Leaked NSA Malware Threatens Windows Users Around the World

Via The Intercept:

The ShadowBrokers, an entity previously confirmed by The Intercept to have leaked authentic malware used by the NSA to attack computers around the world, today released another cache of what appears to be extremely potent (and previously unknown) software capable of breaking into systems running Windows. The software could give nearly anyone with sufficient technical knowledge the ability to wreak havoc on millions of Microsoft users.

The leak includes a litany of typically codenamed software “implants” with names like ODDJOB, ZIPPYBEER, and ESTEEMAUDIT, capable of breaking into — and in some cases seizing control of — computers running version of the Windows operating system earlier than the most recent Windows 10. The vulnerable Windows versions ran more than 65 percent of desktop computers surfing the web last month, according to estimates from the tracking firm Net Market Share.

The crown jewel of the implant collection appears to be a program named FUZZBUNCH, which essentially automates the deployment of NSA malware, and would allow a member of agency’s Tailored Access Operations group to more easily infect a target from their desk.

According to security researcher and hacker Matthew Hickey, co-founder of Hacker House, the significance of what’s now publicly available, including “zero day” attacks on previously undisclosed vulnerabilities, cannot be overstated: “I don’t think I have ever seen so much exploits and 0day [exploits] released at one time in my entire life,” he told The Intercept via Twitter DM, “and I have been involved in computer hacking and security for 20 years.” Affected computers will remain vulnerable until Microsoft releases patches for the zero-day vulnerabilities and, more crucially, until their owners then apply those patches.

“This is as big as it gets,” Hickey said. “Nation-state attack tools are now in the hands of anyone who cares to download them…it’s literally a cyberweapon for hacking into computers…people will be using these attacks for years to come.”

Hickey provided The Intercept with a video of FUZZBUNCH being used to compromise a virtual computer running Windows Server 2008an industry survey from 2016 cited this operating system as the most widely used of its kind.

Much more here.

US makes formal apology to Britain after White House accuses GCHQ of wiretapping Trump Tower

Steven Swinford, writing in the Telegraph:

The US has made a formal apology to Britain after the White House accused GCHQ of helping Barack Obama spy on Donald Trump in the White House.

Sean Spicer, Mr Trump’s press secretary, repeated a claim on Thursday evening – initially made by an analyst on Fox News – that GCHQ was used by Mr Obama to spy on Trump Tower in the lead-up to last November’s election.

The comments prompted a furious response from GCHQ, which in a break from normal practice issued a public statement: “Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitanoabout GCHQ being asked to conduct ‘wiretapping’ against the then president-elect are nonsense. They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.”

Intelligence sources told The Telegraph that both Mr Spicer and General McMaster, the US National Security Adviser, have apologised over the claims. “The apology came direct from them,” a source said.

General McMaster contacted Sir Mark Lyall Grant, the Prime Minister’s National Security adviser, to apologise for the comments. Mr Spicer conveyed his apology through Sir Kim Darroch, Britain’s US ambassador.

Mr Spicer had earlier repeated claims that Barack Obama used GCHQ to spy on Mr Trump before he became president.

“He’s able to get it and there’s no American fingerprints on it,” Mr Spicer said of the intelligence supposedly provided to Mr Obama by Britain.

“Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command – he didn’t use the NSA, he didn’t use the CIA, he didn’t use the FBI and he didn’t use the Department of Justice – he used GCHQ.”

More here.

The Trump administration certainly knows how to upset a critical ally.

‘People are scared’: Paranoia seizes Trump’s White House

Via Politico:

A culture of paranoia is consuming the Trump administration, with staffers increasingly preoccupied with perceived enemies—inside their own government.

In interviews, nearly a dozen White House aides and federal agency staffers described a litany of suspicions: that rival factions in the administration are trying to embarrass them, that civil servants opposed to President Donald Trump are trying to undermine him, and even that a “deep state” of career military and intelligence officials is out to destroy them.

Aides are going to great lengths to protect themselves. They’re turning off work-issued smartphones and putting them in drawers when they arrive home from work out of fear that they could be used to eavesdrop. They’re staying mum in meetings out of concern that their comments could be leaked to the press by foes.

Many are using encrypted apps that automatically delete messages once they’ve been read, or are leaving their personal cell phones at home in case their bosses initiate phone checks of the sort that press secretary Sean Spicer deployed last month to identify leakers on his team.

It’s an environment of fear that has hamstrung the routine functioning of the executive branch. Senior advisers are spending much of their time trying to protect turf, key positions have remained vacant due to a reluctance to hire people deemed insufficiently loyal, and Trump’s ambitious agenda has been eclipsed by headlines surrounding his unproven claim that former President Barack Obama tapped his phone lines.

One senior administration aide, who like most others interviewed for this story spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the degree of suspicion had created a toxicity that was unsustainable.

“People are scared,” he said, adding that the Trump White House had become “a pretty hostile environment to work in.”

A White House official rejected the notion that there’s a culture of paranoia.

Spicer on Tuesday emphasized that cell phone checks are not White House policy, and said that neither he nor others are still conducting them. “The only incident in which that occurred was limited to the one involving myself,” he said.

Trump has a history of overseeing pressure-cooker organizations rife with suspicion, setting up sophisticated surveillance partly to monitor employees at his properties, including at his campaign headquarters, where some campaign aides suspected their offices were bugged.

One widespread concern in the Trump White House: That career intelligence operatives are working to undermine the new president through a series of leaks of classified information.

