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Now Testifying for the Prosecution: President Trump

Westlake Legal Group merlin_167671023_7c6f1afd-2e8b-409c-845f-7ad1f4d35987-facebookJumbo Now Testifying for the Prosecution: President Trump United States Politics and Government Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Senate Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Russia impeachment

WASHINGTON — The House managers prosecuting President Trump for high crimes and misdemeanors have failed so far to persuade Senate Republicans to let them call new witnesses in his impeachment trial. But in their own way, they have come up with a star witness they can bring to the floor: Mr. Trump himself.

Barred at this point from presenting live testimony, the managers have offered up the president as the most damning witness against himself, turning his own words against him by quoting from his public remarks, citing accounts of private discussions and showing video clips of him making audacious statements that the House team argues validate its case.

Thanks to screens set up in front of the senators, Mr. Trump’s voice has repeatedly echoed through the Senate chamber the past three days. There he was on the South Lawn of the White House publicly calling on Ukraine to investigate a campaign rival, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. There he was calling on China to go after Mr. Biden, too. There he was declaring that he would willingly take foreign help to win an election. And there he was back in 2016 calling on Russia, “if you’re listening,” to hack into Hillary Clinton’s email.

The strategy seeks to capitalize on Mr. Trump’s astonishingly unfiltered approach to politics, which has led him again and again to say openly what other presidents with more of an understanding of the traditional red lines of Washington — or at least more of an instinct for political self-preservation — would never say in front of a camera.

In effect, the managers are challenging the president’s own penchant for announcing his motivations without apparent regard for whether it could get him into trouble. At the same time, the managers are challenging the senators to take Mr. Trump at his word about what really drove him to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations into Mr. Biden and other Democrats.

While Mr. Trump’s lawyers have argued that he was legitimately concerned with corruption in Ukraine when he held up nearly $400 million in security aid to that former Soviet republic, Representative Adam B. Schiff of California and the other House Democrats on the managers team have pointed to the president’s own words to contend that he cared only about tarnishing his domestic rivals.

In his presentation on Thursday, Mr. Schiff played about a half-dozen video clips of Mr. Trump, including one of the president on the South Lawn of the White House on Oct. 3 speaking with reporters who asked him what he was hoping to get Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to do when they talked by telephone on July 25.

“Well, I would think if they were honest about it, they’d start a major investigation into the Bidens,” the senators saw Mr. Trump saying.

“So here we hear again from the president’s own words what his primary object is,” Mr. Schiff then told the senators, “and his primary object is helping his re-election campaign, help to cheat in his re-election campaign.”

Mr. Schiff said Mr. Trump’s own words made clear that he learned nothing from the Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. “He was at it again,” Mr. Schiff said, “unrepentant, undeterred, if anything emboldened by escaping accountability from his invitation and willful use of Russian hacked materials in the last election.”

Under the trial rules, the president’s lawyers have had no chance to respond to their client’s star turn on the Senate floor over the last two days, but they are poised to open their own arguments on Saturday. In the meantime, Mr. Trump’s team has been left to defend him in the hallways during breaks.

“You’re only hearing one side of the story here,” said Representative Mike Johnson of Louisiana, one of a squadron of House Republicans enlisted by the president to serve as an adjunct of his defense team, working the cameras outside the chamber rather than the senators inside.

Mr. Johnson said it was wrong to contend that Mr. Trump was not concerned about corruption in Ukraine and elsewhere around the world. “Of course he was,” Mr. Johnson told reporters. “He’s been talking about it as a central theme of his campaign before he was president. When he ran on the priority of America first, that’s what he meant. He wanted to make sure that American taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.”

Mr. Trump is not the only person who has been presented to the Senate via video clips during the prosecution arguments, but even the other witnesses against him were largely drawn from his own team. Many of them testified during House hearings last fall about their concerns over the president and his allies pressuring Ukraine for help with his domestic politics.

Among the prosecution’s key witnesses are officials appointed by the Trump administration itself, including Gordon D. Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union; Kurt D. Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine; Fiona Hill, the president’s former Europe and Russia adviser, and her successor, Tim Morrison; Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director; Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff; William B. Taylor Jr., the former top diplomat in Ukraine; and Thomas P. Bossert, the former White House homeland security adviser.

Others brought electronically into the chamber over the last three days include career public servants like Marie L. Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine; Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, a National Security Council staff member; and State Department officials like George Kent and David Holmes.

“Why did President Trump’s own officials — not so-called Never Trumpers, but public servants — report this in real time?” Mr. Schiff asked, referring to the mixing of politics with Ukraine policy. “Because they knew it was wrong.”

Indeed, the managers used Mr. Trump’s own appointees to rebut his assertion that he was right to push Ukraine to investigate its own supposed interference in the 2016 presidential election, a conspiracy theory that American intelligence agencies have called a Russian disinformation operation. The managers showed clips of Mr. Wray, Mr. Bossert and Dr. Hill all debunking the theory.

But the most compelling voice in the chamber this week has been that of the president himself. In his three years in office, Washington has learned that when it wants to understand what Mr. Trump is doing or thinking, he will most likely spell it out in bracingly candid terms in front of a microphone or on Twitter — and not always follow the official party line offered by his aides.

That uninhibited style appeals to supporters who love that he does not hew to standard talking points, but it can make him a frustrating client for lawyers who would prefer he be more circumspect at the very least. Either way, it makes his statements more important in judging him. Which is presumably one reason his legal team has resisted Mr. Trump’s suggestions that perhaps he should attend the trial and testify himself.

Absent that, there will be the television clips and quotes from the rough transcript of his call with Mr. Zelensky and recollections of people like Mr. Sondland.

Mr. Schiff played one clip after the other that he said exposed Mr. Trump’s true intentions. In one, Mr. Trump told reporters: “There was a lot of corruption having to do with the 2016 election against us. We want to get to the bottom of it.

When the clip was shown, Mr. Schiff focused on the “us” in Mr. Trump’s comment: “What does that president say? Corruption against us. He is not concerned about actual corruption cases, only matters that affect him personally.”

But the managers had it easy the last couple of days with exclusive access to the microphone and the screens on the Senate floor, and unchallenged by either the White House legal team or the senators. On Saturday, the president’s lawyers will have their chance to explain what Mr. Trump meant and provide the other side of the story, one that will interpret his words in a far different light than Mr. Schiff. Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s lawyers, told reporters during a break on Thursday that the managers had presented nothing new and hardly proved their case.

“I saw nothing that has changed in the last day and a half, two and a half days, we’ve been going here,” he said. “We’re going to begin a robust case when the Senate says it’s time to start.”

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Ukraine’s President Said He’d Fight Corruption. Resistance Is Fierce.

Westlake Legal Group merlin_162479898_efd06973-9588-43d8-88c4-f9305e672361-facebookJumbo Ukraine’s President Said He’d Fight Corruption. Resistance Is Fierce. Zelensky, Volodymyr Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Russia PrivatBank London (England) Kolomoisky, Igor V International Monetary Fund embezzlement Corruption (Institutional)

KYIV, Ukraine — Kateryna Rozhkova, the first deputy governor of Ukraine’s central bank, had just about learned to live with the hundreds of protesters banging metal rods and drums outside her office when they started gathering every morning outside her house.

If that wasn’t enough, just before Christmas, a brass ensemble showed up at her home blaring funeral music in accompaniment of a horse-drawn hearse and men dressed like the grim reaper.

The protesters presented themselves as part of a grass roots effort opposing official corruption, but Ms. Rozhkova says they were anything but. She says they were sent by a billionaire accused of defrauding the government of $5 billion and who is now locked in a fierce battle with the Ukrainian central bank.

“If there is this kind of reaction,” Ms. Rozhkova said of the lawlessness she says Ukraine’s anti-corruption forces are up against, “it means that there is a fight.”

President Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian, sitcom star and political neophyte, catapulted to the presidency of Ukraine last spring on a promise of sweeping away the country’s shadowy web of money and influence.

Now, as Mr. Zelensky faces pressure to deliver on his promises, he is finding that actually bringing the corrupt officials and oligarchs to heel is a lot harder than satirizing them on his former TV show, “Servant of the People.”

Previous Ukrainian presidents came to power pledging to tackle corruption, but usually with the intent of using that pose as cover for their own corrupt deals, activists say. Whether Mr. Zelensky can show that he is different from past leaders will be a decisive litmus test for his presidency — and for Ukraine’s viability as a country moving closer to the West.

Further complicating an already daunting task, Mr. Zelensky has been forced to deal with the fallout from the Trump administration’s pressure campaign in Ukraine and the impeachment trial in Washington that sprang from it.

