It was a bombshell. Operatives from two Russian spy agencies had infiltrated computers of the Democratic National Committee, months before the US national election. One agency — nicknamed Cozy Bear by cybersecurity company CrowdStrike — used a tool that was “ingenious in its simplicity and power” to insert malicious code into the DNC’s computers, CrowdStrike’s Chief Technology Officer Dmitri Alperovitch wrote in a June blog post. The other group, nicknamed Fancy Bear, remotely grabbed control of the DNC’s computers. By October, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Election Security agreed that Russia was behind the DNC hack. On Dec. 29, those agencies, together with the FBI, issued a joint statement reaffirming that conclusion. And a week later, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence summarized its findings (PDF) in a declassified (read: scrubbed) report. Even President Donald Trump acknowledged, “It was Russia,” a few days later — although he told “Face the Nation” earlier this week it “could’ve been China.”
Don’t expect FBI Director James Comey to reveal much about the bureau’s months-long investigation of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia when he speaks publicly before members of Congress on Wednesday. In fact, there’s no guarantee Comey and his agency will ever fully lay bare those findings for the American public, because such investigations rarely end in criminal charges that offer a full picture. Some measure of information will certainly come to light through multiple congressional investigations. And political pressure will fall on Comey and the Justice Department to make public what investigators have learned.
On May 25, 2014, Russian state broadcaster Channel One reported the winner of the day’s presidential election in Ukraine: with a surprising 37 percent plurality, Dmytro Yarosh, leader of the extreme-right paramilitary group Right Sector, would be the new Ukrainian president. According to Channel One, previous favorite Petro Poroshenko received only 29 percent of the vote. These numbers were particularly unexpected because only 0.7 percent of voters had voted for Yarosh, versus the 54.7 percent who had voted for Poroshenko — numbers that news outlets in Ukraine and elsewhere were accurately reporting. Barely a half-hour prior to the announcement of the election results, a cybersecurity team at Ukraine’s Central Election Commission (CEC) removed a virus that had been deployed in its computers. That virus was designed to total 37 percent of votes for Yarosh, and 29 percent for Poroshenko.
A veteran federal prosecutor from Northern Virginia has been tapped to temporarily oversee the Justice Department division handling the ongoing probe into Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election. Dana Boente’s new assignment as Justice’s acting attorney general for national security comes fast on the heels of his most recent high-profile task: serving as the acting deputy attorney general. Rod Rosenstein was sworn in as Justice’s No. 2 official on Wednesday, freeing Boente of those responsibilities. Boente had also unexpectedly became the acting attorney general for a time earlier this year after the holdover Obama appointee was fired by President Donald Trump.
The UK government was given details last December of allegedly extensive contacts between the Trump campaign and Moscow, according to court papers. Reports by Christopher Steele, a former MI6 officer, on possible collusion between the the Trump camp and the Kremlin are at the centre of a political storm in the US over Moscow’s role in getting Donald Trump elected. It was not previously known that the UK intelligence services had also received the dossier but Steele confirmed in a court filing earlier this month that he handed a memorandum compiled in December to a “senior UK government national security official acting in his official capacity, on a confidential basis in hard copy form”.
National: House Intelligence Committee reportedly agrees on witness list for Russia probe | Business Insider
The House Intelligence Committee has agreed on a witness list of between 36 and 48 people for its investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, CNN reported Wednesday night. Included on the list are current and former associates of President Donald Trump believed to have been in contact with Russian officials during the campaign or transition period. According to CNN’s Anderson Cooper, the list includes Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser; Roger Stone, a Trump confidant; Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser; and Carter Page, an early Trump campaign adviser. … The full committee has also now gained access to the classified intelligence documents Nunes said he obtained from a source on White House grounds last month, according to CNN. Nunes sparked bipartisan outcry and came under intense scrutiny when he briefed Trump on the documents directly without first sharing them with Schiff.