Much of the suspicion is directed at the Central Intelligence Agency, which many Trump loyalists believe is targeting CIA skeptics who sit on the National Security Council. Some of them allege that the CIA was behind the damaging leaks to the press that culminated in the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn in February, and that the agency has pushed for the removal of other staffers.

They also believe the CIA exaggerated security clearance concerns that led to the removal of a top Flynn deputy, Robin Townley, from the NSC. Last week, another top NSC staffer who had drawn opposition from some within the CIA, intelligence director Ezra Cohen-Watnick, was told he was being removed, only to have Trump overrule the decision, after Trump advisers Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner intervened, two people familiar with the episode said.

Much more here.

Democrats Demand Inquiry of Russian Role in U.S. Affairs; G.O.P. Concern Grows

Via The New York Times:

The stunning resignation of Michael T. Flynn as White House national security adviser has emboldened congressional Democrats to demand a broader investigation into President Trump’s ties to Russia — and compelled a small group of leading Republicans to acknowledge growing concerns over the episode.

“It’s dysfunctional as far as national security is concerned,” Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said of the Trump White House. “Who’s in charge? Who’s in charge? Who’s making policy? Who’s making decisions?”

While many Republican lawmakers remained largely silent on Tuesday about the deep turmoil in Mr. Trump’s national security apparatus, some allowed that further inquiry might be necessary, to a point.

Republican leadership in the Senate said that it was likely that Mr. Flynn would be asked to speak to the Intelligence Committee, which is looking into Russia’s efforts to disrupt the 2016 election, and that his discussions with the Russian ambassador would probably be folded into the review.

But there still appeared to be little momentum for a select committee to investigate Russian interference — an idea that Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, has long resisted.

Few Republicans in Congress lamented Mr. Flynn’s departure from the administration, crediting Mr. Trump for hastening his resignation, despite reports that White House officials knew for weeks that Mr. Flynn had misled colleagues.

“I think it’s pretty obvious why he decided to make the decision he did,” Mr. McConnell said of Mr. Trump.

At the same time, in a striking role reversal, the party long known for its universally hawkish stance toward Russia is now ceding some of that ground to Democrats.

On Tuesday, Democrats tried to make it clear that Mr. Flynn’s resignation must be only the first chapter in the story of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election.

“The crisis here rises above party,” said the Democratic leader in the Senate, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, calling for an “independent, nonpartisan” investigation and insisting that Jeff Sessions, the new attorney general who was active in Mr. Trump’s campaign alongside Mr. Flynn, recuse himself from any review.

* * *

Mr. McCain, one of the most vocal critics of Mr. Trump’s approach and tenor toward Russia, was among the earliest to speak out forcefully on Tuesday.

General Flynn’s resignation also raises further questions about the Trump administration’s intentions toward Vladimir Putin’s Russia, including statements by the president suggesting moral equivalence between the United States and Russia despite its invasion of Ukraine, annexation of Crimea, threats to our NATO allies, and attempted interference in American elections,” Mr. McCain said in a statement.

However, Mr. McCain did not restate his earlier calls for a select committee to investigate Russian interference in the presidential election, which has not been supported by Mr. McConnell, who said any such investigations should be the purview of the relevant Senate committees. Mr. McCain has vowed that his committee will conduct a thorough inquiry and that he had full confidence in Mr. Trump’s defense and homeland security secretaries, calling his partnership with them “excellent.”

Most Republicans pursued similar arguments, deflecting questions about the need for further investigations into the administration’s ties to Russia. But a handful expressed concern about the pace of progress.

“It is frustrating to understand how we’re going to get a full, in-depth look at all the things that have happened,” said Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “I think this episode does heighten the intensity around wanting to make sure that it’s fulsome and that we understand all aspects of what’s occurred.”

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, identified a possible silver lining.

“I just think it makes it almost impossible for them to lift sanctions now,” said Mr. Graham, who introduced bipartisan legislation last week that would require congressional approval for Mr. Trump to lift sanctions against Russia. “That’s sort of the good news.”

Mr. Graham suggested, gently, that Republicans should take care to avoid any appearance of hypocrisy.

“I think it’s important for us to be informed about the phone call. Did he do it by himself? Did he kind of go rogue or did somebody suggest to him to call the Russians?” he said. “I know we would be upset as Republicans if the Obama administration had done this.”

Trump and Staff Rethink Tactics After Stumbles

Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman, writing in the New York Times:

President Trump loves to set the day’s narrative at dawn, but the deeper story of his White House is best told at night.

Aides confer in the dark because they cannot figure out how to operate the light switches in the cabinet room. Visitors conclude their meetings and then wander around, testing doorknobs until finding one that leads to an exit. In a darkened, mostly empty West Wing, Mr. Trump’s provocative chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, finishes another 16-hour day planning new lines of attack.

Usually around 6:30 p.m., or sometimes later, Mr. Trump retires upstairs to the residence to recharge, vent and intermittently use Twitter. With his wife, Melania, and young son, Barron, staying in New York, he is almost always by himself, sometimes in the protective presence of his imposing longtime aide and former security chief, Keith Schiller. When Mr. Trump is not watching television in his bathrobe or on his phone reaching out to old campaign hands and advisers, he will sometimes set off to explore the unfamiliar surroundings of his new home.

During his first two dizzying weeks in office, Mr. Trump, an outsider president working with a surprisingly small crew of no more than a half-dozen empowered aides with virtually no familiarity with the workings of the White House or federal government, sent shock waves at home and overseas with a succession of executive orders designed to fulfill campaign promises and taunt foreign leaders.

