Grizzlygate: Russian Interference in the 2016 US Presidential Elections

Hackers, the investigation of the American Congress and Facebook’s position. We collected everything known about “Grizzlygate”
05.12.2017
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During the US presidential campaign in 2016, information about a cyber attack on the website of the American Democratic Party. The case called Grizzlygate was widely publicized in July 2016. The investigation involved a Slovak company specializing in information security – Crowd Strike. Specialists found that the system was hacked by two groups of hackers – Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear, which, according to their information, are connected with the Russian government. The Russian side denies its involvement in these events. Russiangate tells how the case of cyber attacks went down. 


GUCCIFER 2.0 AND BLACK BOOK ON DEMOCRATS

The very first report on the unauthorized interference in the information system of the National Committee of the Democratic Party of the United States came from the director of the National Intelligence Service, James Clapper. According to him, this is not the first attempt by foreign special services to spy on candidates for the presidential post – Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Crowd Strike found out that software for remote execution of commands, file transfers and even spying for keystrokes under the name X-Agent was used. In conclusion, it was said that the hacker groups Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear stole emails and gathered compromising information on Donald Trump, the democrats’ competitor. According to Crowd Strike, the mentioned groups did not cooperate with each other and could simultaneously attack one “victim”.

The legalization of the compromising material was handled by the Romanian hacker Marcel Lazăr Lehel under the nickname Guccifer 2.0. In Romania, he was sentenced to seven years in prison, now he is hiding in the United States. Another hacker, whose identity is not known, took advantage of this pseudonym and published compromising material on the WikiLeaks website.

Its founder Julian Assange in an interview with the ITV channel said that he hoped this leak would prevent Hilary Clinton from winning the presidential race.

More than 19,000 emails with personal information from the Democrats’ “donors” – social security numbers and passports, credit card information – were made public on July 22 (shortly before the Democrats' congress, where Clinton was nominated as a party candidate). In one of the published correspondence, it was also said that the National Committee of the Democratic Party preferred the candidature of Hillary Clinton to another favourite – Bernie Sanders. A row broke out, as a result of which the Chairman of the National Committee, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, had to resign.

On July 28, prominent experts on national security issues of the Republican Party appealed to the political leaders of the Congress to investigate cyber attacks on the Democratic Party and to publish the stolen information. On July 31, Hillary Clinton made a statement – she accused the Russian special services in cyber attacks against the Democrats. WikiLeaks said that compromising material was provided by insiders from the Democratic Party. On August 9, 2016, Julian Assange hinted that the source could have been Democrat Seth Rich, who was killed on July 10 near his apartment. As a result, Rich’s involvement in the scandal was neither confirmed nor disproved.  

REPORT ON CYBER ATTACKS FROM RUSSIA

In December 2016, the FBI and NSA issued a joint report stating that hacker attacks on computer systems in the US were undertaken at the personal order of President Vladimir Putin. There was no direct evidence – the American side explained this by the necessity to protect their sources.

After the official accusations, 35 Russian diplomats were sent off from the US and two embassy housing complexes were closed. The Russian side did not take retaliatory measures. In January 2017, the media reported that the US intelligence services were checking pension payments to Russians living in the States. There were suspicions that these payments paid the hackers’ services or they were the so-called contribution to Donald Trump’s headquarters.

In February 2017, it was reported about the contacts between the members of Trump’s election headquarters and his team with certain Russian citizens. In particular, it was about the businessman and adviser Trump on foreign policy Carter Page, political consultant Roger Stone, former head of Trump’s election headquarters, businessman Manafort and adviser to the campaign headquarters Boris Epshteyn, who was responsible for public relations. The media referring to the FBI reported that they could cooperate with Russian agents in order to coordinate the dissemination of information detrimental to Clinton's election campaign.

On July 10, journalists learned of the meeting between President Donald Trump's eldest son and Natalya Veselnitskaya, a lawyer from Russia, who, according to some sources, has contacts with the Kremlin. Trump Jr. said that he agreed to a meeting, hoping to get dirt on Clinton.

