Thursday, January 5, 2017

Trump Is Right about the Russian Hacking Case - Stephen D. Bryen and Shoshana Bryen

by Stephen D. Bryen and Shoshana Bryen

It should be noted that the report was prepared without input from the National Security Agency (NSA), Cyber Command, the Pentagon, or the CIA. Wonder why?

President-elect Donald Trump expressed skepticism over reports that Russia hacked the U.S. election. It is well-known that Russia -- and China, and various of our friends and allies -- spend a lot of time and effort trying to access American military and industrial secrets, as the U.S. does theirs. But in the case of altering the election, Trump’s skepticism appears warranted.

How did we get here?

An attempted hack into Georgia's voter registration database was traced back to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), according to The Wall Street Journal last month. It was a criminal act and possibly an attempt to interfere in an election. Even worse, DHS appears to have outsourced the hacking activity. One might think the breach of a state voter registration system by the Federal government would be a big story. But it was quickly replaced by the Obama administration’s claims about Russian cyber attacks on American political institutions. The FBI and DHS (yes, that DHS) then produced the Joint Analysis Report under the seal of its National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center.

It should be noted that the report was prepared without input from the National Security Agency (NSA), Cyber Command, the Pentagon, or the CIA. Wonder why? The answer most likely is that they declined to endorse a report that fails to deliver proof and makes accusations unsupported by evidence. If a college student turned this report in as a research paper, he would flunk the course.

The report claims to provide an analysis of the "tools and infrastructure" used by the Russian intelligence services to "exploit networks and endpoints associated with the U.S. election" as well as a "range of U.S. government, political and private sector entities." The report calls this "malicious cyber activity" and aggregates it under the code name Grizzly Steppe.

The notion of “malicious activity” is scary and meaningless. If information is stolen, it is theft; it is a crime. But the report cannot demonstrate theft, or even describe the activity any of the identified organizations actually engaged in, so it uses non-legal “term of art.” But grizzlies from the steppe sound pretty malicious.

Equally problematic is that the report cannot tie any of the "known" Russian-located hacking activities directly to the Russian intelligence services in respect to the hack of the email systems of the Democratic National Committee or personal email accounts, such as those of Hillary Clinton and John Podesta, to name a few of the leading targets. There is plenty of notional information that the Russian intelligence services have used private entities to carry out hacking against various Western targets. And there is some important proof that on a number of occasions the Russians have carried out sophisticated cyber attacks against foreign countries. The cases that are clear-cut include Estonia, Georgia, and Ukraine, and there are surely others. But in direct attacks like those (hitting everything from power plants, banks, government agencies, military organizations, air defense systems, and communications), it does not appear that the Russians used third parties. Rather, those attacks were launched mostly by the Russian military.

The FBI knows a lot about Hillary's email account and her correspondents. Did the Russians hack her indiscreet dissemination of classified information? Wouldn't that be relevant to the Joint Analysis Report? Indeed, how could there be any serious analysis without that?

But it isn’t in there.

The Joint Analysis Report also does not say who else might have hacked these same accounts. For example, China would have had plenty of reason to attack Trump, not Clinton, because of Trump's position on trade. So would Mexico. Japan is in a huge snit over the TPP deal, which Trump has promised to cancel. Likewise Iran and Turkey would much prefer Clinton to Trump and either could have tried to help Hillary win.

So why are the Russians singled out here? The answer is that Democrats want to pin their defeat on the Russians and claim the election was "stolen by Putin." Unfortunately for them, they don't have any evidence.

In any case, if you want to steal an election, leaking John Podesta or DNC emails is not how anyone -- foreign or domestic -- would do it. At the end of the day, no one even claimed that the information in the e-mails wasn’t legitimate; only that it was embarrassing. Embarrassing people with their own words isn’t by itself illegal.

The way to steal an election is to tamper with the voting system -- enter the registration system (as DHS tried to do in Georgia) or change the vote count after the election. In fact, we had some of those problems. In Detroit, discrepancies between machine counts and registration books in 392 of 662 precincts prevented nearly 60% of the total ballots from being included in a recount. Detroit’s way of dealing with the problem was simply to forego the recount and assume everything was fine the first time.

The Joint Analysis Report has nothing to say about voting machines because it does not have information of value to put on the table.

The report says the activity of the Russian Intelligence Services "is part of an ongoing campaign of cyber-enabled operations directed at the U.S. government and its citizens.” That is probably true, but the same applies to many others with China in the lead, because China manufactures most of the computer equipment, cameras, cell phones, and communications gear America relies on. We know full well that China puts all kinds of back doors in equipment it manufactures. This, however, hasn’t risen to the level of a yawn.

The Joint Analysis Report does not support the claims made by politicians who want to link Putin to stealing the American election -- namely that the sneaky Russians handed the election to Donald Trump.

Stephen D. Bryen and Shoshana Bryen


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