In the past, Ukraine enjoyed the steadfast support of the United States in fighting both corruption and a war against Russian-backed separatists. Now, Ukrainians say Washington’s message has grown muddled, in part because Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, and his Ukrainian allies see the Western-backed camp of Ukrainian anticorruption reformers as their enemies.

“Giuliani flying in — rather than fighting corruption, he was supporting and meeting with all of the past corrupt people,” said Valeria Gontareva, the former head of Ukraine’s central bank. “As a result, it’s very hard to say what the message is that we now hear from America.”

Nevertheless, anticorruption activists say they see signs of progress.

Mr. Zelensky’s new prosecutor general is modernizing his corruption-plagued office and firing hundreds of prosecutors. A flurry of laws passed by Mr. Zelensky’s months-old parliamentary majority seeks to overhaul the justice system and criminalize illicit enrichment by public officials. The president has even signed legislation establishing a procedure for his own impeachment.

When it comes to enforcing the law, however, Mr. Zelensky’s tests are just beginning. Ukraine’s mafia, for example, is trying to bribe and threaten members of Mr. Zelensky’s ruling bloc in Parliament to derail legislation to crack down on organized crime, said a senior lawmaker, David Arakhamia.

“They meet them by their house and say, ‘We know where your parents live,’” said Mr. Arakhamia, the floor leader of Mr. Zelensky’s party in Parliament.

And just this week Mr. Zelensky’s handpicked prime minister, Oleksiy Honcharuk, offered his resignation after the leak of what he said was a doctored recording on which he is heard to say the president has a “primitive” understanding of economics. Mr. Honcharuk blamed the leak on forces trying to undermine the anticorruption drive. Mr. Zelensky refused his resignation.

Perhaps Mr. Zelensky’s biggest challenge lies with his erstwhile patron, Ihor Kolomoisky, one of the oligarchs that Mr. Giuliani and his associates courted and the man Ms. Rozhkova believes is responsible for trying to intimidate her and her colleagues.

Mr. Kolomoisky advanced Mr. Zelensky’s career by putting “Servant of the People” on his TV channel. Now, having returned from self-imposed exile in Israel and Switzerland, he is hoping to regain control of a bank that the government seized from him, alleging that he and his business partner siphoned billions of dollars out of it.

“Even more than getting it back, I want to punish the guilty” responsible for seizing the bank, Mr. Kolomoisky told The New York Times in November. “The guilty must be put on the spike and the death penalty brought back for them.”

In a recent phone interview, Mr. Kolomoisky denied having anything to do with the protests against the central bank, which have been covered extensively on the television channel he owns and populated by people transported in buses bearing the logo of one of his businesses. He called Mr. Giuliani an “honorable person.”

Ms. Gontareva, who nationalized Mr. Kolomoisky’s bank, PrivatBank, in 2016, says she got a sample of the oligarch’s methods last year. First, she was hit by a car while in London, where she was living at the time. Then her house in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and her son’s car were hit by arson attacks. She decided to remain in London in self-imposed exile.

Mr. Kolomoisky dismissed Ms. Gontareva’s allegations, saying she “has to be sent to the insane asylum.”

Mr. Zelensky needs to demonstrate to Ukraine’s Western creditors that he is serious about prosecuting large-scale fraud in order to secure billions of dollars in sorely needed loans from the International Monetary Fund.

In the impeachment proceedings in Washington, Ukraine has been tarnished by corruption accusations by Republicans and Democrats alike — feeding worries that Kyiv now faces a long-term challenge in winning bipartisan support even as its conflict with neighboring Russia continues.

In America, “politicians are an extension of the electorate, and the electorate has already concluded that Ukraine is a corrupt country,” said Oleksandr Danylyuk, who resigned as Mr. Zelensky’s national security adviser in September. “In practice, I expect the support of the United States to be minimal in the next year.”

The new prosecutor general, Ruslan Ryaboshapka, this fall allowed a longstanding case to proceed against a different business tycoon, Oleg Bakhmatyuk, who is also accused of siphoning money from his bank. But the Ukrainian authorities have not brought such charges against Mr. Kolomoisky.

That has led to accusations that Mr. Zelensky is giving his media ally and former business partner special treatment — charges that both men deny.

But high-profile corruption cases “won’t be credible until there’s action taken against Kolomoisky,” said Mr. Danylyuk, the former Zelensky adviser. “Bakhmatyuk won’t cut it.”

Mr. Kolomoisky denies any wrongdoing in the PrivatBank matter. Mr. Bakhmatyuk also denies wrongdoing.

Ukraine’s problems extend beyond Mr. Kolomoisky, however. The powerful S.B.U. intelligence agency remains in dire need of changes to stop it from intervening “in all areas of social life and business,” says the Anti-Corruption Action Center, a watchdog group. Rather than functioning as a Western intelligence service, the S.B.U. is able to take advantage of its wide-ranging powers to extract bribes and exert undue influence across Ukraine, its critics say.

“Right now, corrupt elites from various agencies are trying to understand how to operate under the new political realities in Ukraine,” said the center’s executive director, Daria Kaleniuk. “They’re looking for whom to bribe, who to negotiate with.”

A representative of Andriy Bohdan, Mr. Zelensky’s chief of staff whom Mr. Bakhmatyuk blamed for his plight, did not respond to a request for comment.

Dmytro Sologub, a deputy governor of the National Bank of Ukraine, said post-Soviet Ukraine was particularly vulnerable to corruption even compared to some other post-Communist European countries. Caught between warring European powers for centuries, the country has little legacy of its own trusted institutions.

“The system we’re trying to change now was created and modified in the course of 25 years,” Mr. Sologub said. “That raises the question of how much time will be necessary to change it.”

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Edward Parson: Keep the International Development Department. But scrap the 0.7 per cent aid target.

Edward Parson is a former Sevenoaks District Councillor and International Development Consultant, and contested North Durham at the 2019 General Election

At the height of election fever in December, there were mooted reports of a Whitehall shakeup – this included a possible merger of DFID with the Foreign Office, but more recent reporting suggests a reversal. This article will highlight why DFID should be kept intact as a separate Department, and why it is more important than ever to protect the aid budget.

Keeping DFID as a separate department

Whilst Britain spends £14 billion (2017) on overseas aid, 30 per cent of the aid budget is now spent outside of DFID, with departments like the Foreign Office taking an increasing portion under its control.

As a consultant, I supported aid work with both departments, and found that DFID managed its portfolio with far greater efficiency and scrutiny than the FCO. This view is supported by a National Audit Office report which found the lack of transparency in departments outside of DFID gave uncertainty that UK aid was being used effectively.

Official Development Assistance (ODA) spending requires specialist knowledge and tools to ensure public money is dispensed overseas in the best way. DFID has had many years to hone this model, maintaining a focus on outcomes rather than process.

However, to continue as a separate department, DFID should improve how it aligns traditional aid objectives with Britain’s strategic goals. Part of the reason that the aid budget is being hived off from direct DFID control is for other departments to spend aid in a non-traditional way.

The Conflict, Stability and Security Fund is a good example of such a hybrid model, combining typical aid outcomes such as global peace and prosperity with UK national security objectives. There is no reason why DFID can’t adopt this mind-set wholesale, ensuring that aid spending always works to benefit Britain and the recipient state. This measure would help DFID to take back control of the aid budget, permitting the high levels of transparency and scrutiny that come with it.

Preserving our ODA Spend

An even greater reason to commit to DFID and its funding is for the supporting role it plays in enabling strong foreign policy. This role will be critical as we leave the EU, and is broken down into three aspects:

  • Soft power: It is becoming less common for our aid to be “tied” (conditional on political reform) and this is a good thing. Despite this, aid still helps to open doors and engenders goodwill in the beneficiary state. This allows us to exercise influence and support the important diplomatic work of the Foreign Office. Aid can also be applied more directly to instigate positive overseas reform. For example, using aid to lead investment in sustainable solutions which tackle global environmental challenges.
  • Trade: With Britain leaving the EU, we will have an independent trade policy for the first time in decades. In order to develop strong trading relationships, we’ll rely on free and fair markets, which can be facilitated through a concept known as ‘Secondary Benefits’. The idea is that by developing overseas economies we open up markets in which to do business – an approach that’s been championed by Alok Sharma. Secondary Benefits also emerge incidentally during the implementation of aid programmes. For example, an aid funded health programme could be leveraged to sell NHS expertise, within or beyond the scope of that particular programme.
  • Global Leadership: The UK still operates at the top table of international affairs, and this comes with certain responsibilities. The UK sets a high bar in giving generously to less well off states and we must think about the example we would set in abandoning our serious commitment to aid. Furthermore, much of our aid has a subsidiary effect of promoting our closest held values, such as democracy, the rule of law, and equality. These beliefs are by no means globally ubiquitous, and we face a challenge from countries like China and Russia aiming to spread their own contravening set of values. China, in particular, has been accused of rigging their aid, creating one sided conditional arrangements that aim to politically or economically exploit less developed countries. We must contrast this, by offering a fairer option for vulnerable nations in need of help.