“We are moving big and we are moving fast,” Mr. Bannon said, when asked about the upheaval of the first two weeks. “We didn’t come here to do small things.”

But one thing has become apparent to both his allies and his opponents: When it comes to governing, speed does not always guarantee success.

The bungled rollout of his executive order barring immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, a flurry of other miscues and embarrassments, and an approval rating lower than that of any comparable first-term president in the history of polling have Mr. Trump and his top staff rethinking an improvisational approach to governing that mirrors his chaotic presidential campaign, administration officials and Trump insiders said.

Chris Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax Media and an old friend of the president’s, said: “I think, in his mind, the success of this is going to be the poll numbers. If they continue to be weak or go lower, then somebody’s going to have to bear some responsibility for that.”

“I personally think that they’re missing the big picture here,” Mr. Ruddy said of Mr. Trump’s staff. “Now he’s so caught up, the administration is so caught up in turmoil, perceived chaos, that the Democrats smell blood, the protesters, the media smell blood.”

One former staff member likened the aggressive approach of the first two weeks to D-Day, but said the president’s team had stormed the beaches without any plan for a longer war.

Clashes among staff are common in the opening days of every administration, but they have seldom been so public and so pronounced this early. “This is a president who came to Washington vowing to shake up the establishment, and this is what it looks like. It’s going to be a little sloppy, there are going to be conflicts,” said Ari Fleischer, President George W. Bush’s first press secretary.

All this is happening as Mr. Trump, a man of flexible ideology but fixed habits, adjusts to a new job, life and city.

Cloistered in the White House, he now has little access to his fans and supporters — an important source of feedback and validation — and feels increasingly pinched by the pressures of the job and the constant presence of protests, one of the reasons he was forced to scrap a planned trip to Milwaukee last week. For a sense of what is happening outside, he watches cable, both at night and during the day — too much in the eyes of some aides — often offering a bitter play-by-play of critics like CNN’s Don Lemon.

Until the past few days, Mr. Trump was telling his friends and advisers that he believed the opening stages of his presidency were going well. “Did you hear that, this guy thinks it’s been terrible!” Mr. Trump said mockingly to other aides when one dissenting view was voiced last week during a West Wing meeting.

But his opinion has begun to change with a relentless parade of bad headlines.

Mr. Trump got away from the White House this weekend for the first time since his inauguration, spending it in Palm Beach, Fla., at his private club, Mar-a-Lago, posting Twitter messages angrily — and in personal terms — about the federal judge who put a nationwide halt on the travel ban. Mr. Bannon and Reince Priebus, the two clashing power centers, traveled with him.

By then, the president, for whom chains of command and policy minutiae rarely meant much, was demanding that Mr. Priebus begin to put in effect a much more conventional White House protocol that had been taken for granted in previous administrations: From now on, Mr. Trump would be looped in on the drafting of executive orders much earlier in the process.

Another change will be a new set of checks on the previously unfettered power enjoyed by Mr. Bannon and the White House policy director, Stephen Miller, who oversees the implementation of the orders and who received the brunt of the internal and public criticism for the rollout of the travel ban.

Mr. Priebus has told Mr. Trump and Mr. Bannon that the administration needs to rethink its policy and communications operation in the wake of embarrassing revelations that key details of the orders were withheld from agencies, White House staff and Republican congressional leaders like Speaker Paul D. Ryan.

Mr. Priebus has also created a 10-point checklist for the release of any new initiatives that includes signoff from the communications department and the White House staff secretary, Robert Porter, according to several aides familiar with the process.

The entire article is worth a full and careful read.

The resistance to Trump is big, diverse and ferocious

Katrina vanden Heuvel, writing in the Washington Post:

Just one full week into Donald Trump’s presidency, the dizzying pace of news has left many of us feeling a sense of political vertigo — and dread.

The new administration began with a poorly attended inauguration that led a wounded Trump to lash out at the media in a bizarre speech at the CIA’s headquarters. As millions of women and men marched in Washington and cities around the world, press secretary Sean Spicer summoned reporters to the White House briefing room and, defying clear evidence to the contrary, brazenly and falsely claimed that Trump drew “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration — period.” A day later, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway went on national television and rebranded Spicer’s bald-faced lies as “alternative facts.” Later in the week, White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon launched a calculated strategy of open war on the press, saying the “elite media” should “keep its mouth shut.”

All of this established the tone for Trump’s full-blown, Orwellian assault on reality. After scrubbing mentions of global warming from the White House website, Trump imposed gag orders on the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies. Attempting to rewrite the history of his election, Trump doubled down on his widely debunked claim that he lost the popular vote only because of massive voter fraud and promised to launch a “major investigation” into the alleged crimes. In an interview with ABC News, Trump reiterated his belief, contradicted by intelligence experts, that torture “absolutely” works. The problem with these “alternative facts” is not just that Trump is either pathologically dishonest or completely divorced from reality; they could be laying the groundwork for pernicious policies such as a systemic attack on voting rights or the reinstatement of CIA “black sites” overseas.

Add to that a string of controversial Cabinet confirmations and an ever-growing list of executive actions — on issues including the Affordable Care Act, the “global gag rule” on abortion, the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipeline projects, the Mexican border wall, and the grotesque Muslim ban — and it’s hard not to be sickened by it all.

However, Trump’s cascading attacks on the body politic, including instigating a potential constitutional crisis by firing the acting attorney general for ordering Justice Department lawyers not to defend his un-American travel ban, cannot erase the fundamental truth that he does not represent a majority of the American people. The incredible turnout for the Women’s March, which turned out to be the largest single day of mass political action in U.S. history, made that much clear. The resistance to Trump is big, diverse and ferocious, and it’s not going away.

