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New evidence is emerging that content from the DNC emails accessed by Russian hackers may have been altered before being released to Wikileaks. This added layer of information joined with the timing of the release and Trump’s cozy relationship with Putin paint a picture of deep collusion and planning aimed at fracturing any potential Democratic unity at the most crucial point in the 2016 presidential election cycle.
Thomas Rid at Motherboard Vice reported on the discovery this morning:
The metadata in the leaked documents are perhaps most revealing: one dumped document was modified using Russian language settings, by a user named “Феликс Эдмундович,” a code name referring to the founder of the Soviet Secret Police, the Cheka, memorialised in a 15-ton iron statue in front of the old KGB headquarters during Soviet times. The original intruders made other errors: one leaked document included hyperlink error messages in Cyrillic, the result of editing the file on a computer with Russian language settings. After this mistake became public, the intruders removed the Cyrillic information from the metadata in the next dump and carefully used made-up user names from different world regions, thereby confirming they had made a mistake in the first round.
Then there is the language issue. “I hate being attributed to Russia,” the Guccifer 2.0 account told Motherboard, probably accurately. The person at the keyboard then claimed in a chat with Motherboard’s Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai that Guccifer 2.0 was from Romania, like the original Guccifer, a well-known hacker. But when asked to explain his hack in Romanian, he was unable to respond colloquially and without errors. Guccifer 2.0’s English initially was also weak, but in subsequent posts the quality improved sharply, albeit only on political subjects, not in technical matters—an indication of a team of operators at work behind the scenes.
Rid went on to add:
The metadata show that the Russian operators apparently edited some documents, and in some cases created new documents after the intruders were already expunged from the DNC network on June 11. A file called donors.xls, for instance, was created more than a day after the story came out, on June 15, most likely by copy-pasting an existing list into a clean document.
Although so far the actual content of the leaked documents appears not to have been tampered with, manipulation would fit an established pattern of operational behaviour in other contexts, such as troll farms or planting fake media stories. Subtle (or not so subtle) manipulation of content may be in the interest of the adversary in the future. Documents that were leaked by or through an intelligence operation should be handled with great care, and journalists should not simply treat them as reliable sources.
Adding context to why Putin and the Russian government would go to so much trouble to influence the U.S. presidential elections, NPR reported:
The security firm the party brought in last month to deal with the data breach immediately pointed fingers towardwhat it called “Russian espionage groups.”
“If [it’s a coincidence] it’s a really great coincidence,” said Russia expert Fiona Hill, who directs the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution. “The Russians have a word — ne sluchaino. It means, not accidental. Not by chance.”
Hill said the Russian hackers may not be taking orders directly from Putin, but that they are clearly working with Russian foreign policy interests in mind.
“They don’t have to be run directly by the Kremlin. They can just be encouraged,” Hill said. “They [Russian security services] are very good at knowing how to play our media. We are making this email leak into a huge story, as they knew we would.”
On a personal level, Trump said last fall that he and Putin “would probably get along … very well.” He has repeatedly praised Putin’s strength, particularly when it comes to military intervention in Syria.
Add to that Trump’s fondness for Putin (both as a man and as a hardline leader):
“He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader, you know unlike what we have in this country,” Trump told MSNBC in December.
During his annual end-of-year marathon news conference in December, Putin returned the compliment, calling Trump “a bright personality, a talented person, no doubt.”
“He says that he wants to move to a different level of relations, to a closer, deeper one, with Russia,” Putin said. “How can we not welcome that?”
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.”
Additionally, several of Trump’s close advisers have Russian ties:
And several advisers in Trump’s orbit have close ties to Russia and Russian interests. Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who advises Trump on foreign policy, raised eyebrows in Washington by sitting at a table with Putinduring a gala for the state-run English language news channel Russia Today last year. And Trump’s top adviser, Manafort, has done political consulting work for Ukrainian politicians viewed as allies to Russia.
Even Trump’s vaguely stated policy ideals align with the idea of his collusion with Russia right down to his abhorrence of NATO:
More consequential for Moscow: Trump’s repeated skepticism about the value and strength of the NATO alliance, which formed the pillar of Western Europe and North America’s opposition to the Soviet Union over the past half century.
A central tenet of the North Atlantic treaty is that member states view an attack against one of them as an attack against the entire alliance.
Speaking on the NATO alliance with the New York Times last week, Trump attacked NATO saying:
Asked about Russia’s threatening activities, which have unnerved the small Baltic States that are among the more recent entrants into NATO, Trump said that if Russia attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing if those nations have “fulfilled their obligations to us.”
“If they fulfill their obligations to us,” he added, “the answer is yes.”
In essence, Trump wouldn’t live up to the obligations contained in NATO’s charter. While he didn’t explicitly link this reluctance to his relationship with Putin, the writing is on the wall.
That wasn’t the only occasion in which Trump attacked NATO either. “We pay so much disproportionately more for NATO,” Trump said in March. “We are getting ripped off by every country in NATO, where they pay virtually nothing, most of them. And we’re paying the majority of the costs.”
Trump’s anti-NATO remarks and general isolationist stance would benefit Putin’s agenda at large:
The NATO skepticism plays into a much broader isolationist view that Trump has taken during his campaign, a view that would undoubtedly benefit internationally proactive countries like Russia, if it were carried out by a President Trump.
“The most important difference between our plan and that of our opponents is that our plan will put America first,” Trump said Thursday night during his convention speech. “Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo.”
Which is to say, Americans should regard any “leaks” published by Wikileaks in the coming weeks leading up to the 2016 presidential elections with a grain of salt. After all, Putin has a puppet in his pocket named Trump and a globe full of hackers, spies and allies all aimed at installing that puppet into the White House.