Removing the 0.7 per cent overseas aid pledge

These points could appear obvious, but need reinforcing to illustrate the important and sometimes neglected benefits of retaining our leading position on aid. However, this does not mean to say we should preserve the model as it is.

We pledge to spend 0.7 per cent of GDP on aid, which is an arbitrary amount devised over 50 years ago based on a suggestion by the World Council of Churches. More than anything, this pledge is rigid and makes it difficult to cancel failing and wasteful projects.

We must replace this target with an outcomes-based budget, which focuses on what we want to/can achieve, rather than how much we want to spend. This could mean spending more than 0.7 per cent in some years and less in others, based on what our goals are and what’s achievable at that point in time.

Overall, DFID must continue specialising in the dispensation of aid, with the resources and Cabinet level representation that an independent department provides. Equally, our strong commitment to aid should be unwavering, as an integral arm of our foreign policy.

However, we must devise a replacement for the 0.7 per cent GDP target and make our aid as mutually beneficial as possible. This will ensure the most efficient use of public resources, and help guarantee popular support for this vital work.

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Justice Dept. Investigating Years-Old Leaks and Appears Focused on Comey

Westlake Legal Group 07dc-comey-facebookJumbo Justice Dept. Investigating Years-Old Leaks and Appears Focused on Comey Washington Post United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Russia Presidential Election of 2016 Newspapers News and News Media New York Times Netherlands Liu, Jessie Kong Justice Department Federal Bureau of Investigation Espionage and Intelligence Services Comey, James B Classified Information and State Secrets

WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors in Washington are investigating a years-old leak of classified information about a Russian intelligence document, and they appear to be focusing on whether the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey illegally provided details to reporters, according to people familiar with the inquiry.

The case is the second time the Justice Department has investigated leaks potentially involving Mr. Comey, a frequent target of President Trump, who has repeatedly called him a “leaker.” Mr. Trump recently suggested without evidence that Mr. Comey should be prosecuted for “unlawful conduct” and spend years in prison.

The timing of the investigation could raise questions about whether it was motivated at least in part by politics. Prosecutors and F.B.I. agents typically investigate leaks of classified information around the time they appear in the news media, not years later. And the inquiry is the latest politically sensitive matter undertaken by the United States attorney’s office in Washington, which is also conducting an investigation of Mr. Comey’s former deputy, Andrew G. McCabe, that has been plagued by problems.

Law enforcement officials are scrutinizing at least two news articles about the F.B.I. and Mr. Comey, published in The New York Times and The Washington Post in 2017, that mentioned the Russian government document, according to the people familiar with the investigation. Hackers working for Dutch intelligence officials obtained the document and provided it to the F.B.I., and both its existence and the collection of it were highly classified secrets, the people said.

The document played a key role in Mr. Comey’s decision to sideline the Justice Department and announce in July 2016 that the F.B.I. would not recommend that Hillary Clinton face charges in her use of a private email server to conduct government business while secretary of state.

The investigation into the leaks began in recent months, the people said, but it is not clear whether prosecutors have impaneled a grand jury or how many witnesses they have interviewed. What prompted the inquiry is also unclear, but the Russian document was mentioned in a book published last fall, “Deep State: Trump, the F.B.I., and the Rule of Law” by James B. Stewart, a Times reporter.

A lawyer for Mr. Comey declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for the United States attorney’s office in Washington.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly pressured the Justice Department to investigate his perceived enemies. In 2018, he told the White House counsel at the time, Donald F. McGahn II, to prosecute Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Comey. Mr. McGahn refused, telling the president that he did not have the authority to order investigations and that doing so could prompt abuse-of-power accusations. Mr. Trump had also discussed the appointment of a second special counsel to conduct the investigations he sought.

Previously, federal prosecutors in New York scrutinized Mr. Comey after his personal lawyer and friend, Daniel C. Richman, provided the contents of a memo about Mr. Comey’s interactions with Mr. Trump to a Times reporter at Mr. Comey’s request. Though officials retroactively determined that the memo contained classified information, prosecutors declined to charge Mr. Comey with illegally disclosing the material. The Justice Department’s inspector general, who had examined Mr. Comey’s conduct and referred his findings to prosecutors in New York, concluded that Mr. Comey violated F.B.I. policy.

The latest investigation involves material that Dutch intelligence operatives siphoned off Russian computers and provided to the United States government. The information included a Russian analysis of what appeared to be an email exchange during the 2016 presidential campaign between Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democrat of Florida who was also the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee at the time, and Leonard Benardo, an official with the Open Society Foundations, a democracy-promoting organization whose founder, George Soros, has long been a target of the far right.

In the email, Ms. Wasserman Schultz suggested that then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch would make sure that Mrs. Clinton would not be prosecuted in the email case. Both Ms. Wasserman Schultz and Mr. Benardo have denied being in contact, suggesting the document was meant to be Russian disinformation.

That document was one of the key factors that drove Mr. Comey to hold a news conference in July 2016 announcing that investigators would recommend no charges against Mrs. Clinton. Typically, senior Justice Department officials would decide how to proceed in such a high-profile case, but Mr. Comey was concerned that if Ms. Lynch played a central role in deciding whether to charge Mrs. Clinton, Russia could leak the email.

Whether the document was fake remains an open question. But American officials at the time did not believe that Ms. Lynch would hinder the Clinton email investigation, and neither Ms. Wasserman Schultz nor Mr. Benardo had any inside information about it. Still, if the Russians had released the information after the inquiry was closed, it could have tainted the outcome, hurt public confidence in the Justice Department and sowed discord.

Prosecutors are also looking at whether Mr. Richman might have played a role in providing the information to reporters about the Russia document and how it figured into Mr. Comey’s rationale about the news conference, according to the people familiar with the investigation. Mr. Comey hired Mr. Richman at one point to consult for the F.B.I. about encryption and other complex legal issues, and investigators have expressed interest in how he operated.

Mr. Richman was quoted in the April 2017 article in The Times that revealed the document’s existence. A month later, The Post named Ms. Wasserman Schultz and Mr. Benardo as subjects of the document in a detailed article. A lawyer for Mr. Richman declined to comment.

Typically, prosecutors would decline to open investigations into older leaks of classified information because the passage of time makes such cases much harder to pursue as the memories of witnesses fade. Also, the initial leaks can generate more leaks as more officials feel comfortable discussing the information with journalists because it has become public.

Multiple news stories about the classified disclosures also make it harder to determine whether one person was speaking to reporters or several people, according to former law enforcement officials. And the larger the universe of government officials who have been briefed on classified information, the more difficult it is to find the leaker, former officials said. In this case, lawmakers were briefed on the Russian document in addition to executive branch officials.

In inquiries where investigators determine that a leak is coming from members of Congress or their staff, political sensitivities make those cases difficult to investigate. Most of the time, former officials said, such inquiries are dead on arrival.

Additionally, investigators could also decline to open an investigation into an older leak because it might further harm national security if the information once again made headlines, as in this inquiry.

“Leak cases are incredibly difficult to prosecute,” said Brian J. Fleming, a former lawyer with the Justice Department who worked on many such cases in his work on national security issues. “They are very challenging to present to a jury both as an evidentiary matter and in terms of presenting a compelling, coherent narrative. That is a big reason so few leak cases get charged and even fewer ever go to trial.”

Still, if a government agency is determined to hunt down the source of a leak, as the C.I.A. was in the case of Jeffrey A. Sterling, a former C.I.A. officer who was convicted of leaking details about an anti-Iran operation to a Times reporter, Justice Department officials generally will pursue the case aggressively.

Federal prosecutors in the District of Columbia have embraced politically fraught cases under the United States attorney, Jessie K. Liu, an ambitious prosecutor who has angled for bigger jobs in the Trump administration.

She aggressively pushed for the prosecution of Mr. McCabe on suspicion of lying to investigators about sensitive law enforcement information provided to a reporter. Mr. McCabe was accused of misleading investigators conducting an administrative review, not a criminal inquiry; typically, such cases are not referred for prosecution.

The relatively straightforward case against Mr. McCabe has dragged on for more than 20 months. Prosecutors have refused to tell Mr. McCabe’s lawyers whether they intend to bring charges.

