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An NSA leak appears to show Russian measures

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS) Published: June 9, 2017 4:00 AM

The latest piece in the puzzle that constitutes Russian involvement in America's 2016 elections appeared on Monday. Evidence turned up indicating that probably Russian hackers last year penetrated the communications of an American software company, VR Systems, which potentially gave them access to local election officials' communications.

For most Americans, the critical pieces of that puzzle remain as follows: First, what did the Russians actually do last year in our elections? Second, which Americans were involved in the Russians' activities? Third, what was their motivation -- wishing to establish useful contacts with Russia for the future, seeking Russian help in winning the 2016 contest or money? Fourth, and most important, what do we need to do to keep them out of future American elections?

It's not that good, cooperative relations with Russia and its czar-like president, Vladimir Putin, are not potentially useful, even valuable, to the United States. It is rather that the integrity of American democracy depends to no small degree on keeping foreign powers out of them. Choosing our leaders is for us to do.

This most recent piece in the puzzle involves an employee of contractor Pluribus International allegedly handing over a top-secret document to The Intercept, the online publication co-founded by Glenn Greenwald, the lawyer and journalist who was a pivotal figure in publishing leaks from NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The document indicated that National Security Agency communications revealed in May that Russians hacked into the communications of VR Systems, giving the Russians access to some 122 local American election officials in eight states, including possible access to voter registration lists. What the Russians did with what they got from their access isn't yet clear.

The employee charged with handing over the documentation is an Air Force veteran named Reality Leigh Winner. The 25-year-old woman, who served as a linguist in the Air Force and held top-secret security clearance, appears to have taken an old-school approach: printing out the document and mailing it to a news organization. (Neither The Intercept nor NSA is specified in the government affidavit against Winner.)

The most damning aspect of the report, according Intercept reporters, is that it "displays no doubt that the cyber assault was carried out by the GRU," Russia's military intelligence unit. That is "sharply at odds" with statements by Putin last week, suggesting that some brave Russian patriots might have engaged in hacking. At the same time, The Intercept's reporting points to the hall-of-mirrors aspect of espionage, quoting a U.S. intelligence officer who "cautioned against drawing too big a conclusion from the document because a single analysis is not necessarily definitive."

-- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


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Ian_Maserb Jun 10, 2017 1:42 PM

Can you say "weazel word" as in "probably", "potentially", "allegedly", etc. There are so many weazel words in this article that it says nothing.