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The U.S. government links the Russian government to campaign email intrusions. (© Gajus via Fotolia)

The U.S. intelligence community is formally accusing the Russian government of playing a role in email hacks aimed at casting the Democratic Party in an embarrassing light and influencing the presidential election.

In a statement issued today, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said this year’s email disclosures by DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks were consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts.

“We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities,” the agencies said.

The statement also noted that most of the recent attempts to probe state-level election systems have been traced to computer servers operated by a Russian company. “However, we are not now in a position to attribute this activity to the Russian government,” the federal agencies said.

 

An online persona known as Guccifer 2.0 has taken credit for the best-known email leaks, which suggest Democratic National Committee officials were supportive of Hillary Clinton during her primary contest with Sen. Bernie Sanders. Other leaked emails provided personal information about campaign aides.

WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 say they’re not colluding with the Russians, and the Russian government says it’s not behind the hacks. But today’s statement lends support to claims that the intrusions were executed by teams working under the direction of Russian intelligence.

In July, The New York Times quoted outside security experts as saying the operation bore the hallmarks of two teams in particular, known as APT 28 and APT 29, or Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear.

Just today, WikiLeaks released another batch of more than 2,000 emails linked to Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. Those messages address matters such as Clinton’s Wall Street speeches, and in one email, Podesta asks why CNN anchor Jake Tapper is “such a dick.”

Today’s Wikileaks release was eclipsed by a leaked video in which GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump can be heard making coarse comments about women, and about his behavior toward women.

That video may similarly trump today’s statement from the intelligence community. However, the statement leaves a deeper policy question hanging in the air: If Russia is truly interfering in U.S. presidential politics, what will intelligence officials and the White House do about it?

Here is the full statement from the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. intelligence agencies:

“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 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. These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process. Such activity is not new to Moscow — the Russians have used similar tactics and techniques across Europe and Eurasia, for example, to influence public opinion there. We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.

“Some states have also recently seen scanning and probing of their election-related systems, which in most cases originated from servers operated by a Russian company. However, we are not now in a position to attribute this activity to the Russian Government. The USIC and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) assess that it would be extremely difficult for someone, including a nation-state actor, to alter actual ballot counts or election results by cyber attack or intrusion. This assessment is based on the decentralized nature of our election system in this country and the number of protections state and local election officials have in place. States ensure that voting machines are not connected to the Internet, and there are numerous checks and balances as well as extensive oversight at multiple levels built into our election process.

“Nevertheless, DHS continues to urge state and local election officials to be vigilant and seek cybersecurity assistance from DHS. A number of states have already done so. DHS is providing several services to state and local election officials to assist in their cybersecurity. These services include cyber ‘hygiene’ scans of Internet-facing systems, risk and vulnerability assessments, information sharing about cyber incidents, and best practices for securing voter registration databases and addressing potential cyber threats. DHS has convened an Election Infrastructure Cybersecurity Working Group with experts across all levels of government to raise awareness of cybersecurity risks potentially affecting election infrastructure and the elections process. Secretary Johnson and DHS officials are working directly with the National Association of Secretaries of State to offer assistance, share information, and provide additional resources to state and local officials.”

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