How Russia’s Putin is trying to throw the American election for Trump

There’s growing concern that Russia’s Vladimir Putin may be trying to influence the US presidential election on behalf of Donald Trump.

As the story is finally getting attention, I wanted to summarize the issue, and point you in the direction of some of the best reporting out there.

In a nutshell, it is believed that Russian intelligence broke into the computer network of the Democratic National Committee in Washington, DC, stole tens of thousands of emails over a period of a year or longer, and then had Wikileaks publish 19,000 of those emails right before the Democratic Convention in order to embarrass Democrats and help Donald Trump. It is expected that the Russians will have Wikileaks publish even more emails as the election comes closer.

But there’s a second part to the story: That Donald Trump has far too many connections to the Russians for comfort, especially in light of Trump’s bizarrely pro-Russian views on foreign policy.

UPDATE: Donald Trump just publicly urged Russia to hack American computers in order to obtain classified US intelligence information, and help his presidential campaign.

Russians, Watergate-style, broke into DNC computers

An initial investigation suggested Russian intelligence was behind the hack. More from the NYT:

Proving the source of a cyberattack is notoriously difficult. But researchers have concluded that the national committee was breached by two Russian intelligence agencies, which were the same attackers behind previous Russian cyberoperations at the White House, the State Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff last year. And metadata from the released emails suggests that the documents passed through Russian computers.

Someone claiming to be a hacker named Guccifer 2.0 took credit for the incursion into the DNC’s network. But other cybersecurity experts have now concluded that Guccifer 2.0 isn’t a real person, and is in fact Russian intelligence.

More from the Daily Beast:

The hacker who claims to have stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee and provided them to WikiLeaks is actually an agent of the Russian government and part of an orchestrated attempt to influence U.S. media coverage surrounding the presidential election, a security research group concluded on Tuesday.

The researchers, at Arlington, Va.-based ThreatConnect, traced the self-described Romanian hacker Guccifer 2.0 back to an Internet server in Russia and to a digital address that has been linked in the past to Russian online scams. Far from being a singly, sophisticated hacker, Guccifer 2.0 is more likely a collection of people from the propaganda arm of the Russian government meant to deflect attention away from Moscow as the force behind the DNC hacks and leaks of emails, the researchers found.

“Beyond a reasonable doubt,” Russia is behind the DNC hack

Yet another cybersecurity firm agrees: it’s Russia. From ABC News:

It was the keyboards that gave them away. Russian hackers, typing on keyboards configured in Cyrillic and doing it in a time zone consistent with Moscow, created the “eloquent” code that breached the computers of the Democratic National Committee, according to a top analyst who investigated the hack.

“This was absolutely not an amateur operation … When you look at the totality of all those pieces and you put them together, it kind of paints a really good picture of who the actor was,” Michael Buratowski, the senior vice president of cybersecurity services at Fidelis Cybersecurity, told ABC News Monday. “I come from a law enforcement background, and it’s [about being] beyond a reasonable doubt. And I would say it’s beyond a reasonable doubt … I’m very confident that the malware that we looked at [was from] Russian actors.”

US intelligence now agrees, it’s Russia

From today’s New York Times:

American intelligence agencies have told the White House they now have “high confidence” that the Russian government was behind the theft of emails and documents from the Democratic National Committee, according to federal officials who have been briefed on the evidence.

Donald Trump has “a deep financial dependence on Russian money”

A must-read from Josh Marshall, with a nice overview of Trump’s ties to Russia, including financial, and why all of this is awfully fishy:

At a minimum, Trump appears to have a deep financial dependence on Russian money from persons close to Putin. And this is matched to a conspicuous solicitousness to Russian foreign policy interests where they come into conflict with US policies which go back decades through administrations of both parties. There is also something between a non-trivial and a substantial amount of evidence suggesting Putin-backed financial support for Trump or a non-tacit alliance between the two men…

To put this all into perspective, if Vladimir Putin were simply the CEO of a major American corporation and there was this much money flowing in Trump’s direction, combined with this much solicitousness of Putin’s policy agenda, it would set off alarm bells galore. That is not hyperbole or exaggeration. And yet Putin is not the CEO of an American corporation. He’s the autocrat who rules a foreign state, with an increasingly hostile posture towards the United States and a substantial stockpile of nuclear weapons. The stakes involved in finding out ‘what’s going on’ as Trump might put it are quite a bit higher.