We saw more of that passion and energy on display over the weekend, as demonstrations against Trump’s de facto Muslim ban spontaneously erupted on Saturday at airports across the country. Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups moved swiftly to file legal challenges to Trump’s order, winning temporary victories in federal court. And the protests continued into Sunday, with tens of thousands attending rallies in more than 30 cities nationwide.

We also got an early look at how city and state governments will help drive the resistance. In response to a Trump order to cut off funds for sanctuary cities, a number of mayors defiantly promised not to back down, while leaders in the California legislature signaled that they will fight the order in court. Also in California, Gov. Jerry Brown delivered a fiery State of the State address vowing opposition to Trump and declaring that “California is not turning back.”

More here.

President Bannon?

Via The New York Times Editorial Board:

Plenty of presidents have had prominent political advisers, and some of those advisers have been suspected of quietly setting policy behind the scenes (recall Karl Rove or, if your memory stretches back far enough, Dick Morris). But we’ve never witnessed a political aide move as brazenly to consolidate power as Stephen Bannon — nor have we seen one do quite so much damage so quickly to his putative boss’s popular standing or pretenses of competence.

Mr. Bannon supercharged Breitbart News as a platform for inciting the alt-right, did the same with the Trump campaign and is now repeating the act with the Trump White House itself. That was perhaps to be expected, though the speed with which President Trump has moved to alienate Mexicans (by declaring they would pay for a border wall), Jews (by disregarding their unique experience of the Holocaust) and Muslims (the ban) has been impressive. Mr. Trump never showed much inclination to reach beyond the minority base of voters that delivered his Electoral College victory, and Mr. Bannon, whose fingerprints were on each of those initiatives, is helping make sure he doesn’t.

But a new executive order, politicizing the process for national security decisions, suggests Mr. Bannon is positioning himself not merely as a Svengali but as the de facto president.

In that new order, issued on Saturday, Mr. Trump took the unprecedented step of naming Mr. Bannon to the National Security Council, along with the secretaries of state and defense and certain other top officials. President George W. Bush’s last chief of staff, Joshua Bolten, was so concerned about separating politics from national security that he barred Mr. Rove, Mr. Bush’s political adviser, from N.S.C. meetings. To the annoyance of experienced foreign policy aides, David Axelrod, President Barack Obama’s political adviser, sat in on some N.S.C. meetings, but he was not a permanent member of the council.

More telling still, Mr. Trump appointed Mr. Bannon to the N.S.C. “principals’ committee,” which includes most of those same top officials and meets far more frequently. At the same time, President Trump downgraded two senior national security officials — the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a role now held by Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., and the director of national intelligence, the job that Dan Coats, a former member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and former ambassador to Germany, has been nominated to fill.

Much more here.

‘Alternative Facts’ and the Costs of Trump-Branded Reality

Jim Rutenberg, writing in the New York Times:

When Donald J. Trump swore the presidential oath on Friday, he assumed responsibility not only for the levers of government but also for one of the United States’ most valuable assets, battered though it may be: its credibility.

The country’s sentimental reverence for truth and its jealously guarded press freedoms, while never perfect, have been as important to its global standing as the strength of its military and the reliability of its currency. It’s the bedrock of that “American exceptionalism” we’ve heard so much about for so long.

Disinformation was for dictatorships, banana republics and failed states.

Yet there it was on Saturday, emanating from the lectern of the White House briefing room — the official microphone of the United States — as Mr. Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, used his first appearance there to put forth easily debunked statistics¹ that questioned the news media’s reporting on the size of the president’s inaugural audience (of all things).

Mr. Spicer was picking up on the message from his boss, who made false claims² about news coverage earlier that day as he declared a “running war” with the news media during a visit to the Central Intelligence Agency, whose most solemn duty is to feed vital and true information to presidents as they run actual wars.

It was chilling when Mr. Trump’s assertion that reporters were “among the most dishonest people on earth” became an applause line for the crowd gathered to hear him speak in front of the memorial to fallen agents at C.I.A. headquarters.

Still more chilling was when the White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway appeared on “Meet the Press” on Sunday to assert that Mr. Spicer’s falsehoods were simply “alternative facts.”

Ms. Conway made no bones about what she thought of the news media’s ability to debunk those “alternative facts” in a way Americans — especially Trump-loving Americans — would believe.

“You want to talk provable facts?” she said to the moderator, Chuck Todd. “Look — you’ve got a 14 percent approval rating in the media, that you’ve earned. You want to push back on us?” (She appeared to be referring to a Gallup poll figure related to Republicans’ views.)

And really, there it was: an apparent animating principle of Mr. Trump’s news media strategy since he first began campaigning. That strategy has consistently presumed that low public opinion of mainstream journalism (which Mr. Trump has been only too happy to help stoke) creates an opening to sell the Trump version of reality, no matter its adherence to the facts.

Much more here.

Trump’s war on the media

Via The Washington Post:

President Trump used his first full day in office to wage war on the media, accusing news organizations of lying about the size of his inauguration crowd as Saturday’s huge protests served notice that a vocal and resolute opposition would be a hallmark of his presidency.

With Americans taking to the streets in red and blue states alike to emphatically decry a president they consider reprehensible and, even, illegitimate, Trump visited the Central Intelligence Agency for a stream-of-consciousness airing of grievances — including against journalists, whom he called “the most dishonest human beings on Earth.”