National: Holder: Trump’s election fraud claims are laying foundation for voter suppression | The Hill
Former Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday tore into President Trump’s claims of rampant voter fraud, saying the allegations have laid a foundation for voter suppression and more restrictive voter identification laws. “The vote fraud mantra is said so often — it’s almost said robotically — that some people have unthinkingly begun to believe that the issue is real,” Holder said at a National Action Network conference in New York City. “And with recent claims by Mr. Trump of ‘rigged elections’ based on fraud, again without any proof, save the bluster of the candidate, this mistaken belief in voter fraud becomes almost hardwired,” he continued.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said Thursday that Russian meddling in U.S. elections could become “normalized” if the government does not further respond to Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential contest. Shaheen doubled down on her push for an independent investigation of Russia’s actions and more sanctions on Moscow in a speech at the Center for American Progress Action Fund on Thursday afternoon. “If Russia gets a pass on 2016, it could interfere in future U.S. elections not only at the presidential level but at the House and Senate level,” Shaheen said.
Facebook says some groups tried to use its platform to sway the outcome of the U.S. presidential election. In a case study of the 2016 presidential election, the company said it found several instances of “information operations,” its term for governments and organizations who attempt to sway political opinion by spreading fake news and other nefarious tactics. The case study was included in Facebook’s white paper on “information operations.” It also detailed ways it was combating “fake news” and other misinformation spread by adding new technologies and creating more security features.
Mike Conaway, the Republican who replaced Devin Nunes as head of the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. election, has described his mission simply: “I just want to find out what happened,” he’s said. The more urgent question elsewhere in the world, however, isn’t confined to the past. It concerns what is happening—not just in the United States but in European democracies as well. In the Netherlands, Dutch authorities counted paper ballots in a recent election by hand to prevent foreign governments—and Russia in particular—from manipulating the results through cyberattacks. In Denmark, the defense minister has accused the Russian government of carrying out a two-year campaign to infiltrate email accounts at his ministry. In the United Kingdom, a parliamentary committee reports that it cannot “rule out” the possibility that “foreign interference” caused a voter-registration site to crash ahead of Britain’s referendum on EU membership. And in France, a cybersecurity firm has just discovered that suspected Russian hackers are targeting the leading presidential candidate. “We are increasingly concerned about cyber-enabled interference in democratic political processes,” representatives from the Group of Seven—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K., and the U.S.—declared after meeting in Italy earlier this month. Russia, a member of the group until it was kicked out for annexing Crimea, wasn’t mentioned in the statement. It didn’t need to be. The subtext was clear.
National: Russian hackers heavily targeted news outlet in days before U.S. election, researchers say | Cyberscoop
Hackers working for the Russian government sent a barrage of targeted phishing emails between 2014 and 2016 to employees of major news outlets, and they focused particularly on Al Jazeera in the days before and shortly following the U.S. presidential election, according to new research by cybersecurity firm Trend Micro. It’s unclear exactly why the elite team of hackers — known as APT-28, Fancy Bear or Pawn Storm — focused so heavily on the Qatar-based, state-funded global broadcaster during that short window. Like other news agencies targeted over the longer two-year span, including the New York Times and Buzzfeed, the award-winning outlet covered the election in detail and dedicated a section of its website to election-night coverage.
Rep. Mike Conaway, the House’s new top Russia investigator, is telling lawmakers on the Intelligence Committee that they should expect to be in Washington more than usual as the beleaguered probe gets a reboot, panel members said after a closed-door meeting Wednesday. Committee Democrats welcomed Conaway’s remarks, describing the Texas Republican as a “straight-shooter” who was committed to a thorough, bipartisan investigation into Russia’s interference in the presidential election, including the possibility of collusion with the Trump campaign.
Two Obama administration officials will testify in an open hearing before the House Intelligence Committee as part of ongoing investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russia attempted to help Donald Trump win the election. Investigations by the House, Senate and FBI are examining what exactly Russia did and whether the Trump campaign was involved, among other questions. Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper are scheduled to appear before the House committee on May 8. It’s a long-delayed hearing. Yates and Clapper, along with former CIA Director John Brennan, were originally scheduled to testify in late March, but those plans were scuttled amid a simmering soap opera of distrust and missteps within the House committee.