Ms. Liu’s office also charged Gregory B. Craig, a onetime White House counsel in the Obama administration, after prosecutors in New York passed on the case. Mr. Craig was charged with lying to the F.B.I. about his work for the Ukrainian government, but a jury last year quickly acquitted him, handing Ms. Liu an embarrassing defeat.

Mr. Trump nominated Ms. Liu last month to be the Treasury Department’s under secretary for terrorism and financial crimes. He had previously tapped her to be the No. 3 spot in the Justice Department, but she withdrew from consideration after Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, raised concerns about her conservative credentials.

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Russians Hacked Ukrainian Gas Company at Center of Impeachment

Westlake Legal Group 13burisma-hack-facebookJumbo-v2 Russians Hacked Ukrainian Gas Company at Center of Impeachment United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Russia Presidential Election of 2020 Cyberwarfare and Defense Burisma Holdings Ltd Biden, Joseph R Jr Biden, Hunter

With President Trump facing an impeachment trial over his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter Biden, Russian military hackers have been boring into the Ukrainian gas company at the center of the affair, according to security experts.

The hacking attempts against Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company on whose board Hunter Biden served, began in early November, as talk of the Bidens, Ukraine and impeachment was dominating the news in the United States.

It is not yet clear what the hackers found, or precisely what they were searching for. But the experts say the timing and scale of the attacks suggest that the Russians could be searching for potentially embarrassing material on the Bidens — the same kind of information that Mr. Trump wanted from Ukraine when he pressed for an investigation of the Bidens and Burisma, setting off a chain of events that led to his impeachment.

The Russian tactics are strikingly similar to what American intelligence agencies say was Russia’s hacking of emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman and the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential campaign. In that case, once they had the emails, the Russians used trolls to spread and spin the material, and built an echo chamber to widen its effect.

Then, as now, the Russian hackers from a military intelligence unit known formerly as the G.R.U., and to private researchers by the alias “Fancy Bear,” used so-called phishing emails that appear designed to steal usernames and passwords, according to Area 1, the Silicon Valley security firm that detected the hacking. In this instance, the hackers set up fake websites that mimicked sign-in pages of Burisma subsidiaries, and have been blasting Burisma employees with emails meant to look like they are coming from inside the company.

The hackers fooled some of them into handing over their login credentials, and managed to get inside one of Burisma’s servers, Area 1 said.

“The attacks were successful,” said Oren Falkowitz, a co-founder of Area 1, who previously served at the National Security Agency. Mr. Falkowitz’s firm maintains a network of sensors on web servers around the globe — many known to be used by state-sponsored hackers — which gives the firm a front-row seat to phishing attacks, and allows them to block attacks on their customers.

“The timing of the Russian campaign mirrors the G.R.U. hacks we saw in 2016 against the D.N.C. and John Podesta,” the Clinton campaign chairman, Mr. Falkowitz said. “Once again, they are stealing email credentials, in what we can only assume is a repeat of Russian interference in the last election.”

The Justice Department indicted seven officers from the same military intelligence unit in 2018.

The Russian attacks on Burisma appear to be running parallel to an effort by Russian spies in Ukraine to dig up information in the analog world that could embarrass the Bidens, according to an American security official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence. The spies, the official said, are trying to penetrate Burisma and working sources in the Ukrainian government in search of emails, financial records and legal documents.

Neither the Russian government nor Burisma responded to requests for comment.

American officials are warning that the Russians have grown stealthier since 2016, and are again seeking to steal and spread damaging information and target vulnerable election systems ahead of the 2020 election.

[Read: Even as American election defenses have improved, Russian hackers and trolls have become more sophisticated.]

In the same vein, Russia has been working since the early days of Mr. Trump’s presidency to turn the focus away from its own election interference in 2016 by seeding conspiracy theories about Ukrainian meddling and Democratic complicity.

The result has been a muddy brew of conspiracy theories that mix facts, like the handful of Ukrainians who openly criticized Mr. Trump’s candidacy, with discredited claims that the D.N.C.’s email server is in Ukraine and that Mr. Biden, as vice president, had corrupt dealings with Ukrainian officials to protect his son. Spread by bots and trolls on social media, and by Russian intelligence officers, the claims resonated with Mr. Trump, who views talk of Russian interference as an attack on his legitimacy.

With Mr. Biden’s emergence as a front-runner for the Democratic nomination last spring, the president latched on to the corruption allegations, and asked that Ukraine investigate the Bidens on his July 25 call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. The call became central to Mr. Trump’s impeachment last month.

The Biden campaign sought to cast the Russian effort to hack Burisma as an indication of Mr. Biden’s political strength, and to highlight Mr. Trump’s apparent willingness to let foreign powers boost his political fortunes.

“Donald Trump tried to coerce Ukraine into lying about Joe Biden and a major bipartisan, international anti-corruption victory because he recognized that he can’t beat the vice president,” said Andrew Bates, a spokesman for the Biden campaign.

“Now we know that Vladimir Putin also sees Joe Biden as a threat,” Mr. Bates added. “Any American president who had not repeatedly encouraged foreign interventions of this kind would immediately condemn this attack on the sovereignty of our elections.”

The corruption allegations hinge on Hunter Biden’s work on the Burisma board. The company hired Mr. Biden while his father was vice president and leading the Obama administration’s Ukraine policy, including a successful push to have Ukraine’s top prosecutor fired for corruption. The effort was backed by European allies.

The story has since been recast by Mr. Trump and some of his staunchest defenders, who say Mr. Biden pushed out the prosecutor because Burisma was under investigation and his son could be implicated. Rudolph W. Giuliani, acting in what he says was his capacity as Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, has personally taken up investigating the Bidens and Burisma, and now regularly claims to have uncovered clear-cut evidence of wrongdoing.

The evidence, though, has yet to emerge, and now the Russians appear to have joined the hunt.

Area 1 researchers discovered a G.R.U. phishing campaign on Ukrainian companies on New Year’s Eve. A week later, Area 1 determined what the Ukrainian targets had in common: They were all subsidiaries of Burisma Holdings, the company at the center of Mr. Trump’s impeachment. Among the Burisma subsidiaries phished were KUB-Gas, Aldea, Esko-Pivnich, Nadragas, Tehnocom-Service and Pari. The targets also included Kvartal 95, a Ukrainian television production company founded by Mr. Zelensky. The phishing attack on Kvartal 95 appears to have been aimed at digging up email correspondence for the company’s chief, Ivan Bakanov, whom Mr. Zelensky appointed as the head of Ukraine’s Security Service last June.

To steal employees’ credentials, the G.R.U. hackers directed Burisma to their fake login pages. Area 1 was able to trace the look-alike sites through a combination of internet service providers frequently used by G.R.U.’s hackers, rare web traffic patterns, and techniques that have been used in previous attacks against a slew of other victims, including the 2016 hack of the D.N.C. and a more recent Russian hack of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

“The Burisma hack is a cookie-cutter G.R.U. campaign,” Mr. Falkowitz said. “Russian hackers, as sophisticated as they are, also tend to be lazy. They use what works. And in this, they were successful.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

WATCH: Marr asks Lewis when Russian interference report will be published

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

‘Chaos Is the Point’: Russian Hackers and Trolls Grow Stealthier in 2020

Westlake Legal Group 22dc-CYBERELECT-01-facebookJumbo ‘Chaos Is the Point’: Russian Hackers and Trolls Grow Stealthier in 2020 Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Russia Rumors and Misinformation Presidential Election of 2020 News and News Media Cyberwarfare and Defense

The National Security Agency and its British counterpart issued an unusual warning in October: The Russians were back and growing stealthier.

Groups linked to Russia’s intelligence agencies, they noted, had recently been uncovered boring into the network of an elite Iranian hacking unit and attacking governments and private companies in the Middle East and Britain — hoping Tehran would be blamed for the havoc.

For federal and state officials charged with readying defenses for the 2020 election, it was a clear message that the next cyberwar was not going to be like the last. The landscape is evolving, and the piggybacking on Iranian networks was an example of what America’s election-security officials and experts face as the United States enters what is shaping up to be an ugly campaign season marred by hacking and disinformation.

American defenses have vastly improved in the four years since Russian hackers and trolls mounted a broad campaign to sway the 2016 presidential election. Facebook is looking for threats it barely knew existed in 2016, such as fake ads paid for in rubles and self-proclaimed Texas secessionists logging in from St. Petersburg. Voting officials are learning about bots, ransomware and other vectors of digital mischief. Military officials are considering whether to embrace information warfare and retaliate against election interference by hacking senior Russian officials and leaking their personal emails or financial information.