Shortly thereafter, press secretary Sean Spicer addressed the media for the first time from the White House, where he yelled at the assembled press corps and charged it with “sowing division” with “deliberately false reporting” of Trump’s inauguration crowd.

Trump claimed that the crowd for his swearing-in stretched down the Mall to the Washington Monument. It did not. Trump accused television networks of showing “an empty field” and reporting that he drew just 250,000 people to witness Friday’s ceremony.

“It looked like a million, a million and a half people,” Trump said. “It’s a lie. We caught [the media]. We caught them in a beauty.”

During his 2009 inaugural address, President Obama’s crowd extended that far, and a side-by-side comparison of aerial photos from both inaugurations clearly shows that Obama’s crowd was much larger than Trump’s.

Spicer echoed his boss’s assertion about the inauguration, insisting from behind the podium at the White House press briefing room that more than 700,000 people stretched down the Mall to the Washington Monument.

“This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period — both in person and around the globe,” Spicer said, less than a minute after declaring that “no one had numbers” because the National Park Service, which controls the Mall, does not release crowd estimates.

One verifiable number that Spicer offered was that ridership on Washington’s subway system on Friday was higher than for Obama’s inauguration four years ago. Spicer said that 420,000 people rode Metro on Friday, while only 317,000 did so for Obama in 2013. Both of these numbers are inaccurate. Nearly 571,000 people rode on Friday, and 782,000 rode on Inauguration Day four years ago, according to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

Much more here.

Trump can attack the media relentlessly, but the facts are still the facts. And the media will continue to ferret out the truth behind Trump’s lies.

Trump associates are under investigation in Washington

Via The New York Times:

American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are examining intercepted communications and financial transactions as part of a broad investigation into possible links between Russian officials and associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, current and former senior American officials said.

The continuing counterintelligence investigation means that Mr. Trump will take the oath of office on Friday with his associates under investigation and after the intelligence agencies concluded that the Russian government had worked to help elect him. As president, Mr. Trump will oversee those agencies and have the authority to redirect or stop at least some of these efforts.

It is not clear whether the intercepted communications had anything to do with Mr. Trump’s campaign, or Mr. Trump himself. It is also unclear whether the inquiry has anything to do with an investigation into the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s computers and other attempts to disrupt the elections in November. The American government has concluded that the Russian government was responsible for a broad computer hacking campaign, including the operation against the D.N.C.

The counterintelligence investigation centers at least in part on the business dealings that some of the president-elect’s past and present advisers have had with Russia. Mr. Manafort has done business in Ukraine and Russia. Some of his contacts there were under surveillance by the National Security Agency for suspected links to Russia’s Federal Security Service, one of the officials said.

Mr. Manafort is among at least three Trump campaign advisers whose possible links to Russia are under scrutiny. Two others are Carter Page, a businessman and former foreign policy adviser to the campaign, and Roger Stone, a longtime Republican operative.

The F.B.I. is leading the investigations, aided by the National Security Agency, the C.I.A. and the Treasury Department’s financial crimes unit. The investigators have accelerated their efforts in recent weeks but have found no conclusive evidence of wrongdoing, the officials said. One official said intelligence reports based on some of the wiretapped communications had been provided to the White House.

More here.

Countering Trump, Bipartisan Voices Strongly Affirm Findings on Russian Hacking

Via The New York Times:

A united front of top intelligence officials and senators from both parties on Thursday forcefully reaffirmed the conclusion that the Russian government used hacking and leaks to try to influence the presidential election, directly rebuffing President-elect Donald J. Trump’s repeated questioning of Russia’s role.

They suggested that the doubts Mr. Trump has expressed on Twitter about the agencies’ competence and impartiality were undermining their morale.

“There’s a difference between skepticism and disparagement,” James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, said at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on the Russian hacks. He added that “our assessment now is even more resolute” that the Russians carried out the attack on the election.

The Senate hearing was the prelude to an extraordinary meeting scheduled for Friday, when Mr. Clapper and other intelligence chiefs will repeat for Mr. Trump the same detailed, highly classified briefing on the Russian attack that President Obama received on Thursday. In effect, they will be telling the president-elect that the spy agencies believe he won with an assist from President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

Then Mr. Trump will have to say whether he accepts the agencies’ basic findings on Russia’s role or holds to his previous contention that inept, politicized American spies have gotten the perpetrator of the hacking wrong. That would throw the intelligence agencies into a crisis of credibility and status with few, if any, precedents.

In a pair of Twitter posts early Thursday, Mr. Trump appeared to back away from the scorn he had previously expressed for the intelligence agencies’ work, as well as from his embrace of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, which released most of the hacked emails of Democratic officials.

“The dishonest media likes saying that I am in agreement with Julian Assange — wrong,” he wrote. “I simply state what he states, it is for the people to make up their own minds as to the truth. The media lies to make it look like I am against ‘Intelligence’ when in fact I am a big fan!”

At a Senate hearing, intelligence officials said Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, should not be given credibility.

But on Thursday night, the president-elect returned to Twitter and appeared to underscore his doubts about the F.B.I.’s investigation of the hacking.

“The Democratic National Committee would not allow the FBI to study or see its computer info after it was supposedly hacked by Russia,” he wrote, a day after a report by BuzzFeed on the issue. “So how and why are they so sure about hacking if they never even requested an examination of the computer servers? What is going on?”

