Inside The Russian Campaign To Hack The U.S. Election

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The CIA symbol is shown on the floor of CIA Headquarters, July 9, 2004 at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
The CIA symbol is shown on the floor of CIA Headquarters, July 9, 2004 at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

A New York Times investigation reveals new details about Russian efforts to influence the U.S. election, including that the FBI had notified the Democratic National Committee about possible cyberattacks more than a year ago.

Here & Now's Robin Young speaks with The New York Times' Eric Lipton (@EricLiptonNYT), who wrote the story along with his colleagues David E. Sanger and Scott Shane.

Interview Highlights

On the FBI's DNC cyberattack warning from more than a year ago

"It really is sort of extraordinary, chilling, depressing, but that's what happened. The FBI called into the switchboard at the Democratic National Committee in September. Special Agent Hawkins, is his name, and he called to tell the DNC, which was helping run the presidential campaign for the Democrats, that there was evidence that there was a Russian hacker that was inside their computer system. And this is September of 2015 ... and so the DNC technical IT guy didn't believe that the caller was actually an FBI agent. He thought he was being spoofed, and so he didn't take it quite seriously, and the FBI agent kept calling back, again and again, and in fact started to leave voicemail messages for this DNC IT guy on his phone and the guy did not call him back. He did check the computer but he did not find any immediate evidence of the problem, and just sort of was never sure if this was a true agent."

On failures of both the DNC and the FBI

"In retrospect, it makes no sense at all. But the FBI agent is charged with notifying individual parties that are the apparent targets of cyberattacks. In this situation involving a presidential campaign, the Democratic National Committee, the target of the Watergate break-in back in 1972, you would've thought that they would've escalated this if they didn't get a response, that the agent would've told his boss and said, 'You know what? Let's call the executive director or the chairwoman of the DNC, or let's walk over there.' And they just, for whatever reason, they didn't do that. So this dragged on from September all the way through April of 2016."

On desensitization to hacking attempts

"That's sort of part of the problem is that there were so many of these like phishing expeditions where these emails would come in and they'd say 'You need to change your password,' or trying to get you to click on something so they could gain access to the computers. So much of that is happening that to some extent, you know, it's like so common that they figure, well, it's probably not real, it's probably not a real threat. A lot of this has been going on, though, with federal agencies, the Office of Personal Management, the joint chiefs of staff were also hacked. I mean, all kinds of federal agencies have been targeted and successfully infiltrated, and so, in fact, the director of national intelligence had warned that the presidential campaigns appeared to be a target of cyber sleuths back in 2015."

On how this differs from espionage

"Both the American government and the Russian government for decades have been essentially spying on each other and observing elections, collecting information as they try to anticipate what might happen in the outcome in the election. So, that's normal spy-craft. What's very abnormal is to take the information that you obtain through these intelligence gathering and then to put it out in the public domain in an effort to influence the election. That only started to happen in June of 2016, and at that point, it was a whole new ballgame and that became an historic event."

"It wasn't until early October that they finally attributed it to the Russians, even though they had definitive evidence in April."

Eric Lipton

On what was going on behind the scenes

"The Democrats were desperate to have both the administration and the Republican party make a public statement first acknowledging that this was a Russian attack, and secondly, condemning it and saying, 'We as Americans will not accept interference in our democratic process.' Because, then everyone would've looked at these emails and documents that were coming out differently. They would've looked at them as stolen property by a foreign power that was trying to influence American democracy, and we would not have been so caught up in the gossipy content of the emails themselves. But the Obama administration was really frozen and unsure how to respond to the Russian hack. It didn't want to be blamed for tipping the scale in the election. It also didn't want to provoke an excessive response. It didn't want to escalate with Russia where the Russians would then do a counter-cyberattack and perhaps they would release secrets they'd collected from the United States intelligence services. ... They also presumed Hillary Clinton was gonna win so they didn't think it was really necessary to take such a dramatic step, so they stalled and stalled and stalled. It wasn't until early October that they finally attributed it to the Russians, even though they had definitive evidence in April. And then they never really publicly condemned the Russians or took retaliatory actions."

This segment aired on December 14, 2016.



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