MUELLER’S INVESTIGATION

Immediately after Trump was elected, the Ministry of Justice, the intelligence services – the CIA, FBI, NSA – and both chambers of Congress together with the Senate’s Legal Committee began an investigation into Russia's interference in the US elections.

Former FBI director Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel. In March, director of the FBI James Comey and head of the NSA Michael Rogers told the Congress they did not have direct evidence of Russia's manipulation of the voting outcome. In May 2017, Donald Trump dismissed the FBI director from his post. The Democrats considered this as an attempt to stop the investigation and called for a new case – this time, on pressure on the investigation by the President. The Republicans did not support the initiative.

On October 5, the Senate Intelligence Committee announced that there was no evidence of collusion between Trump’s election campaign and Russia.

One of the key figures in the investigations was National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. He was interrogated about Trump’s possible contacts with the Kremlin on the fourth day after the President’s inauguration – on January 24, 2017.

On December 1, 2017, he pleaded guilty to two episodes of which he had previously lied to the investigation. One of them is directly connected with contacts with Russia. It is about Flynn's participation in the negotiations on new sanctions against the Russian Federation. It was reported that he asked the Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak not to take retaliatory measures and not to aggravate the situation.

The second episode is connected with the voting in the UN Security Council on the resolution related to construction of Israeli settlements in Palestine. Trump's son-in-law asked Flynn to contact representatives of other countries, including Russia, and find out how they are going to vote on this issue. He asked Kislyak to vote against the UN Security Council resolution, Kislyak agreed.

FACEBOOK, GOOGLE AND TWITTER ABOUT RUSSIA’S MEDDLING

Facebook, Twitter and Google published information on Russia's interference in the US elections on November 30 – on the eve of a hearing in the US Senate's Committee on Legal Affairs. According to their data, the Internet Research Agency, which has 2,700 profiles on Twitter, was involved in the publication of millions of posts.

From September 1 to November 15, 2016, according to Twitter, these accounts have published 1.4 million messages related to Russia. The Internet Research Agency, according to the database Contour-Focus, was registered in St. Petersburg on July 26, 2013, and ceased operations on December 28, 2016. According to some reports, this is one of the legal incarnations of the “troll factory” – a St. Petersburg organization, whose employees allegedly comment in the blogs in favour of the regime and propagate patriotic values. The company was mentioned in the open part of the report of the US special services about Russia's interference in the presidential elections.

According to Facebook, from January 2015 to August 2017, Internet Research Agency published about 80 thousand materials, which were seen by about 29 million people. On Instagram, 170 accounts, which published about 120 thousand materials related to Russia, were found. The accounts, according to the company, were deleted.

Google found 18 YouTube channels, which published 1100 pro-Russian videos with a total duration of 43 hours. From June 2015 to November 2016, they received 309 thousand views.

POSITIONS OF RUSSIAN AND AMERICAN PARTIES

At the end of May 2017, the Trump administration decided to create a special headquarters for interaction with law enforcement agencies and the media on the case of Russia's interference in the elections. The American leader also hired lawyers who represent his interests, the interests of his family and the functionaries of the electoral headquarters. To do that, he spent more than $ 1 million.

In October, Donald Trump called for the completion of an investigation into the “Russian intervention.” He believes that “there was no collusion. This whole story is an excuse for the democrats who lost the elections.” At that, he added that he was not going to fire special counsel Robert Mueller.

In Russia, the statements about interference in the elections have been rejected several times. According to Vladimir Putin, talks about the Russian influence on the presidential race in the US is “hysteria and mythical, invented problems.” On June 2, 2017, at the plenary session of the SPIEF, Putin said that he had read American reports about alleged interference by Russia in the election of the US president, and in those reports he saw “nothing concrete, only assumptions and conclusions based on assumptions.” On November 12, Presidential Press-Secretary Dmitry Peskov said once again that the information about Russia's interference in US elections remains unconfirmed.

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