Early next week, the public will get its fullest information to date on the evidence the agencies have to support their contention that Mr. Putin’s government used the hacked emails to hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign and help Mr. Trump’s. Mr. Clapper said he would “push the envelope” to include as much detail as possible in the unclassified version of the intelligence agencies’ report on the Russian operation.

The hacking, he added, was only one part of that operation, which also included the dissemination of “classical propaganda, disinformation, fake news.”

Mr. Clapper will step down as intelligence director later this month after a career in intelligence and military service that began when he enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1961. His replacement is expected to be Dan Coats, a retired senator from Indiana, a Trump transition official said Thursday.

A low-key conservative who served on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mr. Coats would oversee the nation’s 16 intelligence agencies in a job that was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to improve the sharing of information, but that is sometimes criticized as adding a layer of bureaucracy.

The Coats news came on the same day that R. James Woolsey, a former C.I.A. director, stepped down as a senior adviser to Mr. Trump, citing his diminishing role in the transition.

The Senate hearing on Thursday, devoted to foreign cyberthreats, was unusual as much for its context as its content — a public, bipartisan display of support for the intelligence community that seemed aimed, at times, at an audience of one.

 Though Mr. Clapper and most Republican senators were careful to avoid antagonizing the president-elect directly, the hearing spoke to the rift Mr. Trump has threatened to create between the incoming administration and the intelligence officials assigned to inform it.

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona and chairman of the committee, said the purpose of the gathering was “not to question the outcome of the presidential election” but to move forward with a full understanding of what had happened.

Repeatedly, though, Mr. McCain and his colleagues seemed to undercut Mr. Trump’s past messages of support for Russia, and for Mr. Assange of WikiLeaks.

“Do you think there’s any credibility we should attach to this individual?” Mr. McCain asked.

“Not in my view,” Mr. Clapper said. Another witness at the hearing, Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency and United States Cyber Command, said he agreed.

The intelligence director said he welcomed skeptical questioning from Mr. Trump, allowing that the intelligence community was “not perfect.”

“We are an organization of human beings, and we’re prone, sometimes, to make errors,” Mr. Clapper said. But he said the agencies had learned from their failures, notably their declaration that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

Democrats on the committee repeatedly coaxed intelligence leaders to rebut Mr. Trump’s multiple assertions that a random individual hacker might have hacked Democratic targets.

Senator Joe Donnelly, Democrat of Indiana, told Mr. Clapper that in the conflict between the intelligence agencies and Mr. Assange over Russian responsibility for the attack, “We’re on your side every time.” He asked Mr. Clapper to convey his level of confidence in attributing the election attack to Russia, rather than “someone in his basement.

“It’s, uh, very high,” the laconic intelligence director replied.

Ms. McCaskill said there would be “howls from the Republican side of the aisle” if a Democrat had spoken about intelligence officials as Mr. Trump had.

Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia and Mrs. Clinton’s running mate, used the occasion for an aside about Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s choice for national security adviser, who has a history of sharing discredited news stories and conspiracy theories. Mr. Kaine said that he was unsure whether Mr. Flynn was acting out of “gullibility” or “malice,” but that it was a cause for “great concern” that Mr. Flynn shared stories that “most fourth graders would find incredible.”

No Republican lawmakers embraced Mr. Trump’s remarks casting doubt on the intelligence conclusions, though some were more conspicuous than others in their efforts to distance themselves.

Perhaps the closest to a defense of Mr. Trump came from Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas. Denouncing “imprecise language” stating that Russia “hacked the election,” Mr. Cotton asked Mr. Clapper to confirm that the actual balloting was not affected.

Mr. Cotton also suggested that the conventional wisdom that Mr. Putin favored Mr. Trump over Mrs. Clinton might be wrong. Mr. Trump promised a stronger military and more American oil and gas production — policies Mr. Cotton suggested would not be to Russia’s advantage.

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, criticized the Obama administration for its response to the Russian attack. He said the White House had lobbed mere “pebbles” in retaliation for the interference.

“When it comes to interfering with our election, we better be ready to throw rocks,” he said. Then Mr. Graham issued a warning for fellow Republicans who might be inclined to brush off any attack on an opposing party.

“Could it be Republicans next election?” he asked. “It’s not like we’re so much better at cybersecurity than Democrats.”

But on Thursday night, the president-elect returned to Twitter and appeared to underscore his doubts about the F.B.I.’s investigation of the hacking.

“The Democratic National Committee would not allow the FBI to study or see its computer info after it was supposedly hacked by Russia,” he wrote, a day after a report by BuzzFeed on the issue. “So how and why are they so sure about hacking if they never even requested an examination of the computer servers? What is going on?”

Early next week, the public will get its fullest information to date on the evidence the agencies have to support their contention that Mr. Putin’s government used the hacked emails to hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign and help Mr. Trump’s. Mr. Clapper said he would “push the envelope” to include as much detail as possible in the unclassified version of the intelligence agencies’ report on the Russian operation.

The hacking, he added, was only one part of that operation, which also included the dissemination of “classical propaganda, disinformation, fake news.”

Mr. Clapper will step down as intelligence director later this month after a career in intelligence and military service that began when he enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1961. His replacement is expected to be Dan Coats, a retired senator from Indiana, a Trump transition official said Thursday.

A low-key conservative who served on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mr. Coats would oversee the nation’s 16 intelligence agencies in a job that was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to improve the sharing of information, but that is sometimes criticized as adding a layer of bureaucracy.

The Coats news came on the same day that R. James Woolsey, a former C.I.A. director, stepped down as a senior adviser to Mr. Trump, citing his diminishing role in the transition.

