US intel head suggests Russia behind DNC hacks, says Moscow tried to affect elections in past

U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper © Kevin Lamarque
The US director of national intelligence has suggested Russia is behind the recent hack that saw Democratic National Committee (DNC) records dumped online. The leak undermined the Democrats’ reputation ahead of November’s presidential election.

“It’s probably not real, real clear whether there’s influence in terms of an outcome [of the upcoming elections] - or what I worry about more, frankly - is just the sowing the seeds of doubt, where doubt is cast on the whole [election] process,” James Clapper said on Tuesday evening at an event hosted by the Washington Post, as cited by the Wall Street Journal. 

Furthermore, the intelligence chief said Russia and its predecessor the USSR had been adhering to similar practices targeting the US since the 1960s.

“There’s a tradition in Russia of interfering with elections, their own and others.

“[…] It shouldn’t come as a big shock to people. I think it’s more dramatic maybe because now they have the cyber tools,” Clapper is cited as saying.

The comments come in contrast to Clapper’s earlier statements regarding Russia’s alleged connection to the hacking operation, which is believed to have been conducted over more than a year. In July, shortly after the documents had been leaked, he urged an end to the “reactionary mode” of blaming the leak on Russia.

Over 20,000 DNC files have been released since July, exposing the body’s leadership bias in favor of Hillary Clinton over her principal competitor, Bernie Sanders, to be chosen as the party’s presidential nominee.

The files also contained information revealing that the DNC often ‘rewarded’ campaign donors and fund-raisers with diplomatic posts and government jobs. The revelations even prompted the resignations of several top Democratic Party officials, including DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

After the release, Clinton’s campaign accused Russia of meddling in the 2016 election campaign. A number of US media outlets picked up the ball and repeated the accusations, claiming Russians had hacked into the DNC’s computer servers and leaked emails to WikiLeaks in order to help the Donald Trump campaign.

The FBI and intelligence agencies launched investigations and, despite a lack of evidence of Russian involvement in the hack, “signaled” that the attack was “almost certainly” carried out by “Russian-affiliated hackers,” the Wall Street Journal reported earlier.

According to the latest Reuters report citing FBI officials, the agency has been boosting its efforts to find evidence that would allow the Justice Department to launch a criminal case against alleged Russian hackers for trying to interfere in the election campaign.

Russian officials have repeatedly denied involvement in the hacks, calling them “so absurd it borders on total stupidity,” in the words of the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. Russian President Vladimir Putin also claimed the allegations are false, while suggesting that blaming Russia is an electioneering trick which steers the US public away from the facts exposed by the leaked material.

The FBI investigation is currently probing the DNC hacks and leaks as well as recent attempted computer intrusions into Arizona and Illinois state election systems networks. Washington regards a criminal investigation resulting in legal action as the best response to increasing attempts to hack US political parties and political figures.