Here are 5 other questions that remain unknown about this story and the ongoing threat that national security officials say Russia poses to the integrity of American elections.
1. How widespread are these attacks?
2. Can the federal government do more?
3. Why do these leaks keep happening?
4. Why can't the US stop these cyberattacks?
5. Will this change Trump's tune?
Apparently, Russian Military Intelligence executed a cyberattack on at least one US voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing e-mails to more than 100 local election officials just days before November 2016’s presidential election. The top-secret National Security Agency document, which was provided anonymously to The Intercept and independently authenticated, analyzes intelligence very recently acquired by the agency about a months-long Russian intelligence cyber effort against elements of the US election and voting infrastructure. The report, dated May 5, 2017, is the most detailed US government account of Russian interference in the election that has yet come to light.
While the document provides a rare window into the NSA’s understanding of the mechanics of Russian hacking, it does not show the underlying “raw” intelligence on which the analysis is based. A US intelligence officer who declined to be identified cautioned against drawing too big a conclusion from the document because a single analysis is not necessarily definitive. The report indicates that Russian hacking may have penetrated further into US voting systems than was previously understood.
The Department of Justice charged 25-year-old government contractor Reality Leigh Winner with sharing top secret material with a media outlet, prosecutors announced in a press release June 5. Court documents filed by the government don't specify which media outlet received the materials allegedly leaked by Winner, but NBC News reported that the material went to the Intercept online news outlet. The Intercept published a top secret NSA report June 5 that alleged Russian military intelligence launched a 2016 cyberattack on a voting software company. Details on the report published by The Intercept suggest that it was created on May 5, 2017 — the same day prosecutors say the materials Winner is charged with sharing were created.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on whether Winner is accused of sharing the report published by the Intercept. In June, Winner allegedly “printed and improperly removed classified intelligence reporting, which contained classified national defense information” before mailing the materials to an unnamed online news outlet a few days later, according to prosecutors.
The Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee asked US spy agencies late in 2016 to reveal the names of US individuals or organizations contained in classified intelligence on Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, engaging in the same practice that President Donald Trump has accused the Obama Administration of abusing, current and former officials said. The chairman of the committee, Rep Devin Nunes (R-CA), has since cast the practice of “unmasking” of US individuals and organizations mentioned in classified reports as an abuse of surveillance powers by the outgoing Obama Administration.
President Trump has argued that investigators should focus their attention on former officials leaking names from intelligence reports, rather than whether the Kremlin coordinated its activities with the Trump campaign, an allegation he has denied. “The big story is the ‘unmasking and surveillance’ of people that took place during the Obama administration,” Trump tweeted June 1.
Shifting from his previous blanket denials, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that “patriotically minded” private Russian hackers could have been involved in cyberattacks in 2016 to help the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump. While Putin continued to deny any state role, his comments to reporters in St. Petersburg were a departure from the Kremlin’s previous position: that Russia had played no role whatsoever in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and that, after Donald Trump’s victory, the country had become the victim of anti-Russia hysteria among crestfallen Democrats. Raising the possibility of attacks by what he portrayed as free-spirited Russian patriots, Putin said that hackers “are like artists” who choose their targets depending how they feel “when they wake up in the morning.”
Cable TV is home to a set of news channels that have become a destination for political news. In fact in 2016, cable news topped Americans’ list of most helpful source types for news and information about the presidential election. Financially, these channels have generally set themselves apart from other news media by their comparatively robust business model. In prime time, combined average viewership for the three major news channels (CNN, Fox News and MSNBC) increased by 55% percent to 4.8 million viewers. Total revenue across the three channels was projected to increase by 19 percent in 2016, to a total of nearly $5 billion
As part of its broader investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, the FBI continues to examine how Carter Page joined the campaign and what conversations he may have had with Russian officials about the effort to interfere with the election — with or without the knowledge of Donald Trump and his team — according to people familiar with the matter. The Senate Intelligence Committee has also zeroed in on Page, asking him for records of all his contacts with Russians during the campaign, all financial interactions he had with Russia and all communications he had with Trump campaign staff.
The circumstances that led to Page’s easy access to the Trump campaign represents one of the main questions facing investigators: Were Trump’s connections to multiple Russia-friendly advisers mere coincidence, or evidence of a coordinated attempt to collude with a foreign government? Or were they the result of incompetent vetting that left a neophyte candidate vulnerable to influence from people with nefarious agendas? Regardless of the answer, the campaign’s previously unreported procedures for vetting Page and other advisers are greatly complicating matters for Trump’s presidency.
In the summer of 2016, American spies collected information revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald Trump through his advisers, according to three current and former American officials familiar with the intelligence. The conversations focused on Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman at the time, and Michael Flynn, a retired general who was advising Trump, the officials said. Both men had indirect ties to Russian officials, who appeared confident that each could be used to help shape Trump’s opinions on Russia.
Some Russians boasted about how well they knew Gen Flynn. Others discussed leveraging their ties to Viktor Yanukovych, the deposed president of Ukraine living in exile in Russia, who at one time had worked closely with Manafort. The intelligence was among the clues — which also included information about direct communications between Trump’s advisers and Russian officials — that American officials received in 2016 as they began investigating Russian attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of Trump’s associates were assisting Moscow in the effort. Details of the conversations, some of which have not been previously reported, add to an increasing understanding of the alarm inside the American government about the Russian disruption campaign.
John Brennan, the former CIA director, described a nerve-fraying few months in 2016 as American authorities realized that the presidential election was under attack and feared that Donald Trump’s campaign might be aiding that fight. Brennan, in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, said he was concerned by a series of suspicious contacts between Russian government officials and Trump’s associates.
The CIA learned about those meetings just as it was beginning to grapple with Russian hackers and propagandists trying to manipulate the presidential race. His remarks were the fullest public account to date of the origins of an FBI investigation that continues to shadow the Trump administration. “I know what the Russians try to do,” Brennan said. “They try to suborn individuals and try to get individuals, including US individuals, to act on their behalf, wittingly or unwittingly.” When he left his post in January, he said, “I had unresolved questions in my mind as to whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting US persons involved in the campaign or not to work on their behalf.”