Much more on Trump’s financial ties to Russia, from the Washington Post :

Inside Trump’s financial ties to Russia and his unusual flattery of Vladimir Putin….  Since the 1980s, Trump and his family members have made numerous trips to Moscow in search of business opportunities, and they have relied on Russian investors to buy their properties around the world.

“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Trump’s son, Donald Jr., told a real estate conference in 2008, according to an account posted on the website of eTurboNews, a trade publication. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

On the campaign trail, Trump has called for a new partnership with Moscow, overhauling NATO, the allied military force seen as the chief protector of pro-Western nations near Russia. And Trump has surrounded himself with a team of advisers who have had financial ties to Russia.

Josh Marshall asks:

How many of Trump’s properties and business ventures have relied on or currently rely on equity investments from Russian nationals?

That is Josh’s main, and most troubling, point: The question isn’t how much Trump has invested in Russia, the question is how much Russia has invested in Trump.

More from Josh:

After his bankruptcy and business failures roughly a decade ago Trump has had an increasingly difficult time finding sources of capital for new investments. As I noted above, Trump has been blackballed by all major US banks with the exception of Deutschebank, which is of course a foreign bank with a major US presence. He has steadied and rebuilt his financial empire with a heavy reliance on capital from Russia. At a minimum the Trump organization is receiving lots of investment capital from people close to Vladimir Putin.

Trump’s tax returns would likely clarify the depth of his connections to and dependence on Russian capital aligned with Putin. And in case you’re keeping score at home: no, that’s not reassuring.

Trump’s tax returns could go a long way towards showing the extent of the GOP presidential candidate’s financial ties to Russia. But Trump, contrary to tradition, refuses to release them.

Many Donald Trump advisers have disturbingly close ties to Moscow

Let’s start with Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager. From Buzzfeed:

Trump’s top adviser, Paul Manafort, has spent much of his recent career working for pro-Russian forces in Ukraine, and doing complex deals for an oligarch with close ties to Putin. And while a Democratic senator has already charged Trump is not responsible enough to receive secret information, Manafort’s deep relationships with top pro-Russian figures raise special concerns….

A former Republican national security official put it more bluntly: “He’s an intelligence classification vetting nightmare scenario.”

Manafort’s close ties to Russia’s authoritarian ruler match Trump’s own praise for Putin. Putin — whose project of undermining his western antagonists by any means has often included support for right-wing populists — last year called Trump a “bright and talented” figure, and Russia’s propaganda outlets have amplified the American’s campaign. Trump responded to Putin’s praise in kind, saying that “he’s running his country and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country,” and avoided condemning the murders of journalists in Putin’s Russia.

Make Russia Great Again, an editorial in the NY Daily News, explains more:

Is it a coincidence that Russian state-controlled media are cheering on Trump at every turn?

Is it a coincidence that top Trump foreign policy adviser Michael Flynn, a former general vetted for a spot on his ticket, sat near Putin at a celebration for the Russian propaganda outlet RT?

Is it a coincidence that Trump’s business has increasingly relied on loans from Russian sources, and, in 2008, Donald Trump Jr. told a real estate conference that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross section of a lot of our assets”?

Josh Marshall has even more on Trump’s top foreign policy adviser, Carter Page:

Trump’s foreign policy advisor on Russia and Europe is Carter Page, a man whose entire professional career has revolved around investments in Russia and who has deep and continuing financial and employment ties to Gazprom. If you’re not familiar with Gazprom, imagine if most or all of the US energy industry were rolled up into a single company and it were personally controlled by the US President who used it as a source of revenue and patronage. That is Gazprom’s role in the Russian political and economic system. It is no exaggeration to say that you cannot be involved with Gazprom at the very high level which Page has been without being wholly in alignment with Putin’s policies. Those ties also allow Putin to put Page out of business at any time.

