After a week of vigorous denials, the New York Times just reported President Barack Obama’s email correspondence was captured by Russian cyber-hackers last year in a breach of what the White House is calling its “unclassified computer system.” The breaches were described as “far more intrusive and worrisome than has been publicly acknowledged, according to senior American officials briefed on the investigation.”
The New York Times learned through leaks that hackers leveraged their deep penetration of the US State Department’s supposedly “unclassified system” into the email servers supporting the White House staff and the President. So far, there is no information regarding penetrations of the “closely guarded servers that control the message traffic from Mr. Obama’s BlackBerry, which he or an aide carries constantly.
But once inside the White House servers, it is undoubtedly possible that the hackers could have extended their penetration of the President’s account to virtually any but the most highly secure systems of the 2.7 million federal employees that would have been highly responsive to White House electronic traffic.
Once hackers had deep access to White House archived files, they could easily have extended penetrations to any domestic or foreign party outside of government that was in regular email communications with the President and his senior staff, according to officials briefed on the investigation that agreed to speak to the Times.
Many senior officials have two computers in their offices, one operating on a highly secure private classified network and another connected to the outside world through the Internet for unclassified communications. White House officials are vigorously claiming that none of the classified networks were compromised by the Russians.
But despite “Appendix III to OMB Circular No. A-130” that sets the ‘Security of Federal Automated Information Resources,’ officials will be forced to concede that the unclassified system routinely contains a wealth of information that is considered highly sensitive. Examples of data valuable to foreign agents on the unclassified White House servers would be daily schedules and activities; email exchanges with ambassadors and diplomats; discussions of pending legislation; and foreign and domestic policy discussions.
The New York Times reported that “Officials did not disclose the number of Mr. Obama’s emails that were harvested by hackers, nor the sensitivity of their content.
The fact that President Obama’s personal communications were accessed by Russian hackers that presumably were working with the Russian government has been a closely guarded secret that has been kept from the America people for months by senior White House officials.
The White House intrusion was viewed as so serious that officials met on a nearly daily basis for several weeks after it was discovered.
The Times reported a senior official as saying, “It’s the Russian angle to this that’s particularly worrisome” with hacking taking place at the same time as the renewed tension with Russia — over its annexation of Crimea, the presence of its forces in Ukraine and its renewed military patrols in Europe, reminiscent of the Cold War.