Regardless of whether they had American accomplices, the specter of an influential foreign intervention in the election is rightly concerning. But some people refuse to accept that there was a Russian interference effort. The most influential of them, of course, is President Trump, who has at times said he accepted the conclusion of Russian involvement—as most of his aides do—but at other times has continued to reject it as a “hoax” and an excuse used by Democrats to explain their loss.
He has been aided by the fact that accepting the charge of Russian involvement has largely required trusting the Intelligence Community’s conclusions. The IC’s assessment is based on lots of vague information—references to common approaches, or similar use of the same suite of software. In other cases, it appears to be based on information that the IC says, reasonably, it cannot disclose lest it reveal sources and methods. Just as reasonably, there are people who are reluctant to accept the IC’s assessment based mostly on faith, pointing to examples of intelligence failures and chicanery.
The AP story is interesting because it provides a raft of fresh, circumstantial, public evidence of Russian involvement. It’s based on data from Secureworks, a cybersecurity firm, which found a public account on bit.ly, the link shortener, which Fancy Bear was using to disguise malicious links to send in phishing emails between March 2015 and May 2016. Using that data, the AP was able to derive 4,700 Gmail addresses that Fancy Bear had targeted. The inventory of people targeted reads like a hit list of Russian government targets: American diplomats; retired American generals; current and former Ukrainian officials, including the president and his family; the exiled Kremlin-critical oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky; a member of Pussy Riot; and so on.
Most of the targets were in countries that are the focus of intense Russian interest—Russia, of course, as well as the U.S., Ukraine, Georgia, and Syria. Within the U.S.:
the list skewed toward workers for defense contractors such as Boeing, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin or senior intelligence figures, prominent Russia watchers, and—especially—Democrats. More than 130 party workers, campaign staffers, and supporters of the party were targeted, including [Clinton campaign chairman John] Podesta and other members of Clinton’s inner circle.
“Many of the targets have little in common except that they would have been crossing the Kremlin’s radar,” the AP noted. There was another intriguing clue: More than 95 percent of the links were generated during the hours of the workday in Moscow.
The Journal story does not deliver quite the same immediate satisfaction, but the prospect of charges, which it says could come next year, implies that the Justice Department has evidence that it can present publicly, going beyond the IC’s vague assurances. “If filed, the case would provide the clearest picture yet of the actors behind the DNC intrusion,” the paper notes.