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National security experts react to leaked NSA document on Russia election hack

2017-06-06 17:35 [NEWS] Source:Netword
Guide:This certainly looks like a military attack on US interests.

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin Adam Berry/Getty Images

A leaked NSA document which found that hackers connected to Russian military intelligence tried to breach US voting systems days before the 2016 election has national-security experts and former intelligence officials reeling.

Russian military intelligence, according to the document, launched an attack on at least one US voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to at least 100 local election officials shortly before the election.

In addition to being the strongest indication so far that Russia interfered in the US election, the document also indicates that Russian hackers may have "penetrated further into US voting systems than was previously understood," The Intercept, which first published the document, reported.

A US intelligence official contacted by The Intercept said that the document's findings are not necessarily definitive and warned against drawing too many conclusions from the analysis.

But others in the national security apparatus feel differently.

"This is indeed a big deal," said Bob Deitz, a veteran of the NSA and CIA who worked under former president Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. "We are lucky that US presidential elections are so localized that it is difficult to do an effective hack."

Claire Finkelstein, a professor and national security expert at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, said of the document, "Wow, this is huge."

The leaked report is "evidence for the public now to see yet another example of quite a coherent operation [by the Russians]," said Glenn Carle, a CIA veteran and former spy. "And that is significant."

'The clearest indication yet of a cyber attack'

The document's findings seem more indicative of a Russian cyber attack on the US electoral system than previous findings were, Finkelstein said.

"We tend to associate this kind of stuff with China and North Korea," Finkelstein said. "Technologically-advanced societies like ours are often soft targets, and there's no reason that Russia shouldn't be engaging in this kind of activity."

donald Trump

Donald Trump. Getty Images/Pool

The intelligence community determined in 2016 that there was ample evidence of Russian interference in the election, and that Russian president Vladimir Putin was directly involved. The intelligence community also concluded that Putin specifically chose to help candidate Trump at the cost of Hillary Clinton and to cast her in an unfavorable light.

Until the NSA's report, dated May 5, 2017, was leaked earlier on Monday, Russian influence during the 2016 election was gauged to be a largely covert operation. This latest document suggests that Putin's activities were far more overt.

According to the document, the attack was conducted by the GRU, a Russian military intelligence outfit. "That's no longer just covert activities like email hacking and dissemination of fake news," Finkelstein said. "This starts to look much more like a cyber attack." Though the definition of a cyber attack has not been universally agreed upon, "it could certainly look like a military attack on US interests," Finkelstein added.

Trump 'will be highly-scrutinized after this'

Experts say the next thing to look out for is Trump's reaction to the document. The president has in the past sharply criticized leaks of sensitive or classified information to the press, and he recently ordered the Department of Justice to crack down significantly on individuals who leak information.

Trump's response to the NSA's document will be critical, Finkelstein said. "If he does not decry this interference or attempted interference with the machinery of democratic processes in the US, that in and of itself will be highly suspect."

During the transition period and a number of times after assuming office, Trump lambasted the intelligence community for what he said was a politically-motivated conclusion that Russia meddled in the election to hurt Clinton and help him. He also erroneously said former director of national intelligence James Clapper said there was no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the election. 

trump comey combo.JPG

U.S. President Donald Trump (L) speaks in Ypilanti Township, Michigan March 15, 2017 and FBI Director James Comey testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., May 3, 2017 in a combination of file photos. Thomson Reuters


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