Russians Also Tried to Hack Republican National Committee, and Failed

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is seen on the television at the Republican National Committee (RNC) before a news conference about the GOP's success on Election Night, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
AP / Alex Brandon

The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that, according to anonymous U.S. officials (who are still driving the entire “election hacking” story with unsubstantiated leaks, on a daily basis), Russian hackers tried to hit the Republican National Committee as well as the Democrats, but were foiled by superior RNC security.

The Journal then quotes another group of anonymous “people close to the investigation” who said the hackers’ failure to penetrate RNC servers “indicated a less aggressive and much less persistent effort by Russian intelligence to hack the Republican group than the Democratic National Committee.” In the end, the hackers were able to harvest only a single email from a “long-departed RNC staffer.”

This analysis doesn’t sit well with recent revelations that Clinton campaign chief, and alleged cybersecurity expert, John Podesta was tricked with an incredibly simple phishing scam – a single email that told him to click on a bogus button to change the password on his email account. That didn’t really take a huge amount of effort.

We’ve also long known that the DNC’s system had weak passwords, which they handled in an absurdly sloppy manner. The Russians even mocked the DNC for its poor password security in some of their early responses to accusations they were behind the raid on the Democratic National Committee. Presumptions that the hackers made some sort of extraordinary effort to penetrate the DNC system, while their heart wasn’t really in the attempted RNC hack, is difficult to square with public knowledge about the case.

“The possibility that Russians tried and failed to infiltrate the RNC doesn’t necessarily conflict with the CIA’s conclusion. A senior U.S. official said analysts now believe what started as an information-gathering campaign aimed at both parties later took on a focus of leaked emails about Mrs. Clinton and Democrats,” the Wall Street Journal adds later in its article, without making it clear which anonymous official offered that opinion.

Even if that analysis is accurate, we might ask if the relatively easy success of the DNC raid inspired more follow-up activity, rather than a political agenda.

As the Wall Street Journal goes on to report, the RNC was targeted with the exact same kind of phishing emails that worked on the DNC, but RNC security dealt with them so effectively that staff members “didn’t realize they had been the target of spies until June, after Democratic committee leaders revealed that hackers had successfully gained a foothold inside their networks.” The RNC’s filters shot those phishing emails down before staffers even saw them.

The WSJ also notes that Obama administration officials “warned for months that Russian hackers had tried to interfere with U.S. elections, and intelligence agencies issued an unusual public assessment in October warning Russia was behind the cyberattack.”

This only makes it more suspicious that a full-blown media frenzy didn’t erupt until after the election was over. Democrats, most assuredly including Barack Obama, put very little effort into cybersecurity until they were personally victimized by hackers.

Obama treated every security incident as an annoyance to be finessed with a speech or two, clearly more concerned about poor media coverage of his administration than the actual damage inflicted by hackers, even after the enormous Cyber Pearl Harbor of the Office of Personnel Management attack.

Is it too much to say that the Obama administration treated these alleged assaults on our electoral system as a minor issue, to be handled more by media spin doctors than security agencies, because they thought Hillary Clinton had the election in the bag?

As a matter of fact, yet another anonymous official said exactly that to NBC News on Friday: “They thought she was going to win, so they were willing to kick the can down the road.”


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