Yet interviews with dozens of officials and experts make clear that many of the vulnerabilities exploited by Moscow in 2016 remain. Most political campaigns are unwilling to spend what it takes to set up effective cyberdefenses. Millions of Americans are still primed to swallow fake news. And those charged with protecting American elections face the same central challenge they did four years ago: to spot and head off any attack before it can disrupt voting or sow doubts about the outcome. It is a task made even more difficult by new threats to the election from other American rivals, such as Iran, which has more motive than ever to interfere in 2020 after a drone strike killed its top security and intelligence commander last week in Iraq.

The Russians were sloppy in 2016 because they could be: They caught Americans off guard. Now hackers and trolls, who have seen their tradecraft splashed across the pages of American intelligence assessments and federal indictments, are working far harder to cover their tracks. They are, as one American intelligence official put it, “refreshing” their operations.

One of the two Russian intelligence units that hacked the Democrats in 2016, known as “Fancy Bear,” has shifted some of its work to servers based in the United States in an apparent attempt to thwart the N.S.A. and other American spy agencies, which are limited by law to operating abroad, according to federal officials tracking the moves. The other unit, known as “Cozy Bear,” abandoned its hacking infrastructure six months ago and has dropped off the radar, security analysts said.

The trolls at the Internet Research Agency — the now-indicted outfit behind much of the Russian disinformation spread in 2016 — have ditched email accounts that were being tracked by Western intelligence agencies and moved to encrypted communication tools, like ProtonMail, that are much harder to trace. They are also trying to exploit a hole in Facebook’s ban on foreigners buying political ads, paying American users to hand over personal pages and setting up offshore bank accounts to cover their financial tracks, said an official and a security expert at a prominent tech company.

At the Department of Homeland Security, there is renewed anxiety about a spate of ransomware attacks on American towns and cities over the last year. The attacks, officials say, revealed gaping security holes that could be exploited by those looking to disrupt voting by locking up and ransoming voter rolls or simply cutting power at critical polling centers on Election Day. And while large-scale hacking of voting machines is difficult, it is by no means impossible.

There are also weak points up and down the long chain of websites and databases used to tally and report votes, officials said. Run by states or counties, the systems that stitch together reports from thousands of polling centers are a hodgepodge of new and old technologies, many with spotty security.

With the first primaries just weeks away, officials are keeping a watchful eye for hints about what to expect come November. The widespread expectation is that hackers, who may have only a single shot at exploiting a particular bug or vulnerability, will wait until the general election rather than risk wasting it on a primary.

Some of the meddling is homegrown. Americans have been exposed spinning up fake websites for Democratic front-runners and paying Macedonians to promote divisive political views. Facebook, the most important digital platform for political ads, also made it clear this week that it would not police political messaging for lies or misleading claims.

With Americans so mistrustful of one another, and of the political process, the fear of hacking could be as dangerous as an actual cyberattack — especially if the election is close, as expected. That is what happened last November in Kentucky, when talk of a rigged election spread online after it became clear that the governor’s race would come down to the wire.

“You don’t actually have to breach an election system in order to create the public impression that you have,” said Laura Rosenberger, director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, which tracks Russian disinformation efforts.

“Chaos is the point,” she added. “You can imagine many different scenarios.”

Still, officials say, the deepest challenges come from abroad. Iran, under harsh sanctions that were not in place four years ago, nosed around the election system in 2018. More recently, Iranian hackers have been caught trying to compromise President Trump’s campaign and impersonating American political candidates on Twitter.

For his part, Mr. Trump has already warned North Korea against “interference,” though he appeared to be referring to missile launches meant to embarrass him.

The president has shown far less concern about Russian interference. He has repeatedly questioned the idea that Moscow meddled in the 2016 election, viewing such talk as a challenge to his legitimacy. In his zeal to find another culprit, Mr. Trump eagerly embraced a Russian-backed conspiracy theory that shifted the blame to Ukraine, and set in motion the events that led to his impeachment.

American officials, however, are nearly unanimous in the conclusion that Russia interfered in 2016, and that it remains the greatest threat in 2020. Unlike other countries, which are seen as eager to influence American policy, Russia appears, above all, to be interested in undermining confidence in America’s democratic institutions, starting with the voting process.

Then and now, officials and experts said, the Russians and others could bank on one constant: America’s partisan divide, which engenders deep cynicism among Democrats and Republicans alike.

“Our adversaries, including Russia, China, Iran and others, are persistent: They focus on our politics and try to take advantage of existing fissures and American sentiment, particularly if it may weaken us,” said Shelby Pierson, who monitors election threats at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

“They’ll try many tactics and can adapt,” she added. “If it doesn’t work out, they try something else.”

In the public imagination, the defining elements of Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election were disinformation and the hacking of Democratic Party emails. But as they look to 2020, many election security officials and experts say the most worrying piece of the Russian meddling was the hacking of state election systems.

Election systems in all 50 states were targets of Russian hackers in 2016, though voting went smoothly in most places. In the estimation of many officials and experts, the effort was probably a trial run meant to probe American defenses and identify weaknesses in the vast back-end apparatus — voter-registration operations, state and local election databases, electronic poll books and other equipment — through which American elections are run.

One expert told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia was “conducting the reconnaissance to do the network mapping, to do the topology mapping, so that you could actually understand the network, establish a presence so you could come back later and actually execute an operation.”

Of particular concern is the Russians’ hacking of three companies that provide states with the back-end systems that have increasingly replaced the thick binders of paper used to verify voters’ identities and registration status.

Current and former officials say American intelligence agencies determined in 2017 that the companies’ systems had been penetrated. But officials still cannot say how far the hackers got or whether any data was stolen or corrupted.

The companies operate without federal oversight — it is states, after all, that run American elections, yet most lack the resources or expertise to oversee what are essentially tech firms. As a result, little is known about the companies’ security, employee requirements or supply-chain practices, experts said.

One of the targeted companies, VR Systems, provided e-poll books to Durham County, N.C., where malfunctions with the electronic systems in 2016 led to scores of voters’ being told incorrectly that they had already cast ballots or were ineligible to vote.

Though officials declassified a report in recent weeks that showed configuration errors, not an attack, were to blame for the problems in Durham, experts say the Election Day chaos there highlighted the risk of an attack or ordinary malfunction that blocks voters from casting their votes in swing states.

The rise of ransomware — which typically locks a system until victims pay the attackers in a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin — has given another weapon to attackers looking to sow chaos and digitally disenfranchise voters.

American cities and towns faced a record number of ransomware attacks last year, with more than 100 federal, state and municipal governments hit.

Homeland Security officials are investigating whether Russian intelligence was involved in any of the attacks, according to two department officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence. They are looking into whether cybercriminals, who appeared to be motivated by greed, were used as decoys to test the defenses of states and cities that might make ideal targets closer to the election. Among the towns hit hardest by ransomware last year was Riviera Beach, Fla., in Palm Beach County — which played an outsize role in deciding the contested 2000 presidential election.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2016 election, there was an intense focus on America’s voting machines, particularly the pricey touch-screen devices that lack the paper trail necessary to audit random samples of the tallies or conduct a reliable — if slow — manual recount.

Yet many machines remain vulnerable, as J. Alex Halderman, a professor at the University of Michigan, often demonstrates when he runs fake elections between George Washington and Benedict Arnold, and manipulates the software that prepares the ballots to assure a victory for America’s most famous traitor.

“In every single case, we found ways for attackers to sabotage machines and to steal votes,” he told the Senate Intelligence Committee, describing his research.

A study published in December by Interos, a risk-management firm, raised questions about the security of the hardware used in the machines, as well. Two-thirds of the companies that supply critical components for voting machines maintain offices in Russia and China, where foreign companies are regularly required to give security officials sensitive technical information, including software code in some cases. Chinese-owned companies make about a fifth of the voting machine components.

Each of those parts presents an opportunity for foreign interference. “There has been insufficient attention to the potential problems of the actual voting machines being hacked,” said David Dill, founder of the Verified Voting Foundation.

Come November, eight or so states will still be without full paper backup. These include battleground states, like Pennsylvania, that are out of funds to replace paperless machines.

Much as 20th-century militaries learned to combine soldiers, sea power and airplanes to mount a coordinated assault, Russia has proved adept at meddling in elections by blending different types of digital malfeasance into one larger operation. The 2016 election exemplified the playbook: Russian hackers stole sensitive material, starting with Democratic Party emails, then used trolls to spread and spin the material, and built an echo chamber to widen its effect.

