Was Putin’s bad blood with Clinton behind DNC hacking?

Friday’s Wikileaks dump of 20,000 Democratic National Committee emails has roiled the political unity waters and may all be tied to Hillary Clinton’s past criticism of Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Hari Sreenivasan speaks with Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, and Thomas Rid, professor at King's College, London about what appears to be game-changing meddling in American politics.

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    Let's dig into now to the details of that DNC hack we were talking about and the motivation behind it.

    Hari Sreenivasan is in Washington with that story.


    Thanks, Judy.

    For that, I spoke earlier this evening with former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul. He's now a professor at Stanford University. And Thomas Rid, who joins us via Skype from Austria. He is a professor at King's College London. He has written extensively about cyber-attacks and digital security, most recently in his book "The Rise of the Machines."

    Gentlemen, thanks for joining us.

  • THOMAS RID, King’s College London:


    MICHAEL MCFAUL, Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia: Great to be here.


    Thomas, I want to start with you.

    First, lay out the evidence for us. We have heard that this is the Russian government. How do we know that this was Russia? How do we know that this is a sophisticated act that might take a state actor?


    So, there are two bits of the evidence.

    The first is, who hacked the DNC? The second is, who gave the e-mails to WikiLeaks? On the first stage, who hacked the DNC, imagine a burglary, and you find the fingerprints in a house, and then you find the same in another house, and you know who breached in one house, but not the other.

    That's a bit the situation that we're having here. So, we have I.P. addresses. We have server infrastructure. We have SSL certificates, so quite strong evidence to say that the DNC was actually hacked by groups that are associated with Russia.


    Well, Michael McFaul, are you convinced that it was Russia? Is this the way that they operate?


    Well, first, more generally, Russia has tremendous capability in this domain.

    I worked in the government for five years. I witnessed it. I saw it. And we should all just say that first. Second, the reports that we have, just like Thomas just said, are very suggestive that it was two different Russian entities. The organization, the company that investigated it, CrowdStrike, was rather definitive in their analysis that they published a month ago, by the way, not just a few days ago.

    And now today, we have many senior U.S. government officials also confirming that they have strong suspicions that it was these Russian entities.


    Mr. Rid, I want to ask, is this consistent with previous hacks that the Russian government might have orchestrated?

    Does this fall within their definition of what is allowed within how they carry out cyber-warfare?


    So, the Russian government and intelligence community have been hacking and breaching adversary computer networks for a very long time, literally for 20 years this year.

    But this is the first time they have breached a system and didn't just exfiltrate, take out data, but then started putting those files into the public domain in order to affect, in this case, a Democratic election campaign. That's new. That's a game-changer, I think.

    So, stealing, yes, but dumping into the public domain, that, we haven't seen before.

    Can I just add a bit of international perspective here? We have the same entity that was caught in the DNC's networks was also caught in the German Parliament, in the Bundestag, in May 2015. The same entity was caught in a French TV station and actually just interrupted their programming around the same time.

    It was caught in other European military networks. And the attribution was actually quite strong in those cases. The German government has come out publicly and pointed the finger at Russian military intelligence.


    Michael McFaul, why would Russia want to do this? What are their interests in publicizing this intel, if they were in fact the ones that acquired it in the first place?


    I think there are two different kinds of arguments to think about here.

    One is the policy argument. There's no question in my mind that the Kremlin, President Putin and others have said this rather clearly, in my view, that they prefer Trump to Clinton, in terms of his policies. He said things that they like.

    But there is another element that I don't think has gotten as much attention, and that is that this is also personal. If you go back and you look at what Vladimir Putin and others said back during their last electoral round, they criticized Secretary Clinton personally for what they alleged was her meddling in their internal affairs.

    She criticized a parliamentary election back in December 2011. She said it wasn't free or fair, or had problems. I don't remember the exact statement. And Putin then said she incited — I think the word he used, gave the protesters a signal to come out and protest against him. So Putin's a guy that remembers these things. Maybe that's another explanation for why they're seeking this tit for tat now.


    I want to pick on something you said a little earlier, is that this sort of intelligence tradecraft happens all the time, that we are probably participating in some of it some country somewhere. Is the difference then that it's happening to the United States?


    No, I would put it somewhat differently.

    Let's be candid here. Do we really believe the DNC is the only organization in the United States that the Russians have hacked? No, I don't believe that. They have an active operation here where they're constantly seeking to gather intelligence.

    What's unique about this is that they were caught and that they were exposed, and, number two, the data dump. I mean, that's the thing that is really striking to me. And that it was released on the day before the opening of the Democratic National Convention, that's not just coincidence.


    Thomas Rid?


    I think it's really time for the United States government and the intelligence community in the U.S. to pull its weight and also draw a line here, because, indeed, as Michael McFaul said, this is a very significant incident.

    A lot of countries in Europe are looking at this and thinking, oh, my God, if they get away with doing this to the Americans, what are going to they do to us?


    All right, Thomas Rid, author of "Rise of the Machines," Michael McFaul, former ambassador to Russia, thank you both for joining us.


    Thank you.


    Thank you.


    Thanks, Hari for that conversation.

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