similar. The Russian actors used a technique called phishing, meaning the cyber intruders sent emails designed to trick the recipient into clicking a link and giving over his or her email password.
But Comey said the Russian attackers "got far deeper and wider into" the DNC, though he couldn’t say why they didn’t get into the current RNC system.
The reason is fairly obvious: They couldn’t. This means that the Democrats’ failure to take the FBI’s warnings seriously was likely their undoing, as they simply did not take the necessary steps to secure their servers in the wake of what the Director of National Intelligence believed was a wide-ranging Russian hacking attack aimed not only at the DNC, but at as many government and political targets as possible.
Seen in this context, the revelations about Russian hackers attacking the State Department in 2014 serve to further disprove Democrat claims that the DNC hacking was aimed at getting Trump elected. When this wide-ranging effort started, Trump wasn’t on anyone’s political radar. In 2014, he was a billionaire real-estate magnate best known for hosting “Celebrity Apprentice” and still more than a year away from announcing his candidacy.
If the DNC hack and attempted RNC hack were, as the intelligence community apparently believes, part of a larger cyberespionage program by the Russian government aimed at America generally, then Democrat claims that it was instead aimed solely at defeating Clinton and getting Trump elected fall flat.
Besides, after Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned in disgrace following the Wikileaks release of emails showing that her DNC actively rigged the Democratic Primary process in favor of Clinton, those emails were barely covered by a political press that seemed desperate to ignore them.
Almost all of the most salacious details about the inner workings of the Clinton campaign didn’t come from the DNC hack, but rather the release of nearly 20,000 emails obtained from the Gmail account of her campaign chairman John Podesta on October 7th.
In March of 2016, Podesta’s account was hacked through what appeared to be a phishing scam.
On March 19th, a hacker sent Podesta an email that appeared to be a Google alert requesting Podesta’s email account and password for security purposes.
The scam was either good enough to fool the Clinton campaign’s IT department, or one of its employees made the single most unfortunate typo of the year. As The Hill reported:
When an aide emailed the campaign’s IT staff to ask if the notice was real, Clinton campaign aide Charles Delavan replied that it was “a legitimate email" and that Podesta should “change his password immediately.”
Instead of telling the aide that the email was a threat and that a good response would be to change his password directly through Google’s website, he had inadvertently told the aide to click on the fraudulent email and give the attackers access to the account.
Delavan told the New York Times he had intended to type "illegitimate,” a typo he still has not forgiven himself for making.
The email was a phishing scam that ultimately revealed Podesta’s password to hackers.
Whether Delavan really did type “legitimate” instead of “illegitimate” or he was legitimately fooled by the phishing scam is still up for debate, but what is clear is that this was the vulnerability that gave a hacker access to Podesta’s email account.
The code used to create that phishing link bore hallmarks of Russian origin, but once again the main culprit for Democratic digital information being compromised is a Democrat himself. Podesta, acting on the erroneous advice of his IT department, provided his login information to a hacker, who then leaked the contents of his emails to Wikileaks.
Once Wikileaks started releasing those emails, America’s left-leaning political press once again did its best to ignore them; focusing instead on the release of a video of Trump exchanging sexist jokes with Access Hollywood host Billy Bush back in 2005.
The Nation tipped off the tenor of the coverage in a story posted October 24th entitled “Here’s Why the #PodestaEmails Aren’t Having Much Impact.”
But absent some stunning revelation that hasn’t come out yet, the leaks aren’t likely to have much impact, for a couple of reasons. First, as we’ve seen clearly throughout the campaign, Donald Trump is a uniquely compromised candidate, unable to let a news cycle go by without saying something outlandish. Then there’s the lack of anything resembling a smoking gun.
In other words, the Podesta emails aren’t registering with voters because the media isn’t focusing on them; it’s focusing on the “outlandish” things that the “uniquely compromised” Trump was saying and doing.
This unintentional admission of widespread media bias toward protecting Clinton and attacking Trump is precisely why neither the Podesta emails nor the DNC emails had much of an impact on Trump’s win.
A search for any polling on the impact of the email release on voter sentiment did not reveal a single poll that attempted to quantify the hacks’ impact on the election, and in December even the data-crunching site FiveThirtyEight had to admit that any evidence that Wikileaks had any impact at all is circumstantial at best.
One would think that if the supposedly blockbuster release of sensitive information from one of Clinton’s closest confidantes and her political party had a huge impact on the election—so much so that the election itself was compromised—there would be at least one poll showing that Americans by the millions decided not to vote for Clinton based solely on what they learned from the hacked emails.
There isn’t. Not a single poll. Not a single shred of quantifiable data that shows definitively that the hacked emails were what cost Clinton the presidency.
By extension, there also isn’t a single shred of evidence that the election was hacked or that the emails played any significant role in Trump’s win.
More damaging to Democrat claims of Russian malfeasance, there also isn’t any evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with or was even aware of this hacking campaign.
The New York Times reported on October 31st that:
For much of the summer, the F.B.I. pursued a widening investigation into a Russian role in the American presidential campaign. Agents scrutinized advisers close to Donald J. Trump, looked for financial connections with Russian financial figures, searched for those involved in hacking the computers of Democrats, and even chased a lead — which they ultimately came to doubt — about a possible secret channel of email communication from the Trump Organization to a Russian bank.
Law enforcement officials say that none of the investigations so far have found any conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government. And even the hacking into Democratic emails, F.B.I. and intelligence officials now believe, was aimed at disrupting the presidential election rather than electing Mr. Trump.
Hillary Clinton’s supporters, angry over what they regard as a lack of scrutiny of Mr. Trump by law enforcement officials, pushed for these investigations.
This report jibes with what FBI Director Comey confirmed during his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee: That an investigation began in July, and that it is still ongoing.
However, as recently as February 14th, that investigation has found no evidence of any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia
American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three of the officials said. The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election.
The officials interviewed in recent weeks said that, so far, they had seen no evidence of such cooperation.
Yet Comey said that the investigation is still looking for evidence that there was...even though at least seven months had turned up nothing. This would seem to indicate that no such evidence exists.
In fact, in early March 2017, now-former National Intelligence Director Clapper confirmed that neither the FBI nor the NSA found any evidence whatsoever of collusion between the Trump camp and the Russian government, first in an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press:
And then in an interview with ABC News’ Brian Ross, in which he said that “there was no evidence whatsoever, at the time, of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.”
One might think that this would have ended Democrats’ accusations, but their patently false narrative—that Russia conspired with Trump—continues unabated even though it is wholly unsupported.
And the ongoing investigation that FBI Director Comey just confirmed seems to now prove that while Russia was likely behind the DNC and Podesta hacks, the Trump campaign had absolutely nothing to do with it and the election itself was in no way hacked.
Instead, the available evidence proves only that the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta were hacked, in large measure because of their own lax approach to cybersecurity. While The Republican National Committee was able to thwart an attack, the Democrats were not, and now they seem to be looking for someone, anyone else to blame for their own incompetence—not only in the digital arena, but in their performance in the 2016 election as a whole.