The Senate hearing on Thursday, devoted to foreign cyberthreats, was unusual as much for its context as its content — a public, bipartisan display of support for the intelligence community that seemed aimed, at times, at an audience of one.

More here.

Obama strikes Russia for election hacking (update)

Via The New York Times:

The Obama administration struck back at Russia on Thursday for its efforts to influence the 2016 election, ejecting 35 Russian intelligence operatives from the United States and imposing sanctions on Russia’s two leading intelligence services, including four top officers of the military intelligence unit the White House believes ordered the attacks on the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations.

In a sweeping set of announcements, the United States was also expected to release evidence linking the cyberattacks to computer systems used by Russian intelligence. Taken together, the actions would amount to the strongest American response ever taken to a state-sponsored cyberattack aimed at the United States.

The sanctions were also intended to box in President-elect Donald J. Trump. Mr. Trump has consistently cast doubt that the Russian government had anything to do with the hacking of the D.N.C. or other political institutions, saying American intelligence agencies could not be trusted and suggesting that the hacking could have been the work of a “400-pound guy” lying in his bed.

Mr. Trump will now have to decide whether to lift the sanctions on the Russian intelligence agencies when he takes office next month, with Republicans in Congress among those calling for a public investigation into Russia’s actions. Should Mr. Trump do so, it would require him to effectively reject the findings of his intelligence agencies.

Asked on Wednesday night at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., about reports of the impending sanctions, Mr. Trump said: “I think we ought to get on with our lives. I think that computers have complicated lives very greatly. The whole age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what is going on. We have speed, we have a lot of other things, but I’m not sure we have the kind, the security we need.”

* * *

In the end, Mr. Obama decided to expand an executive order that he issued in April 2015, after the Sony hacking. He signed it in Hawaii on Thursday morning, specifically giving himself and his successor the authority to issue travel bans and asset freezes on those who “tamper with, alter, or cause a misappropriation of information, with a purpose or effect of interfering with or undermining election processes or institutions.”

Mr. Obama used that order to immediately impose sanctions on four Russian intelligence officials: Igor Valentinovich Korobov, the current chief of a military intelligence agency, the G.R.U., and three deputies: Sergey Aleksandrovich Gizunov, the deputy chief of the G.R.U.; Igor Olegovich Kostyukov, a first deputy chief, and Vladimir Stepanovich Alekseyev, also a first deputy chief of the G.R.U.

But G.R.U. officials rarely travel to the United States, or keep their assets here, so the effects may be largely symbolic. It is also unclear if any American allies will impose parallel sanctions on Russia.

Much more here.

Update: The Washington Post is reporting that Putin has decided not to expel US diplomats in response to the US actions.  Apparently, they want to wait to see what Trump does when he assumes office.

Senators Push to Broaden Inquiry on Election Hacking

Via The New York Times:

Pressure mounted on Sunday for a broader congressional investigation of Russian cyberattacks aimed at influencing the American election, even as a top aide to President-elect Donald J. Trump said there was no conclusive evidence of foreign interference.

The effort was being led by a bipartisan group of senators, including John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and Chuck Schumer of New York, the Senate Democratic leader, who called on Sunday for the creation of a Senate select committee on cyberactivity to take the investigative lead on Capitol Hill.

“Recent reports of Russian interference in our election should alarm every American,” the senators wrote on Sunday in a letter to Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, who has said a select committee is not necessary. “Cybersecurity is the ultimate cross-jurisdictional challenge, and we must take a comprehensive approach to meet this challenge effectively.”

The developments served to deepen the fissures between high-ranking lawmakers of both parties who see American intelligence reports implicating Russia as the basis for additional inquiries and Mr. Trump, who continues to reject the conclusions of those reports.

But the developments also put new strain on Mr. McConnell. He now faces calls from Mr. McCain and Lindsey Graham, two Senate Republicans considered well versed on national security issues, to form a select committee. If he were to reject that appeal, he would be subject to criticism that he was trying to avoid a spotlight on an issue that senators in both parties believe is worthy of more focused scrutiny.

Mr. McConnell said last week that while he respects the intelligence agencies’ conclusions, the Senate Intelligence Committee is “more than capable of conducting a complete review” itself. He also acknowledged that Mr. McCain could conduct an investigation on the Armed Services Committee, an option that remains open should Mr. McConnell decide against a select committee.

Those divisions, coming as the Electoral College prepares to meet on Monday to ratify Mr. Trump’s election and the president-elect completes his cabinet choices, all but ensured that the issue would cloud the first months of Mr. Trump’s presidency, when he will be asking Congress to approve an aggressive legislative agenda.

Several permanent congressional committees have already been tasked with examining various aspects of the Russian interference, which has been largely accepted as fact by most members of Congress.

But in their letter on Sunday, the lawmakers argued the issue was too important and complicated for an existing committee to take on properly.

“We share your respect for, and deference to, the regular order of the Senate, and we recognize that this is an extraordinary request,” the senators wrote to Mr. McConnell. “However, we believe it is justified by the extraordinary scope and scale of the cyber problem.”

In addition to undertaking a “comprehensive investigation of Russian interference,” the senators recommended that such a committee also develop “comprehensive recommendations and, as necessary, new legislation to modernize our nation’s laws, governmental organization, and related practices to meet this challenge.”

Select committees, which are typically created to examine a particular issue for a limited time, are rarely formed. The most prominent recent example is the House Select Committee on the attacks in 2012 on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, an inquiry that Democrats have denounced as unduly partisan.

