The Obama administration officially blamed Russia Friday for recent political hacks involving the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations.
In a joint statement the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence accuse the most senior levels of the Russian government of authorizing a widespread hacking campaign.
Breaking: DHS & DNI officially accuse Russia of election-related hacks pic.twitter.com/rC1BF4r9Bl
— Mikael Thalen (@MikaelThalen) October 7, 2016
“The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations,” the release reads.
The statement – which notes the involvement of leaking websites in the dissemination of hacked content – argues that the purpose of the cyberattacks is to disrupt the election process.
“The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts,” the statement adds. “These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process.”
The DNC was the first to blame the Russian government last June after an investigation by cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike reportedly identified two sophisticated adversaries known as COZY BEAR and FANCY BEAR.
“We’ve had lots of experience with both of these actors attempting to target our customers in the past and know them well,” CrowdStrike’s Dmitri Alperovitch wrote at the time. “In fact, our team considers them some of the best adversaries out of all the numerous nation-state, criminal and hacktivist/terrorist groups we encounter on a daily basis.”
Only one day later a hacker calling themselves Guccifer 2.0 disputed CrowdStrike’s analysis, alleging responsibility for the hack before leaking DNC documents.
“I guess CrowdStrike customers should think twice about company’s competence,” the hacker said in a June 15 blog post.
Suspicions were raised soon after though as metadata analysis of the alleged Romanian hacker’s documents, which included the DNC’s Trump opposition research, suggested Guccifer 2.0 had used Russian language settings when editing the leaks. The hacker has since been accused of being a hastily created cover identity intended to shift blame away from the Russian state.
DCLeaks, a relatively small publishing site which has also released emails and documents concerning U.S. political figures, has similarly been accused of being a Russian creation given its ties to Guccifer 2.0 and the DNC hackers.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and other Russian government officials have publicly denied involvement in the hacks.
“I know absolutely nothing about it,” Putin told Bloomberg News last month. “Russia has never done anything like this at the state level.”
According to an investigation by BuzzFeed News writer Ali Watkins, the White House just two weeks ago attempted to keep “two of Congress’s top intelligence officials from naming the Kremlin as the originator of the string cyberattacks” over fears of escalating an already tumultuous relationship between East and West.
“The public accusation was of such concern to the administration that White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough was personally involved in the negotiations over releasing it, according to a congressional source,” Watkins writes.
Given the unprecedented nature of the ongoing incident, US officials are now reportedly being forced to “write the playbook” for a response as they go, reports BuzzFeed News’ Sheera Frenkel.
“Actions that the US could take range from placing new sanctions on Russia, to issuing criminal indictments for individuals involved, to taking diplomatic action, such as expelling Russian diplomats from the United States,” Frenkel writes. “And while cybersecurity experts agree that the US is likely already engaged in counter cyber-espionage against Putin’s government, more offensive actions against Russia could be the next step.”
Regardless of who is responsible for the hack and subsequent release of documents, the situation will undoubtedly increase tensions in what many are fearing is a new Cold War.