No, Mueller didn't ‘prove’ Russian hacking in Florida – or anywhere else
The 448-page report by special counsel Robert Mueller, released last week, admits it cannot substantiate claims that US President Donald Trump or his campaign colluded or coordinated with Russia during the 2016 campaign, but takes as a given that “Russian meddling” actually happened – citing nothing but its own indictments of “Russian agents” as proof.
Indictments are not evidence, however, and any proof Mueller might have offered beyond that could be hiding in the redactions intended to protect “sources and methods” and ongoing investigations. That has not stopped numerous media outlets from claiming that the report totally proved there was hacking, going beyond the Democratic Party and the Hillary Clinton campaign to affect even state electoral systems in places like Florida and Illinois.
Of particular interest to these outlets was the claim in the report that “Russian” hackers sent hundreds of spear-phishing emails to election officials in Florida and gained access “to the network of at least one Florida county government” (page 51). This was presented as a complete vindication of comments made by Bill Nelson, the Democrat senator who lost his seat in 2018 to Rick Scott, Republican and former Florida governor.
Former Sen. Bill Nelson says Mueller report vindicates his Florida hacking claims. But it's still hard to sort fact from fiction about Russia's sweeping operation. @Joseph_Marks_ in The Cybersecurity 202: https://t.co/9p2orXJWM5— Peter Stevenson (@PeterWStevenson) April 23, 2019
Mueller report: FBI backs up former Sen. Bill Nelson's claim that Russians hacked Florida's election systems https://t.co/vHUkzVCUNs— Daily Kos Elections (@DKElections) April 19, 2019
That was news to Florida, however, with the authorities there saying they had “no knowledge or evidence of any successful hacking attempt at the county level during the 2016 elections,” according to Florida Department of State spokesperson Sarah Revell.
“Upon learning of the new information released in the Mueller report, the department reached out to the FBI to inquire which county may have been accessed, and they declined to share this information with us,” Revell added.
Going back and re-reading the relevant portion of the Mueller report, what it actually says is that “We understand the FBI believes”this happened, and the special counsel’s office “did not independently verify that belief” or “undertake the investigative steps that would have been necessary to do so.”Also on rt.com Let’s hear out Assange? US intelligence veterans say Mueller failed to prove ‘Russian hacking’
Then there is CNBC, whose takeaway from the Mueller report is that “Russian hacking” was “surprisingly inexpensive.” The alleged social media campaign supposedly run by the Internet Research Agency – again, based on Mueller’s indictments, not evidence – reportedly cost only $100,000 in Facebook ads, a drop in the sea of US election spending. Even the experts interviewed for the article – while taking for granted that Russia was to blame – pointed out the “meddling” was not very sophisticated and done on the cheap.
“Given [Russian President Vladimir Putin’s] willingness to take on the risk of retaliation, it’s remarkable how low a lift it is for the Kremlin to interfere with Western democracies,” said Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group.
“The GRU famously posses tools and techniques which would widely be regarded as sophisticated, but one thing that is striking in the descriptions of the attacks is how the attack used more straightforward techniques,” said James Chappell, founder of the London-based cybersecurity firm Digital Shadows.
Left unsaid here is the mind-boggling assumption that someone with such sophisticated tools at their disposal would choose not to use them in a situation where the stakes are so high. In any case, the US law enforcement and intelligence community admitted that their assessment of Russian guilt was based on what they wanted to believe about Moscow’s motives, rather than evidence.Also on rt.com We want to believe: ‘Russian hacking’ memo REVEALS how US intel pinned leaks to Kremlin
Keep in mind, however, that the accusation of “Russian hacking” originally came from CrowdStrike, the DNC cybersecurity contractor that never allowed the FBI to inspect the actual servers, and whose chief technologist Dmitri Alperovich is a fellow at the rabidly anti-Russian Atlantic Council.
CrowdStrike also provided services to the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), and they too got hacked during the 2018 midterm election! Not only that, but the incident was kept secret from the GOP leadership, ostensibly to protect the investigation – which in the end went nowhere – until after Democrats won the House of Representatives.
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