Massive breakdown: the FBI’s failure last year to tell scores of US officials Russian hackers had targeted them
The AP’s big breaking story this Sunday morning raises a huge number of questions:
The FBI failed to notify scores of U.S. officials that Russian hackers were trying to break into their personal Gmail accounts despite having evidence for at least a year that the targets were in the Kremlin’s crosshairs, The Associated Press has found.
Nearly 80 interviews with Americans targeted by Fancy Bear, a Russian government-aligned cyberespionage group, turned up only two cases in which the FBI had provided a heads-up. Even senior policymakers discovered they were targets only when the AP told them, a situation some described as bizarre and dispiriting.
“It’s utterly confounding,” said Philip Reiner, a former senior director at the National Security Council, who was notified by the AP that he was targeted in 2015. “You’ve got to tell your people. You’ve got to protect your people.”
The FBI declined to answer most questions from AP about how it had responded to the spying campaign. The bureau provided a statement that said in part: “The FBI routinely notifies individuals and organizations of potential threat information.”
Three people familiar with the matter — including a current and a former government official — said the FBI has known for more than a year the details of Fancy Bear’s attempts to break into Gmail inboxes.
So the AP ran its own counterintelligence op with help from a top cybersecurity firm…
… dedicating two months and a small team of reporters to go through a hit list of Fancy Bear targets provided by the cybersecurity firm Secureworks.
Previous AP investigations based on the list have shown how Fancy Bear worked in close alignment with the Kremlin’s interests to steal tens of thousands of emails from the Democratic Party. The hacking campaign disrupted the 2016 U.S. election and cast a shadow over the presidency of Donald Trump, whom U.S. intelligence agencies say the hackers were trying to help. The Russian government has denied interfering in the American election.
The Secureworks list comprises 19,000 lines of targeting data. Going through it, the AP identified more than 500 U.S.-based people or groups and reached out to more than 190 of them, interviewing nearly 80 about their experiences.
Many were long retired, but about one-quarter were still in government or held security clearances at the time they were targeted. Only two told the AP they learned of the hacking attempts on their personal Gmail accounts from the FBI. A few more were contacted by the FBI after their emails were published in the torrent of leaks that coursed through last year’s electoral contest. But to this day, some leak victims have not heard from the bureau at all.
You owe it to yourself to read the entire, gobsmacking article.
<ANALYSIS> The AP just revealed that throughout this year, it’s been doing counterintelligence work.
Here’s what I think it means.
16 tweets, 2 hours ago1. This was no average failure by the FBI. NatSec officials and politicians were hacked by a foreign power in an election year.Not only did they apparently let this slide, they also downplayed the risk to the Clinton campaign – while an element in FBI then reopened the “emails” case on Clinton.Sidenote/forecast: almost every Trump/Alt-Right talking point against Hillary covers for Trump.
- “Her emails” = Russia’s hacking emails
- “Crooked” = We’re actual gangsters
- “It’s rigged” = We’re rigging it
Now ask yourself what Pizzagate was.
Back to analysis:
2. That AP had to chase this story down *months later* explains why we were caught off guard by this attack.If there was an organized attempt to conceal this Russian hacking effort from @Comey, then it would be tough for him to brief Obama.This could explain why it took until the last weeks of the campaign to perceive the full gravity of the situation.
And, then agents at FBI reopen the Hillary email case with only days to go.
Chaffetz tweets it out. Credits the DIRFBI.
FBI Dir just informed me, “The FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation.” Case reopened
— Jason Chaffetz (@jasoninthehouse) October 28, 2016It’s probably safe to say that Chaffetz – who tried to obstruct this case – had a nasty conversation with someone.3. If FBI Counterintel was obscuring the emails, perhaps there were other failures as well.And if that failure to investigate, analyze, and report was widespread, then Comey and Mueller have been SPRINTING to catch up.That the investigation has taken ONLY a year before indictments would then be a Herculean, if overdue, task.4. We should never get pantsed like this again in our lifetimes. 😠😠😠
5. The rest of the story is going to make people angry enough, I suspect, to provide ample motivation to do better.
Oh hell yeah. Now, what on earth would motivate FBI counterintel agents from not informing targets? A personnel shortage? The possibility of leaks?
Or could it have been something more politically oriented? We have known for more than a year that the New York FBI office was packed with Hillary-hating right wingers. From The Guardian, Nov. 3, 2016:
Deep antipathy to Hillary Clinton exists within the FBI, multiple bureau sources have told the Guardian, spurring a rapid series of leaks damaging to her campaign just days before the election.
Current and former FBI officials, none of whom were willing or cleared to speak on the record, have described a chaotic internal climate that resulted from outrage over director James Comey’s July decision not to recommend an indictment over Clinton’s maintenance of a private email server on which classified information transited.
“The FBI is Trumpland,” said one current agent. …
The article cites The Daily Beast:
Two days before FBI director James Comey rocked the world last week, Rudy Giuliani was on Fox, where he volunteered, un-prodded by any question: “I think he’s [Donald Trump] got a surprise or two that you’re going to hear about in the next few days. I mean, I’m talking about some pretty big surprises.”
Pressed for specifics, he said: “We’ve got a couple of things up our sleeve that should turn this thing around.”
The man who now leads “lock-her-up” chants at Trump rallies spent decades of his life as a federal prosecutor and then mayor working closely with the FBI, and especially its New York office. One of Giuliani’s security firms employed a former head of the New York FBI office, and other alumni of it. It was agents of that office, probing Anthony Weiner’s alleged sexting of a minor, who pressed Comey to authorize the review of possible Hillary Clinton-related emails on a Weiner device that led to the explosive letter the director wrote Congress.
Hours after Comey’s letter about the renewed probe was leaked on Friday, Giuliani went on a radio show and attributed the director’s surprise action to “the pressure of a group of FBI agents who don’t look at it politically.”
“The other rumor that I get is that there’s a kind of revolution going on inside the FBI about the original conclusion [not to charge Clinton] being completely unjustified and almost a slap in the face to the FBI’s integrity,” said Giuliani. “I know that from former agents. I know that even from a few active agents.”
This does not look like a coincidence.