Now, as the next election approaches, hackers appear to be laying the groundwork for a repeat. But this time they are employing techniques that are more sophisticated — and dangerous — in their attempts to steal potentially embarrassing material from political campaigns.

Security experts say they are witnessing a significant ramp-up in attempts to hack Democratic front-runners. In just the last two months, there were roughly a thousand phishing attempts against each of the leading Democratic candidates, according to Area 1, a Silicon Valley security firm, which did not name the candidates.

Most were attempts to replicate the 2016 hack of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, who was successfully baited into turning over his email credentials, said Oren Falkowitz, Area 1’s chief executive. But in about a fifth of the attacks, hackers compromised the accounts of campaign consultants and affiliates, and used those to send malicious lures to people inside the campaign. It is an extra step for hackers, but individuals are softer targets than the campaign, and people are far more likely to click on a link if they know the sender.

An episode during the run-up to Britain’s recent parliamentary election highlighted the potential, but also the limits, of disinformation campaigns based on real information.

In November, an anonymous Reddit user — who has since been linked to a wide-ranging Russian disinformation campaign — posted internal British government documents that detailed preliminary talks with the United States on a trade deal. Though the post did not gain much attention initially, it eventually made its way to the opposition Labour party, which said it offered proof that the Conservatives, if re-elected, planned to privatize the National Health Service as part of a deal with the United States.

News of the documents forced Prime Minister Boris Johnson to deny that his party planned to privatize the health service, though his government acknowledged that the leaked materials were genuine.

But with the Conservatives well ahead in the polls, the episode did nothing to alter the election’s outcome. Mr. Johnson won a commanding majority in Parliament and a clear mandate to proceed with Britain’s exit from the European Union — and cut a trade deal with the United States.

The other pieces of the Russian campaign, which targeted a number of Western countries between 2016 and 2019, had even less impact, according to a report last month by Graphika, a firm that tracks social media activity. Called Secondary Infektion, the campaign was run by trolls who used hundreds of social media accounts to spread 44 stories in at least six languages. The stories ranged from fictitious claims about the 2016 American election to an article that sought to link President Emmanuel Macron of France to Islamist militants.

Most were demonstrably false and based on faked interviews or manufactured documents. The trade-deal story appears to have been the only one based on real material, and the only one that made international headlines.

“Some were openly mocked by real users; many were simply ignored,” Ben Nimmo of Graphika wrote in the firm’s report.

“As the 2020 U.S. presidential election approaches,” Mr. Nimmo added, “it is vital to be wary of potential interference, but it is equally important to understand what forms of interference are most damaging.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

‘Chaos Is the Point’: Russian Hackers and Trolls Grow Stealthier in 2020

Westlake Legal Group 22dc-CYBERELECT-01-facebookJumbo ‘Chaos Is the Point’: Russian Hackers and Trolls Grow Stealthier in 2020 Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Russia Rumors and Misinformation Presidential Election of 2020 News and News Media Cyberwarfare and Defense

The National Security Agency and its British counterpart issued an unusual warning in October: The Russians were back and growing stealthier.

Groups linked to Russia’s intelligence agencies, they noted, had recently been uncovered boring into the network of an elite Iranian hacking unit and attacking governments and private companies in the Middle East and Britain — hoping Tehran would be blamed for the havoc.

For federal and state officials charged with readying defenses for the 2020 election, it was a clear message that the next cyberwar was not going to be like the last. The landscape is evolving, and the piggybacking on Iranian networks was an example of what America’s election-security officials and experts face as the United States enters what is shaping up to be an ugly campaign season marred by hacking and disinformation.

American defenses have vastly improved in the four years since Russian hackers and trolls mounted a broad campaign to sway the 2016 presidential election. Facebook is looking for threats it barely knew existed in 2016, such as fake ads paid for in rubles and self-proclaimed Texas secessionists logging in from St. Petersburg. Voting officials are learning about bots, ransomware and other vectors of digital mischief. Military officials are considering whether to embrace information warfare and retaliate against election interference by hacking senior Russian officials and leaking their personal emails or financial information.

Yet interviews with dozens of officials and experts make clear that many of the vulnerabilities exploited by Moscow in 2016 remain. Most political campaigns are unwilling to spend what it takes to set up effective cyberdefenses. Millions of Americans are still primed to swallow fake news. And those charged with protecting American elections face the same central challenge they did four years ago: to spot and head off any attack before it can disrupt voting or sow doubts about the outcome. It is a task made even more difficult by new threats to the election from other American rivals, such as Iran, which has more motive than ever to interfere in 2020 after a drone strike killed its top security and intelligence commander last week in Iraq.

The Russians were sloppy in 2016 because they could be: They caught Americans off guard. Now hackers and trolls, who have seen their tradecraft splashed across the pages of American intelligence assessments and federal indictments, are working far harder to cover their tracks. They are, as one American intelligence official put it, “refreshing” their operations.

One of the two Russian intelligence units that hacked the Democrats in 2016, known as “Fancy Bear,” has shifted some of its work to servers based in the United States in an apparent attempt to thwart the N.S.A. and other American spy agencies, which are limited by law to operating abroad, according to federal officials tracking the moves. The other unit, known as “Cozy Bear,” abandoned its hacking infrastructure six months ago and has dropped off the radar, security analysts said.

The trolls at the Internet Research Agency — the now-indicted outfit behind much of the Russian disinformation spread in 2016 — have ditched email accounts that were being tracked by Western intelligence agencies and moved to encrypted communication tools, like ProtonMail, that are much harder to trace. They are also trying to exploit a hole in Facebook’s ban on foreigners buying political ads, paying American users to hand over personal pages and setting up offshore bank accounts to cover their financial tracks, said an official and a security expert at a prominent tech company.

At the Department of Homeland Security, there is renewed anxiety about a spate of ransomware attacks on American towns and cities over the last year. The attacks, officials say, revealed gaping security holes that could be exploited by those looking to disrupt voting by locking up and ransoming voter rolls or simply cutting power at critical polling centers on Election Day. And while large-scale hacking of voting machines is difficult, it is by no means impossible.

There are also weak points up and down the long chain of websites and databases used to tally and report votes, officials said. Run by states or counties, the systems that stitch together reports from thousands of polling centers are a hodgepodge of new and old technologies, many with spotty security.

With the first primaries just weeks away, officials are keeping a watchful eye for hints about what to expect come November. The widespread expectation is that hackers, who may have only a single shot at exploiting a particular bug or vulnerability, will wait until the general election rather than risk wasting it on a primary.

Some of the meddling is homegrown. Americans have been exposed spinning up fake websites for Democratic front-runners and paying Macedonians to promote divisive political views. Facebook, the most important digital platform for political ads, also made it clear this week that it would not police political messaging for lies or misleading claims.

With Americans so mistrustful of one another, and of the political process, the fear of hacking could be as dangerous as an actual cyberattack — especially if the election is close, as expected. That is what happened last November in Kentucky, when talk of a rigged election spread online after it became clear that the governor’s race would come down to the wire.

“You don’t actually have to breach an election system in order to create the public impression that you have,” said Laura Rosenberger, director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, which tracks Russian disinformation efforts.

“Chaos is the point,” she added. “You can imagine many different scenarios.”

Still, officials say, the deepest challenges come from abroad. Iran, under harsh sanctions that were not in place four years ago, nosed around the election system in 2018. More recently, Iranian hackers have been caught trying to compromise President Trump’s campaign and impersonating American political candidates on Twitter.

For his part, Mr. Trump has already warned North Korea against “interference,” though he appeared to be referring to missile launches meant to embarrass him.

The president has shown far less concern about Russian interference. He has repeatedly questioned the idea that Moscow meddled in the 2016 election, viewing such talk as a challenge to his legitimacy. In his zeal to find another culprit, Mr. Trump eagerly embraced a Russian-backed conspiracy theory that shifted the blame to Ukraine, and set in motion the events that led to his impeachment.

American officials, however, are nearly unanimous in the conclusion that Russia interfered in 2016, and that it remains the greatest threat in 2020. Unlike other countries, which are seen as eager to influence American policy, Russia appears, above all, to be interested in undermining confidence in America’s democratic institutions, starting with the voting process.

Then and now, officials and experts said, the Russians and others could bank on one constant: America’s partisan divide, which engenders deep cynicism among Democrats and Republicans alike.

“Our adversaries, including Russia, China, Iran and others, are persistent: They focus on our politics and try to take advantage of existing fissures and American sentiment, particularly if it may weaken us,” said Shelby Pierson, who monitors election threats at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

“They’ll try many tactics and can adapt,” she added. “If it doesn’t work out, they try something else.”

