A previously unpublished top-secret document provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden suggests the National Security Agency has the ability to conclusively determine who hacked Democratic Party servers during the 2016 election season.
The United States has not made direct evidence of Russian responsibility for the hacks available to the public.
Sam Biddle at The Intercept explains: “The agency tracked a similar hack before in the case of a prominent Russian journalist, who was also a U.S. citizen.” That journalist was longtime Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya, who was murdered in her Moscow apartment in 2006 in an apparent contract killing.
“Information about Politkovskaya’s journalism career, murder, and the investigation of that crime was compiled by the NSA in the form of an internal wiki entry,” Biddle continues. One year before her murder, Politkovskaya’s email account was hacked.
This hack sounds more or less like a very rough sketch of what private firms like CrowdStrike allege the FSB perpetrated against the DNC this year, and presumably what entities like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence have, behind closed doors, told President Obama took place.
What’s particularly interesting here is the provenance of NSA’s claims: The section is classified TS/SI, meaning Top Secret Signals Intelligence, the interception of signals (broadly construed) as they pass from one point to another, including anything from tapped phone calls to monitored internet traffic. That is to say, the NSA knew Russia hacked Politkovskaya because the NSA was spying. Thanks to the Snowden revelations, we know there are many powerful, overlapping government spy programs that could allow the NSA to observe communications as they unfold.
Unfortunately, in the case of this wiki there’s no indication of exactly what sort of SIGINT was collected with regard to Politkovskaya, or how it incriminated Russian intelligence — all we have is the allusion to the evidence, not the evidence. The NSA declined to comment.
But that this evidence existed at all is important, and more so today than ever. Simply, the public evidence that the Russian government hacked the Democrats isn’t convincing. Too much of what’s been passed off to the public as proof of Kremlin involvement is based on vague clues and educated guesses of what took place. Signals intelligence could bridge the empirical gap. ...
Signal interception can take many different forms, and again, there’s no way to know exactly what the NSA had intercepted surrounding Anna Politkovskaya. But we know intelligence is being gathered on a fine enough level to pin the breach of a single inbox on the Russian government. If the NSA could use signals intelligence to track a specific hack of an American email account in 2005, it’s not too much to assume that, 10 years later, the agency possesses the same or better capability. And signals intelligence is the type of evidence that the American people are owed from the federal government today, as we contemplate a possible confrontation with Russia for interfering in our most important of democratic processes.
—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly