Is Vladimir V. Putin trying to meddle in the American presidential election?
US officials said the suspected Russian hack of the Democratic National Committee last month was part of Russian cyber attacks aimed at political organizations and academic think tanks in Washington.
Until Friday, the Russians being behind the hack were only whispered but the release of some 20,000 stolen emails from DNC’s computer servers has intensified discussion of the role of Russian intelligence agencies in disrupting the 2016 campaign.
That hack dominated the news space on the eve of the Democratic convention. The emails disclosed by WikiLeaks show DNC chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, plotting to undermine the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders, confirming the worst suspicions of the left flank of the party. She resigned from her post after the revelation on Sunday.
The FBI is investigating the DNC hack and has sent experts to meet with the Republican National Committee, as well as the major campaigns, to discuss their security measures. The bureau has been working with political organizations and think tanks to put more resources into the security of DNC’s computer networks.
“The software code seen from the hack had all the telltale signs of being Russian, including code re-used from attacks,” said Bob Gourley, a former chief technology officer for the Defense Intelligence Agency and now the co-founder and partner Cognitio, a cyber security consultancy.
When the hack of the DNC was first disclosed in June, the security firm Crowdstrike also pointed to the Russians. Crowdstrike investigated the incident for the Democratic party and concluded it was the same actor that penetrated the State Department, White House and Pentagon unclassified systems in 2015.
Trump told The New York Times in an interview last week that if he's elected the US President, he wouldn't defend NATO allies against Russian aggression if they haven't "fulfilled their obligation to us." Until Trump, no Republican presidential nominee has questioned the U.S. mutual-defense commitment enshrined in NATO.
Over the weekend, the Trump and Clinton campaigns traded accusations on the issue.
Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., denied that his father's campaign had anything to do with encouraging Russians to hack the DNC. The party officials have also denied any involvement in the case.
The question is of who benefits. While Clinton implemented a reset in relations with Russia when she was secretary of state, she has since soured on Moscow. When Russian irregulars invaded Ukraine in 2014, she compared Putin to Hitler.
Whether the thefts were ordered by Putin or just carried out by apparatchiks, who thought they might please him, is just a guess till now. It may take months, or years, to figure out the motives of those who stole the emails and the commanding force behind the actions but the theft from the national committee would be among the most important state-sponsored hacks yet of an American organization, rivaled only by the attacks on the Office of Personnel Management by state-sponsored Chinese hackers, and the attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, which President Barack Obama blamed on North Korea.