In the public imagination, the defining elements of Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election were disinformation and the hacking of Democratic Party emails. But as they look to 2020, many election security officials and experts say the most worrying piece of the Russian meddling was the hacking of state election systems.

Election systems in all 50 states were targets of Russian hackers in 2016, though voting went smoothly in most places. In the estimation of many officials and experts, the effort was probably a trial run meant to probe American defenses and identify weaknesses in the vast back-end apparatus — voter-registration operations, state and local election databases, electronic poll books and other equipment — through which American elections are run.

One expert told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia was “conducting the reconnaissance to do the network mapping, to do the topology mapping, so that you could actually understand the network, establish a presence so you could come back later and actually execute an operation.”

Of particular concern is the Russians’ hacking of three companies that provide states with the back-end systems that have increasingly replaced the thick binders of paper used to verify voters’ identities and registration status.

Current and former officials say American intelligence agencies determined in 2017 that the companies’ systems had been penetrated. But officials still cannot say how far the hackers got or whether any data was stolen or corrupted.

The companies operate without federal oversight — it is states, after all, that run American elections, yet most lack the resources or expertise to oversee what are essentially tech firms. As a result, little is known about the companies’ security, employee requirements or supply-chain practices, experts said.

One of the targeted companies, VR Systems, provided e-poll books to Durham County, N.C., where malfunctions with the electronic systems in 2016 led to scores of voters’ being told incorrectly that they had already cast ballots or were ineligible to vote.

Though officials declassified a report in recent weeks that showed configuration errors, not an attack, were to blame for the problems in Durham, experts say the Election Day chaos there highlighted the risk of an attack or ordinary malfunction that blocks voters from casting their votes in swing states.

The rise of ransomware — which typically locks a system until victims pay the attackers in a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin — has given another weapon to attackers looking to sow chaos and digitally disenfranchise voters.

American cities and towns faced a record number of ransomware attacks last year, with more than 100 federal, state and municipal governments hit.

Homeland Security officials are investigating whether Russian intelligence was involved in any of the attacks, according to two department officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence. They are looking into whether cybercriminals, who appeared to be motivated by greed, were used as decoys to test the defenses of states and cities that might make ideal targets closer to the election. Among the towns hit hardest by ransomware last year was Riviera Beach, Fla., in Palm Beach County — which played an outsize role in deciding the contested 2000 presidential election.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2016 election, there was an intense focus on America’s voting machines, particularly the pricey touch-screen devices that lack the paper trail necessary to audit random samples of the tallies or conduct a reliable — if slow — manual recount.

Yet many machines remain vulnerable, as J. Alex Halderman, a professor at the University of Michigan, often demonstrates when he runs fake elections between George Washington and Benedict Arnold, and manipulates the software that prepares the ballots to assure a victory for America’s most famous traitor.

“In every single case, we found ways for attackers to sabotage machines and to steal votes,” he told the Senate Intelligence Committee, describing his research.

A study published in December by Interos, a risk-management firm, raised questions about the security of the hardware used in the machines, as well. Two-thirds of the companies that supply critical components for voting machines maintain offices in Russia and China, where foreign companies are regularly required to give security officials sensitive technical information, including software code in some cases. Chinese-owned companies make about a fifth of the voting machine components.

Each of those parts presents an opportunity for foreign interference. “There has been insufficient attention to the potential problems of the actual voting machines being hacked,” said David Dill, founder of the Verified Voting Foundation.

Come November, eight or so states will still be without full paper backup. These include battleground states, like Pennsylvania, that are out of funds to replace paperless machines.

Much as 20th-century militaries learned to combine soldiers, sea power and airplanes to mount a coordinated assault, Russia has proved adept at meddling in elections by blending different types of digital malfeasance into one larger operation. The 2016 election exemplified the playbook: Russian hackers stole sensitive material, starting with Democratic Party emails, then used trolls to spread and spin the material, and built an echo chamber to widen its effect.

Now, as the next election approaches, hackers appear to be laying the groundwork for a repeat. But this time they are employing techniques that are more sophisticated — and dangerous — in their attempts to steal potentially embarrassing material from political campaigns.

Security experts say they are witnessing a significant ramp-up in attempts to hack Democratic front-runners. In just the last two months, there were roughly a thousand phishing attempts against each of the leading Democratic candidates, according to Area 1, a Silicon Valley security firm, which did not name the candidates.

Most were attempts to replicate the 2016 hack of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, who was successfully baited into turning over his email credentials, said Oren Falkowitz, Area 1’s chief executive. But in about a fifth of the attacks, hackers compromised the accounts of campaign consultants and affiliates, and used those to send malicious lures to people inside the campaign. It is an extra step for hackers, but individuals are softer targets than the campaign, and people are far more likely to click on a link if they know the sender.

An episode during the run-up to Britain’s recent parliamentary election highlighted the potential, but also the limits, of disinformation campaigns based on real information.

In November, an anonymous Reddit user — who has since been linked to a wide-ranging Russian disinformation campaign — posted internal British government documents that detailed preliminary talks with the United States on a trade deal. Though the post did not gain much attention initially, it eventually made its way to the opposition Labour party, which said it offered proof that the Conservatives, if re-elected, planned to privatize the National Health Service as part of a deal with the United States.

News of the documents forced Prime Minister Boris Johnson to deny that his party planned to privatize the health service, though his government acknowledged that the leaked materials were genuine.

But with the Conservatives well ahead in the polls, the episode did nothing to alter the election’s outcome. Mr. Johnson won a commanding majority in Parliament and a clear mandate to proceed with Britain’s exit from the European Union — and cut a trade deal with the United States.

The other pieces of the Russian campaign, which targeted a number of Western countries between 2016 and 2019, had even less impact, according to a report last month by Graphika, a firm that tracks social media activity. Called Secondary Infektion, the campaign was run by trolls who used hundreds of social media accounts to spread 44 stories in at least six languages. The stories ranged from fictitious claims about the 2016 American election to an article that sought to link President Emmanuel Macron of France to Islamist militants.

Most were demonstrably false and based on faked interviews or manufactured documents. The trade-deal story appears to have been the only one based on real material, and the only one that made international headlines.

“Some were openly mocked by real users; many were simply ignored,” Ben Nimmo of Graphika wrote in the firm’s report.

“As the 2020 U.S. presidential election approaches,” Mr. Nimmo added, “it is vital to be wary of potential interference, but it is equally important to understand what forms of interference are most damaging.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Andrew Boff: How Croatia’s control of the EU presidency could derail Britain’s negotiations

Andrew Boff is the Deputy Leader of the GLA Conservatives and a Member of the Council of Europe.

With Brexit now certain to happen at the end of the month, the UK is preparing for the negotiations to move onto the future relationship.

Indeed, Boris Johnson hosted the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, in Downing Street this week, kicking off a race against time to secure a free trade deal.

With this short timeframe, the last thing we need is the prospect of a major disruption – but Croatia’s new presidency of the European Union, which began on the first of this month, could pose exactly that risk. Croatia’s presidency of the Council of the EU, its first since joining the EU in 2013, will last until 30 June 2020. It will also be crucial to the success or failure of Brexit negotiations, which is among Croatia’s top priorities during its presidency.

Negotiations over Britain’s future relations with the EU, including a free trade agreement, will begin after January 31. My worry is that Russian influence in Croatia has the potential to derail or obstruct progress towards a viable free trade deal that works for all. There have been numerous worrying developments in Croatia, especially regarding Russian encroachment.

We know that Russia would prefer a fragmented Europe that devolves into in-fighting. A successful post-Brexit free trade deal between the UK and the EU would be anathema to Russia, blocking its hopes of escalating its meddling in the internal affairs of countries across Europe.

The last few years has seen mounting evidence of Russia using its levers within Croatia to influence European affairs.

Croatia’s biggest multi-billion Euro company, Agrokor, is now partially owned by two Kremlin-backed banks, Sberbank and Vneshtorgbank, which hold a 47 percent stake in Agrokor.

Before they bailed out the ailing firm, Agrokor’s revenues accounted for some 15 percent of Croatian GDP – the same percentage the City of London represents relative to UK GDP. As such, the deal gave Putin massive indirect leverage on the Croatian economy, and on the largest firm in the former Yugoslavia.

Shortly after the bailout, Gazprom exploited the Russia-friendly political climate by signing a 10-year contract to deliver one billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas to Croatia every year, ensuring the country’s dependence on Russia.

More recently, mere days before Croatia’s ascendancy to the EU presidency, a Croatian court found the head of Hungarian energy group MOL, Zsolt Hernadi, guilty of bribing Croatia’s former Prime Minister, Ivo Sanader, to allow MOL to take control of Croatian state energy firm INA.

