07.27.16

Dems urge Obama to release info on Russian links to DNC hack (The Hill)

Key Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday urged the White House to publicly release any information about Russia’s alleged involvement in the hack of the Democratic National Committee's (DNC) emails.

“Given the grave nature of this breach and the fact that it may ultimately be found to be a state-sponsored attempt to manipulate our presidential election, we believe a heightened measure of transparency is warranted,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) wrote in a Wednesday letter to President Obama.

Feinstein and Schiff are the ranking members of the Senate and House Intelligence committees, respectively.

The two lawmakers asked that the administration declassify any intelligence assessments that could “illuminate potential Russian motivations for what would be an unprecedented interference in a U.S. presidential race, and why President Putin could potentially feel compelled to authorize such an operation, given the high likelihood of eventual attribution.”

There is little dispute that the hack itself — if not necessarily the release of the stolen emails — is the work of Russian intelligence groups. Multiple cyber forensics groups and the DNC have confirmed that the intrusion was almost unequivocally the work of two well-known groups associated with the Kremlin.

U.S. intelligence officials have told the White House they have “high confidence” Russia was behind the breach but have stopped short of confirming it to be an attempt to shift the results of the 2016 election, according to The New York Times.

But a growing chorus of Democrats — and some Republicans — are urging Obama to take public action in response to mounting evidence that Russia may have orchestrated Friday’s leak of the stolen emails in order to benefit GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.

“If true, then the episode would represent an unprecedented attempt to meddle in American domestic politics — one that would demand a response by the United States,” Schiff and Feinstein wrote in their Wednesday letter.

The release of the emails — just days before Hillary Clinton formally became the Democratic nominee — threw the first day of the Democratic National Convention into chaos and led to the resignation of committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Republicans have largely argued that the Clinton campaign is attempting to draw focus away from the damaging contents of the emails by casting the leak as a Russian attempt to bolster Trump's chances. But others have called for action against Russia.

“If foreign intelligence agencies are attempting to undermine [the democratic process] ... our government must do all that it can to stop such attacks and to seek justice for the attacks that have already occurred,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) told the Department of Justice in a Tuesday letter.

“[Russian President Vladimir Putin’s] Soviet-style aggression has escalated to levels that were unimaginable just a week ago,” said freshman senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb.). “The United States must take serious offensive and defensive actions now. Russia must face real consequences."

The White House is in a delicate position if it chooses to publicly attribute the hack to Russia.

For one thing, attributing a cyberattack with absolute certainty is almost impossible, digital forensics experts say.

Further complicating the decision about whether to “name-and-shame” another nation state is the fact that the rules governing what is considered acceptable cyber behavior are far from settled.

The Obama administration has taken different approaches to various high-profile cyber incidents — decisions that onlookers say are based on both the nature of the attack and the level of the diplomatic involvement between the U.S. and the country in question.

The White House has largely tried to draw a distinction between hacking for corporate gain — which the U.S. condemns — and standard intelligence gathering, which the U.S. actively engages in itself.

The White House publicly blamed North Korea for hacking Sony Pictures in 2014. Some onlookers point to the antagonistic relationship between the two nations, arguing that the U.S. had little to lose by piquing the country’s dictatorial young leader Kim Jong-Un.

Conversely, Obama has declined to name the culprit behind the massive hack of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), uncovered last spring. The intrusion has been widely attributed to China but is believed to have been an intelligence-gathering mission.