The Senate’s main investigation into allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election is equipped with a much smaller staff than previous high-profile intelligence and scandal probes in Congress, which could potentially affect its progress, according to sources and a Reuters review of public records. With only seven staff members initially assigned to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s three-month-old investigation, progress has been sluggish and minimal, said two sources with direct knowledge of the matter, who requested anonymity. A committee aide, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said two more staff members were being added and a few others were involved less formally.
The Senate Intelligence Committee is hiring two new staffers for its investigation into Russian interference in the US election, the top Democrat on the Senate Russia investigation told CNN on Monday. The additional staffers — including one Republican and one Democrat, versed in the National Security Agency collection tactics — come as some sources on the committee have grumbled behind the scenes about the pace of the investigation. Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, said investigators obtained a large batch of documents they requested just before Congress went on break and have completed 27 interviews as part of their investigation.
In more innocent times, the rise of the Internet was seen by many people as a boon to democracy. Disruptive, yes, but the Web broadened the flow of information, introduced new voices into the political debates, empowered citizens and even provided a powerful fundraising tool for some lesser-known candidates such as Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders. Now, in what are clearly less innocent times, the Internet is viewed as a far less benign force. It can be a haven for spreading fake news and rewarding the harshest and most divisive of political rhetoric. It is a medium, for all its benefits, that has dark corners populated by anonymous actors (some not even real people) whose influence appears to be growing but not easily measured.
National: Comey Tried to Shield the F.B.I. From Politics. Then He Shaped an Election. | The New York Times
The day before he upended the 2016 election, James B. Comey, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, summoned agents and lawyers to his conference room. They had been debating all day, and it was time for a decision. Mr. Comey’s plan was to tell Congress that the F.B.I. had received new evidence and was reopening its investigation into Hillary Clinton, the presidential front-runner. The move would violate the policies of an agency that does not reveal its investigations or do anything that may influence an election. But Mr. Comey had declared the case closed, and he believed he was obligated to tell Congress that had changed. “Should you consider what you’re about to do may help elect Donald Trump president?” an adviser asked him, Mr. Comey recalled recently at a closed meeting with F.B.I. agents. He could not let politics affect his decision, he replied. “If we ever start considering who might be affected, and in what way, by what we do, we’re done,” he told the agents.
The White House does not have any immediate timeline for President Donald Trump’s voter fraud investigation and the commission he was adamant about creating during his first few weeks in office, even as the administration approaches the end of its 100 days. White House press secretary Sean Spicer told CNN that he expects something on the commission within the “next week or two, but I don’t want to get ahead of that.” Spicer said there would not be an executive order (as the President originally wanted) and in lieu of that there would be a commission headed up by Vice President Mike Pence. Spicer did say that the vice president will still be “very involved” in the investigation.
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s probe into Russia’s election interference is supposedly the best hope for getting the public credible answers about whether there was any coordination between the Kremlin and Trump Tower. But there are serious reasons to doubt that it can accomplish this task, as currently configured. More than three months after the committee announced that it had agreed on the scope of the investigation, the panel has not begun substantially investigating possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, three individuals with ties to the committee told The Daily Beast. The investigation does not have a single staffer dedicated to it full-time, and those staff members working on it part-time do not have significant investigative experience. The probe currently appears to be moving at a pace slower than prior Senate Intelligence Committee investigations, such as the CIA torture inquiry, which took years to accomplish.
A previously canceled House Intelligence Committee hearing to receive testimony from three former top Obama administration officials about Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 election is back on for next month. The panel said Friday it had invited Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general fired by President Trump, former Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper and former CIA Director John Brennan, to testify sometime after May 2 in an open hearing after their original testimony was abruptly canceled in March by Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Tulare). The announcement indicates that the panel’s Russia investigation, which was thrown into turmoil last month after Nunes stepped aside as head of the probe following allegations he may have improperly disclosed classified information, is getting back on track.
A Russian government think tank controlled by Vladimir Putin developed a plan to swing the 2016 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump and undermine voters’ faith in the American electoral system, three current and four former U.S. officials told Reuters. They described two confidential documents from the think tank as providing the framework and rationale for what U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded was an intensive effort by Russia to interfere with the Nov. 8 election. U.S. intelligence officials acquired the documents, which were prepared by the Moscow-based Russian Institute for Strategic Studies [en.riss.ru/], after the election. The institute is run by retired senior Russian foreign intelligence officials appointed by Putin’s office. The first Russian institute document was a strategy paper written last June that circulated at the highest levels of the Russian government but was not addressed to any specific individuals. It recommended the Kremlin launch a propaganda campaign on social media and Russian state-backed global news outlets to encourage U.S. voters to elect a president who would take a softer line toward Russia than the administration of then-President Barack Obama, the seven officials said. A second institute document, drafted in October and distributed in the same way, warned that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was likely to win the election. For that reason, it argued, it was better for Russia to end its pro-Trump propaganda and instead intensify its messaging about voter fraud to undermine the U.S. electoral system’s legitimacy and damage Clinton’s reputation in an effort to undermine her presidency, the seven officials said.
Partisan Gerrymandering – the practice of drawing voting districts to give one political party an unfair edge—is one of the few political issues that voters of all stripes find common cause in condemning. Voters should choose their elected officials, the thinking goes, rather than elected officials choosing their voters. The Supreme Court agrees, at least in theory: In 1986 it ruled that partisan gerrymandering, if extreme enough, is unconstitutional. Yet in that same ruling, the court declined to strike down two Indiana maps under consideration, even though both “used every trick in the book,” according to a paper in theUniversity of Chicago Law Review. And in the decades since then, the court has failed to throw out a single map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. “If you’re never going to declare a partisan gerrymander, what is it that’s unconstitutional?” said Wendy K. Tam Cho, a political scientist and statistician at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
A high-level official at the Department of Justice tasked with investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election has announced that she will leave the DOJ in May, leaving a key position in the department’s National Security Division unfilled as President Donald Trump’s political appointees await confirmation in the Senate. Mary McCord, the acting assistant attorney general of the division, did not provide a reason when she told her staff that she would be leaving in May, according to NPR. She said “the time is now right for me to pursue new career opportunities.” McCord’s departure has raised questions about the future of the Trump-Russia probe, which will be in the hands of Trump’s deputy attorney general nominee, Rod Rosenstein, if and when he is confirmed. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from Trump campaign-related investigations last month amid revelations that he failed to disclose two meetings he had with Russia’s ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, in 2016.
Lawyers for the Socialist Workers Party said the party shouldn’t have to show the party faces “serious” threats of harassment and reprisals in order to be exempt from Federal Election Commission disclosure rules. Extensive written comments filed by party lawyers ahead of an April 20 FEC open meeting sought to persuade the commissioners they should extend the party’s unique, decades-old exemption from campaign finance law requirements to disclose donors and vendors. The fringe party’s long history of persecution should be enough for a continued waiver from having to disclose, the comments said, despite arguments that recent incidents have been few and relatively minor.
Recently, several members and staffers on the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russia’s role in the Presidential election, visited the National Security Agency, in Fort Meade, Maryland. Inside the enormous black glass headquarters of America’s largest spy agency, the congressmen and their aides were shown a binder of two to three dozen pages of highly classified intercepts, mostly transcripts of conversations between foreign government officials that took place during the Presidential transition. These intercepts were not related to the heart of the committee’s Russia investigation. In fact, only one of the documents had anything to do with Russia, according to an official who reviewed them. What the intercepts all had in common is that the people being spied on made references to Donald Trump or to Trump officials. That wasn’t even clear, though, from reading the transcripts. The names of any Americans were concealed, or “masked,” the intelligence community’s term for redacting references to Americans who are not the legal targets of surveillance when such intelligence reports are distributed to policy makers.
