U.S.. special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of 12 Russian agents for interfering in our 2016 presidential election offers a stunning document, and I’m guessing that not everybody had time to read it in full.
As our president-king prepares to sit down with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday, here is what leaped out as highlights to me.
My apologies if some of this seems obvious, but as we sink into the details, let’s not lose sight of the unprecedented scale and audacity of this operation by an American enemy: to defeat Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency, and to subvert our democratic process.
1. Guccifer 2.0 and DC Leaks unmasked: In case it was unclear, “DC Leaks” and “Guccifer 2.0” which hacked the Democratic National Committee are the Russians. There is no “dark web” here, this is not some guy sitting on his couch in his underwear — as Trump once suggested — and it’s not a group of anarchists in Romania. This is a high-level military intelligence operation by a well-resourced, technologically advanced foe of the United States.
The DCLeaks site stated it was started by “hacktivists.” It was not. Guccifer was meant to be a lone Romanian hacker. It was not.
2. The target: The Russians uniquely targeted the Hilary Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party. This was a fully one-sided intelligence operation, aimed at trying to sway the outcome of the 2016 election. Helping Bernie Sanders was in bounds. Helping Donald Trump was clearly the central aim. This was not merely to sow chaos, but to defeat the Democratic candidate.
3. Google, listen up: The Russians posed as the search giant. “Lukashev altered the appearance of the sender email address in order to make it look like the email was a security notification from Google (a technique known as “spoofing”), instructing the user to change his password by clicking the embedded link. Those instructions were followed,” the indictment said.
This yielded 50,000 emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. The same happened to an unnamed foreign policy adviser. The emails, of course, were later released.
4. Watergate done better: The Russians broke into the Democratic headquarters — no, wait, that was Watergate. They broke into one better: the Democratic Party’s computer network, putting malware everywhere throughout the party’s network. They were fully inside the campaign plans and strategies of the party they wanted to lose the election. They were able to watch the DCCC employee’s computer screens while they were working on “fundraising and voter outreach projects.” By June 2016 they had access to 33 Democratic Party computers.
5. Microsoft, listen up: The party’s Microsoft server was hacked.
6. Bitcoin played a role: The Russians used Bitcoin funds to pay for their activities — leasing servers, buying URLs, establishing a private network. Blockchain was where their activities were logged, but the Russians used a series of shells and fake identities to mask their tracks. (Props to Muellers’ team for following this, it’s seriously opaque.)
For those of you who want to read it in full, here’s the document, it’s less than 30 pages, not such a hard lift except for pronouncing the names of the 12 defendants.
We will all be watching closely as this summit plays out far away. But mostly we’ll be waiting to see what other investigative work Mueller has to bring to the table, as the clock ticks down to the November midterm election.