Thursday, April 18, 2019

Echidne Reads the Mueller Report. Volume One.

I just finished reading the first half of the report which covers the Mueller investigation into possible collusion between people in the Trump campaign and various agents of the Russian government.

Even with all the blacked-out bits the report makes for slow reading.  It begins by reminding the reader that "collusion" is a fuzzy concept, not strictly defined in federal law, and that the Mueller team used the term "conspiracy" in its place.

And the team could not prove, to its satisfaction,  that such conspiracy existed between the agents of the Russian government and the agents of the Trump campaign or Trump himself.

But there were many characters who tried to arrange meetings between Russian agents and the Trump campaign, and sometimes succeeded, there were several attempts at creating hidden backdoor connections between the president-elect Trump and Vlad (The Impaler) Putin, and a handful of pretty shady people tried to exploit politics to further their own business interests and vice versa.

What struck me most about this first volume is how very clearly it states that the Russian government was behind the different forms of cyber warfare aimed at Hillary Clinton's candidacy and, more importantly, at directly affecting the 2016 US elections:


1.  The hacking of the various Democratic Party computers, the theft of emails stolen from the DNC and from the chairman of the Clinton campaign and the later publication of those emails, both directly and by passing them on to Wikileaks:  All that was done by the GRU, Russia's military intelligence agency*:

In sum, the investigation established that the GRU hacked into email accounts of persons affiliated with the Clinton Campaign, as well as the computers of the DNC and DCCC. The GRU then exfiltrated data related to the 2016 election from these accounts and computers, and disseminated that data through fictitious online personas (DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0) and later through WikiLeaks.

2.  The GRU also targeted the computers of individuals and organizations which administer elections in the US, including state boards of elections, secretaries of state, county governments and people working for those entities.  It also targeted private technology firms which make and manage election-related software, such as electronic polling stations and voter registration software**:

Unit 74455 also sent spear phishing emails to public officials involved in election administration and personnel at companies involved in voting technology. In August 2016, GRUofficers targeted employees of , a voting technology company that developed software used by numerous U.S. counties to manage voter rolls, and installed malware on the company network. 

Similarly, in November 2016, the GRU sent spear phishing emails to over 120 email accounts used by Florida county officials responsible for administering the 2016 U.S. election.'The spear phishing emails contained an attached Word document coded with malicious software (commonly referred to as a Trojan) that permitted the GRU to access the infected computer.192
The FBI was separately responsible for this investigation. We understand the FBI believes that this operation enabled the GRU to gain access to the network of at least one Florida county government. The Office did not independently verify that belief and, as explained above, did not undertake the investigative steps that would have been necessary to do so

3.   The Russian manipulation of US social media, to influence the 2016 elections outcome, was carried out by

...the Internet ResearchAgency, LLC (IRA), a Russian organization funded by Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin and companies he controlled, including Concord Management and Consulting LLC and Concord Catering (collectively "Concord").2 

The IRA conducted social media operations targeted at large U.S. audiences with the goal of sowing discord in the U.S. political system.3 These operations constituted "active measures" (aicrimime meponpkurrm), a term that typically refers to operations conducted by Russian security services aimed at influencing the course of international affairs.4
IRA activities in the US are estimated to have ultimately reached as many as 126 million people.  Their main object concerning the 2016 elections was to guarantee that Hillary Clinton would not be elected.

The discussion of the IRA in the report has much of the text blacked out. This means that I cannot give you a quote which conclusively links the activities of the IRA to the Russian government.  Still, it would be hard to think of an alternative explanation for IRA's existence.


None of the above is completely new information, but seeing it put together in one place made me realize how very unlikely it is that all that hacking never directly affected the 2016 election results.

As my final comment on the first volume of the Mueller report, read this wonderful little cameo about the kinds of problems Mueller's team might have faced when looking for evidence on conspiracy and similar schemes.  It's about  communications between Stephen Bannon and Erik Prince:

The conflicting accounts provided by Bannon and Prince could not be independently clarified by reviewing their communications, because neither one was able to produce any of the messages they exchanged in the time period surrounding the Seychelles meeting. Prince's phone contained no text messages prior to March 2017, though provider records indicate that he and Bannon exchanged dozens of messages."' Prince denied deleting any messages but claimed he did not know why there were no messages on his device before March 2017.1095 Bannon's devices similarly contained no messages in the relevant time period, and Bannon also stated he did not know why messages did not appear on his device.


* All quotes in this post are to the redacted Mueller report.

**The number in that quote refers to the military unit of the GRU which carried out the computer hacking:

Two military units of the GRU carried out the computer intrusions into the Clinton Campaign, DNC, and DCCC: Military Units 26165 and 74455. 

Military Unit 26165 is a GRU cyber unit dedicated to targeting military, political, governmental, and non-governmentalorganizations outside of Russia, including in the United States.

Military Unit 74455 is a related GRU unit with multiple departments that engaged in cyber operations. Unit 74455 assisted in the release of documents stolen by Unit 26165, the promotion of those releases, and the publication of anti-Clinton content on social media accounts operated by the GRU. Officers from Unit 74455 separately hacked computers belonging to state boards of elections, secretaries of state, and U.S. companies that supplied software and other technology related to the administration of U.S. elections