Trump’s policies are a gift to Moscow

Franklin Foer in

“Putin’s Puppet: If the Russian president could design a candidate to undermine American interests — and advance his own — he’d look a lot like Donald Trump.”

Donald Trump is like the Kremlin’s favored candidates, only more so. He celebrated the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU. He denounces NATO with feeling. He is also a great admirer of Vladimir Putin. Trump’s devotion to the Russian president has been portrayed as buffoonish enthusiasm for a fellow macho strongman. But Trump’s statements of praise amount to something closer to slavish devotion. In 2007, he praised Putin for “rebuilding Russia.” A year later he added, “He does his work well. Much better than our Bush.” When Putin ripped American exceptionalism in a New York Times op-ed in 2013, Trump called it “a masterpiece.” Despite ample evidence, Trump denies that Putin has assassinated his opponents: “In all fairness to Putin, you’re saying he killed people. I haven’t seen that.” In the event that such killings have transpired, they can be forgiven: “At least he’s a leader.” And not just any old head of state: “I will tell you that, in terms of leadership, he’s getting an A.”

And don’t forget that just last week, Donald Trump told the New York Times that if Putin invades our NATO allies in Europe, President Trump may just let him, and not respond. You know that Putin was salivating over that one.

What’s Putin’s motivation, beyond having his own puppet as US president?

Putin hates Hillary. From Politico Europe.

When mass protests against Russian President Vladimir Putin erupted in Moscow in December 2011, Putin made clear who he thought was really behind them: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

With the protesters accusing Putin of having rigged recent elections, the Russian leader pointed an angry finger at Clinton, who had issued a statement sharply critical of the voting results. “She said they were dishonest and unfair,” Putin fumed in public remarks, saying that Clinton gave “a signal” to demonstrators working “with the support of the U.S. State Department” to undermine his power. “We need to safeguard ourselves from this interference in our internal affairs,” Putin declared.

Five years later, Putin may be seeking revenge against Clinton.

Finally, there’s Wikileaks’ role in all of this

The final issue is Wikileaks’ role in all of this.

I’ve always feared that Wikileaks had an agenda that goes beyond simply publishing “secret information” to “bring important new and information to light.” I always suspected a vein of anti-Americanism was motivating Wikileaks. And with this latest leak, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange made clear that his intentions were hardly pure. Assange is in this to destroy Hillary Clinton, and make her lose the presidency.

From the NYT:

The emails were released by WikiLeaks, whose founder, Julian Assange has made it clear that he hoped to harm Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the presidency.

In a separate NYT story, Assange detailed why he preferred Trump over Clinton as president, and that he was releasing the emails in order to hurt Hillary’s electoral chances:

Six weeks before the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks published an archive of hacked Democratic National Committee emails ahead of the Democratic convention, the organization’s founder, Julian Assange, foreshadowed the release — and made it clear that he hoped to harm Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the presidency….

In the interview, Mr. Assange told a British television host, Robert Peston of the ITV network, that his organization had obtained “emails related to Hillary Clinton which are pending publication,” which he pronounced “great.” He also suggested that he not only opposed her candidacy on policy grounds, but also saw her as a personal foe.

At one point, Mr. Peston said: “Plainly, what you are saying, what you are publishing, hurts Hillary Clinton. Would you prefer Trump to be president?”

Mr. Assange replied that what Mr. Trump would do as president was “completely unpredictable.” By contrast, he thought it was predictable that Mrs. Clinton would wield power in two ways he found problematic.

Then you have the fact that Wikileaks helped Edward Snowden escape to Russia. In retrospect, it’s awfully interesting, in view of what we know now about the DNC leak and Wikileaks’ role in publishing it, that Wikileaks and Assange had the ties to Putin’s government that permitted them to get Snowden asylum.

And Wikileaks was also able to get its hands on the DNC emails that Russian intelligence apparently stole.

And now Julian Assange is, apparently by his own words, trying to throw our election to Donald Trump; while Russian intelligence may be doing the same.

Like I said, awfully interesting.

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CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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