But two legal experts appointed as independent trial monitors in the decade-long legal battle have firmly rejected the integrity of the Croatian state prosecution and trial. Seemingly obscure, the details reveal a dangerous game at work with Putin at its centre.

Kai Ambos, a judge in the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, The Hague, and Lord David Anderson QC of Brick Court Chambers, audited the fairness of the criminal proceedings. Their detailed 182-page trial report accuses Croatian state prosecutors of “bias” in favour of Croatian “national interests”, breaching internationally-recognised fair trial standards “including violating Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)”, and violating the “fair trial rights” of the defendants – by, for instance, not allowing sufficient preparation time and excluding the public from key points in the trial without record in Court minutes, among many other breaches.

Such grave irregularities raise serious questions about Croatia’s fitness to lead the EU presidency, and the EU overall as a credible institution. But what is particularly concerning is the geopolitical backdrop alluded to by the report suggesting a Russian-backed covert lobbying operation to become the new strategic energy partner for Croatia (and by extension the EU).

The entire bribery story rests on the testimony of a single witness, Croatian tycoon Robert Jezic. During the trial, as the independent trial monitors report points out, his claims were called into question by oil industry consultant Imre Fazakas and Russian oil magnate Mikhail Gutseriev.

Both witnesses told the court the bribe money received by Jezic as an alleged go-between to pass on from MOL to Sanader had nothing to do with either, but instead was given to him by Gutseriev, with Fazekas’ assistance, as part of a lobbying effort for the Družba Adria project. The latter was a longstanding Russian pipeline plan to transport Russian energy to Europe.

Gutseriev testified that Jezic had “stolen” his €5 million; and Jezic admitted to the court that he used the sum to benefit his own companies and never even passed any of it to Sanader. Yet as the trial monitoring report points out, these issues were not properly investigated by Croatia’s state anti-corruption agency, nor duly considered at the trial.

In short, the verdict from this seemingly obscure trial has huge ramifications: it not only poses disturbing questions around Russia’s interference in the Croatian judiciary, but by extension about Russian influence on the Council of the EU under Croatia’s presidency.

On the one hand, we can be glad that Britain is exiting from this melodrama of escalating corruption. But it also means that to ensure a clean escape, the UK must be on its guard against efforts by Russia to derail the Brexit negotiations.

As the Prime Minister has repeatedly stated, the UK is leaving the EU, not Europe. As part of our international and moral obligations we should not be afraid to call out human rights abuses, judicial manipulation, and attacks on the rule of law, regardless of which countries are responsible for them.

We must also be vigilant towards countries that may seek to do us harm and monitor the ways in which they seek to influence our affairs.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Richard Bingley: A cyber war is on the way

Richard Bingley is the CEO of the London-based Global Cyber Academy, an independent education organisation dedicated to making technology safer.

Iran’s government often causes incumbent American presidents a headache during election year, although Donald Trump seems immune to diplomatic migraines.

Tehran’s response to Donald Trump’s decisive swoop to eliminate Qassem Soleimani might not be in a format we expect or understand.

After all, this was not a clandestine attack by an American secret agency practicing ‘plausible deniability’. It was a brazen and visceral public lashing by the White House.

Iran’s government has been shamed, not least by the litany of horrific and hypocritical violent operations that are being revealed.

Even among her few allies in Asia and the Gulf, Tehran is struggling to drum up much genuine sympathy for a cartel of uniformed gangsters who seemingly operated almost with a carte-blanche licence to kill beyond their own borders.

If any credit is to be had from this sorry episode, it is that the USA didn’t even bother with an ambiguous operation that could be batted away in the United Nations with suppressed smirks, nods and winks which follow covert operations.

Tehran therefore had no dilemma to struggle with as to whether to respond.

Although numerically strong, Iran’s military rank-and-file will be acutely aware that it will, in all likelihood, produce a feeble, disjointed performance on any battlefield.

Moreover, such a bedraggled spectacle – of high-tech machinery pummelling the futile billows of religious dogma – would occur under the full spotlight of 24/7 satellite television and mass digital voyeurism.

Two weeks of US, or Israeli-led, airstrikes, with Special Forces battering each flank, might usher in a final collapse for the regime.

Coupled with likely trade sanctions from some Gulf partners, then Russia and China sitting on their hands, there could only be one short-term winner if full-scale military confrontation broke out: the United States

Nevertheless, beneath her religious cloak-tails, Tehran’s boisterous government is often clever, agile and highly rational. Tehran practices – most of the time – a strong, survivalist, realpolitik.

For a prediction of what’s about to come, we should analyse the life of Soleimani himself.

Soleimani was widely described as an expert exporter of asymmetric warfare; the types of lethal guerrilla operations that can bring great humiliation, and even draw out precautionary fear and retreat, from larger military giants.

According to an array of intelligence reports, his bloody career was dedicated to producing a complex network of Shia-sympathetic fighter cells, who bombed and assassinated Sunni-dominated opposition groups and government personnel in neighbouring states, including Iraq.

Soleimani’s speciality was hybrid and deniable covert operations, which terrorised opponents and sent an intimidating signal or projection of power to Iran’s regional adversaries: principally Iraq’s fledgling government, Saudi Arabia, non-Shia of the Lebanon and, of course, Israel.

Hybrid means the mixing up of attack methods; in the general’s case, utilising good old traditional ammonium-nitrate-fuelled bombs that can liquidate an apartment block or garrison, but also increasingly deploying advanced technical capabilities: phone intercepts, target espionage and tracking, drone navigation, communications jamming, etc.

The second part of his modus operandi, technical sabotage, is likely to be Tehran’s chosen retaliation in the longer term.

Tehran will know that Trump is consistent only ever in his dramatic inconsistency. An excessive military provocation would make him likely to strike back hard, possibly to the point of attempting regime change.

Ringing in his ears will be two presidential scenarios. President Kennedy, whose personal approval ratings rose despite the unsuccessful 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion to topple Fidel Castro. Voters like ‘tough’ and they like ‘action’.

Second, Jimmy Carter’s attempt to negotiate the way out of post-revolutionary Iran for 70 trapped US embassy officials in 1979. The debacle lasted 444 days.

Carter’s cerebral, plaintive, attempt failed dismally. Ronald Reagan nailed him for his dithering and hand-wringing weakness, and duly defeated him in 1980.

Iran’s government knows all of this. As such, it has perhaps one of the most finely tuned asymmetric warfare strategies out there. As with her partly successful nuclear enrichment negotiations with Barack Obama (and the EU), Tehran thinks that it knows exactly how far to push back at an adversary, or camouflage a glitch, without necessarily provoking Washington to start pulling triggers.

Tehran’s retaliation will probably be in the form of escalating cyber attacks upon the USA, its infrastructure and its close allies. Namely, the UK, Saudi Arabia and the Dubai Emirate.

Why?

Because, even though the evidence of a cyber-attack stemming from Iran would be almost incontrovertible to insiders, general public audiences are still susceptible to claims that cyber space is too ambiguous. (Most of us are, thankfully, optimists, unless we see damning proof of something.)

Cyber-attacks are a little like taking a complicated fraud case before a jury. The evidence trail is often too difficult to prove, then the end result is perceivably not lethal. Thus, at present, few countries, if any, have gone to war over a cyber-attack.

However, let’s think back. Iran has the capability, in spades. In June 2017, MPs’ email accounts in the Houses of Parliament were successfully hacked.

Initial suspicion fell upon Russia, China, and North Korea’s infamous Lazarus cyber-crime group.

But after a four-month investigation, GCHQ (the UK government’s signals intelligence agency) pointed the finger squarely at Tehran.

In 2005, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard established a cyber army, which notably attacked Baidu, a Chinese tech firm, in 2009 and also Twitter. World-leading cyber analysts at the Israel Institute for National Security Studies ranked the IRG as the world’s fourth most powerful cyber army by 2013.

Moreover, if (for example) planned troop movements, or traffic planning systems, or hospital systems, power station systems, car GPS systems – many coordinated by automated and unchecked supervisory controls – are breached, then it simply is a fact of life that any decent cyber-attack upon a critical system will cause physical harm to citizens. And lots of us.

It’s worth recalling that North Korea’s cyber-attack using the WannaCry ransomware led to more than 1,000 NHS operations being cancelled back in 2017.

Attempts to patch up older and more vulnerable computer systems have been slow across the UK and other supposedly advanced western economies.

Unlike Israelis or Iraqis, we Brits simply do not believe that a devastating cyber-attack will happen to us.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com