Leaked intel report shows Russian hackers probed US voting systems
WASHINGTON – Agence France-PresseA top secret U.S. report showing that hackers from Russian military intelligence tried repeatedly to break into U.S. voting systems before last year’s presidential election have raised new alarms about the extent of Moscow’s meddling.
But the alleged leak of the National Security Agency (NSA) document by one of the tens of thousands of private contractors to U.S. spy agencies, barely one month after the report was written, became the newest embarrassment for the U.S. intelligence community.
Keen to crack down on a flood of leaks, almost immediately after the report was published, the Trump administration announced the arrest of intelligence contractor Reality Leigh Winner, 25, on charges of violating the espionage act.
“Releasing classified material without authorization threatens our nation’s security and undermines public faith in government. People who are trusted with classified information and pledge to protect it must be held accountable when they violate that obligation,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a statement.
The NSA report was published June 5 by The Intercept, an online news website which focuses on national security issues. It depicted a hacking operation tied closely to Moscow’s GRU intelligence directorate that targeted private U.S. companies providing voter registration services and equipment to local governments.
The operation, which potentially threatened the integrity of the U.S. vote, went on for months, until just days before the Nov. 8 election, according to the document.
The NSA did not conclude whether the hackers had any effect on the outcome, The Intercept said. But U.S. intelligence officials have repeatedly said vote tallies were not affected in the election, in which President Donald Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton in a shock upset.
The Intercept said the NSA document was dated May 5, and did not say how they acquired it. But barely an hour after its report appeared, the Department of Justice announced the arrest of Winner, an employee of a national security contractor in Augusta, Georgia, for leaking top secret information to “an online news outlet.”
While neither the information leaked or the outlet were identified in the arrest documents, the information was also described as a report dated May 5. Intelligence officials have confirmed to U.S. media that Winner’s case was linked to The Intercept.
The NSA report expanded on U.S. allegations that Russian President Vladimir Putin directed a concerted effort, involving hacking and disinformation, to interfere with the 2016 election to help Trump.
“Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate actors ... executed cyber espionage operations against a named US company in August 2016, evidently to obtain information on elections-related software and hardware solutions,” the NSA report says, according to The Intercept.
The report shows that, by trying to steal log-in credentials and using spear-fishing emails to plant malware, the hackers “obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple U.S. state or local electoral boards.”
How successful that effort was, and what kind of data may have been stolen, remains an unanswered question, the NSA report says.