National: Former Obama homeland security adviser: Election-style hacks ‘bound’ to happen again | The Hill
A former adviser to President Obama predicts that nation-states and others will try to use cyber intrusions to disrupt future election processes and “weaponize” data as Russia did during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The hacks targeting high-level Democratic Party officials marked a “new threshold” in cyber activity, Lisa Monaco, who advised Obama on homeland security and counterterrorism, told CNN commentator David Axelrod on his podcast “The Axe Files.” “We in the United States have entered a new threshold and crossed into a new threshold where we have state actors and others trying to use these cyber tools in new ways to intrude in our election process, to weaponize information,” Monaco said.
National: Mike Conaway Emerges From Relative Obscurity to Lead House Russia Inquiry | The New York Times
President Trump does not know Mike Conaway. A Republican congressman from a long brush stroke of West Texas, Mr. Conaway recalled meeting with him at the White House with other House Republicans. And he has shaken hands with Mr. Trump, a “standard, 500-people-on-a-rope-line, shaken-hand kind of thing.” “He wouldn’t know me from third base,” Mr. Conaway said. Whether he has exchanged pleasantries with the president may not have mattered before, but it does now. Mr. Conaway is taking over the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election. He is replacing Representative Devin Nunes, the California Republican whose suspiciously cozy relationship with Mr. Trump derailed the inquiry before he was ultimately forced to step aside.
National: How will Big Data change gerrymandering? Both parties are eager to know what you do online | Salon
When you exit the Pennsylvania Turnpike just north of Pennsylvania, on Main Street in working-class Norristown, you’re in the overwhelmingly Democratic 13th congressional district — at least for a couple of miles. The help-wanted signs are in Spanish; people walk past the Premier Barber Institute, bail bondsmen, and the 99-cent stores wearing branded short-sleeve shirts from their chain-store jobs. But come around a corner and up and hill and suddenly the neighborhoods turn leafy and green. Suburban-looking dads walk large dogs with flowing tresses. The houses are lovely and set back from the road. This three-quarter-mile stretch is in one of the nation’s most infamously gerrymandered districts, Pennsylvania’s reliably Republican seventh, a one-time swing district so wildly drawn that it resembles Donald Duck kicking Goofy. Signs warn drivers not to tailgate.
After every new US census, states have to redraw their congressional districts to divide up their populations fairly. But in practice, these districts don’t always end up equal: Federal judges recently ordered Wisconsin lawmakers to redraw maps of the state’s legislative districts, after finding the districts had been shaped to favor Republican candidates. Allegations of gerrymandering are also playing out in states like Texas and North Carolina. So what does a gerrymandered district even look like on a map? More like a carved-out jigsaw piece than a rounded blot, as it turns out. But as Tufts University mathematician Moon Duchin explains, gerrymandering can be difficult to prove, even when something about a district’s shape seems fishy. “We’ve had justices saying that, ‘We know a bizarre, irrational shape when we see it, but we don’t know what precisely should the threshold be which makes a shape too tortured, or irregular, or unreasonable,’” she says. (Take a closer look at district shapes across the US.)
Britain’s spy agencies played a crucial role in alerting their counterparts in Washington to contacts between members of Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives, the Guardian has been told. GCHQ first became aware in late 2015 of suspicious “interactions” between figures connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents, a source close to UK intelligence said. This intelligence was passed to the US as part of a routine exchange of information, they added. Over the next six months, until summer 2016, a number of western agencies shared further information on contacts between Trump’s inner circle and Russians, sources said. The European countries that passed on electronic intelligence – known as sigint – included Germany, Estonia and Poland. Australia, a member of the “Five Eyes” spying alliance that also includes the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand, also relayed material, one source said.