Speaker Paul D. Ryan said last week that the House Intelligence Committee would continue its own examination of Russian hacking.

Senate Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, was also part of the effort. “We want to find out what the Russians are doing to our political system and what other foreign governments might do to our political system,” he said. “And then figure out a way to stop it.” 
 

Mr. Schumer said in a news conference on Sunday that they intended to avoid such charges of partisanship.

“We don’t want it to just be finger pointing at one person or another,” Mr. Schumer said. “We want to find out what the Russians are doing to our political system and what other foreign governments might do to our political system. And then figure out a way to stop it.”

A spokesman for Mr. McConnell, David Popp, referred to Mr. McConnell’s earlier comments and said the majority leader would be reviewing the latest letter.

The letter was also signed by Mr. Graham, Republican of South Carolina, and Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, two members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that Mr. McCain leads. It follows a signed statement from the lawmakers, released last week, warning that any congressional investigation into the hacks “cannot become a partisan issue.”

Mr. Trump, for his part, has sought to paint the intelligence community’s conclusions about the matter as just that — a partisan attack against him. He said last week that the reports were “just another excuse” by Democrats frustrated with the election results that might be used to try to undermine his victory.

Asked on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday what information Mr. Trump had received that led him to reject intelligence assessments, Kellyanne Conway, one of Mr. Trump’s top advisers, insisted that the reports about the hacking were groundless.

“Where is the evidence?” Ms. Conway asked, turning the question around. “Why, when C.I.A. officials were invited to a House intelligence briefing last week, did they refuse to go?”

Robert M. Gates, the former defense secretary under President Obama and President George W. Bush who has offered counsel to Mr. Trump, speculated on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the president-elect “felt the way this information came out through newspaper stories and so on was somehow intended to delegitimize his victory in the election and that he’s reacting to that rather than ‘the facts on the ground,’ as it were.”

But Mr. Gates also said the Russian hacking was aimed at discrediting the American electoral process.

“Whether or not it was intended to help one candidate or another, I don’t know,” said Mr. Gates, who also served as C.I.A. director under President George Bush. “But I think it clearly was aimed at discrediting our elections, and I think it was aimed certainly at weakening Mrs. Clinton.”

Much more here.

FBI agrees with CIA that Russia aimed to help Trump

Via The Washington Post:

FBI Director James B. Comey and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. are in agreement with a CIA assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in part to help Donald Trump win the White House, officials disclosed Friday, as President Obama issued a public warning to Moscow that it could face retaliation.

New revelations about Comey’s position could put to rest suggestions by some lawmakers that the CIA and the FBI weren’t on the same page on Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s intentions.

Russia has denied being behind the cyber-intrusions, which targeted the Democratic National Committee and the private emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. Trump, in turn, has repeatedly said he doubts the veracity of U.S. intelligence blaming Moscow for the hacks.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” Trump said in an interview with “Fox News Sunday,” his first Sunday news-show appearance since the Nov. 8 election. “I think it’s just another excuse. I don’t believe it. . . . No, I don’t believe it at all.”

* * *

The CIA and the FBI declined to comment on Brennan’s message or on the classified intelligence assessment that CIA officials shared with members of the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this month, setting off a political firestorm.

In the closed-door Senate briefing, CIA officials said it was now “quite clear” that electing Trump was one of Russia’s goals, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

CIA and FBI officials do not think Russia had a “single purpose” by intervening during the presidential campaign, officials said. In addition to the goal of helping elect Trump, Putin aimed to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, intelligence officials have told lawmakers.

A few days after the Senate briefing, a senior FBI counter­intelligence official briefed the House Intelligence Committee but was not as categorical as the CIA briefer about Russia’s intention to help Trump, according to officials who were present. The FBI official’s more cautious presentation of the intelligence to the House panel left some Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the room with the impression that the FBI disagreed with the CIA.

Officials close to the FBI and the CIA now say that lawmakers had misunderstood Comey’s position. “The truth is they were never all that different in the first place,” an official said. Similarly, officials said, Clapper and Brennan saw the intelligence the same way.

More here.

Putin personally involved in US election hack

Via NBC News:

U.S. intelligence officials now believe with “a high level of confidence” that Russian President Vladimir Putin became personally involved in the covert Russian campaign to interfere in the U.S. presidential election, senior U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News.

Two senior officials with direct access to the information say new intelligence shows that Putin personally directed how hacked material from Democrats was leaked and otherwise used. The intelligence came from diplomatic sources and spies working for U.S. allies, the officials said.

Putin’s objectives were multifaceted, a high-level intelligence source told NBC News. What began as a “vendetta” against Hillary Clinton morphed into an effort to show corruption in American politics and to “split off key American allies by creating the image that [other countries] couldn’t depend on the U.S. to be a credible global leader anymore,” the official said.

Ultimately, the CIA has assessed, the Russian government wanted to elect Donald Trump. The FBI and other agencies don’t fully endorse that view, but few officials would dispute that the Russian operation was intended to harm Clinton’s candidacy by leaking embarrassing emails about Democrats.

The latest intelligence said to show Putin’s involvement goes much further than the information the U.S. was relying on in October, when all 17 intelligence agencies signed onto a statement attributing the Democratic National Committee hack to Russia.

The statement said officials believed that “only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.” That was an intelligence judgment based on an understanding of the Russian system of government, which Putin controls with absolute authority.

Now the U.S has solid information tying Putin to the operation, the intelligence officials say. Their use of the term “high confidence” implies that the intelligence is nearly incontrovertible.

Quelle surprise.