I'm still working on the Big Piece that has been formulating in my noggin during the past few days. It's always a conundrum: When one has only 200 pieces of a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle, dare one show one's work? A normal journalist would say "no." On the other hand, a blogger who shows an incomplete picture may be rewarded with more pieces.
For now, let's take a look at some news involving the Russia connection.
According to the NYT, Sergei Mikhailov, an FSB agent believed to be responsible for the DNC hack, has been arrested on charges of treason
. We don't know if those charges are linked to the hack.
He was detained along with one of Russia’s leading private-sector cybersecurity experts, Ruslan Stoyanov, the head of computer incident response investigations at the Kaspersky Lab, which makes antivirus programs.
The company confirmed in a statement that Mr. Stoyanov had been arrested, but said his arrest “has nothing to do with Kaspersky Lab and its operations.”
Stoyanov's previous jobs, listed on the LinkedIn website, include a position at the Cyber Crime Unit at the Russian Interior Ministry in the early 2000s.
Andrei Soldatov, who has studied the internet and Russian security services for more than a decade, called the arrest of the Kaspersky manager "unprecedented."
"It destroys a system that has been 20 years in the making, the system of relations between intelligence agencies and companies like Kaspersky," he told The Associated Press. "Intelligence agencies used to ask for Kaspersky's advice, and this is how informal ties were built. This romance is clearly over."
Kaspersky, based in Moscow, has received mention in many previous articles about the hack. The Obama administration sanctioned Alisa Esage Shevchenko
(also see here
), a Kaspersky veteran who went on to found her own company called ZOR Security.
Kaspersky has been pointing the finger at the hacking group "Fancy Bear," despite Putin's denial of Russian involvement. (Fancy Bear
is considered to be very FSB-friendly -- or GRU-friendly, depending on which article you're reading.)
So what the hell are we to make of Mikhailov's arrest on treason charges? Let's get back to the NYT article.
Alternatively, the detention of an official who would have been in a position to engage in the election hacking in America could indicate a good-will gesture to the United States, which has penalized Russia for the electoral meddling.
I doubt that. With Trump now in charge, something else is happening.
In another indication of high-level turmoil over cyberintelligence issues within the security agency, Kommersant reported on Jan. 13 that the director of the Center for Information Security, Andrei Gerasimov, would be fired. His termination was related to the investigation into the agency’s cooperation with Kaspersky on criminal hacking cases.
Kaspersky again. Hm.
One way to read all this is that Kaspersky was close enough to the Russian state to learn some very dark secrets. But when the Americans started to investigate, some folks at Kaspersky became way too blabby, and now heads are rolling.
A reporter for Agence-France Presse offers an interesting suggestion:
#Russia may now force out it's cybersecurity chief. Reprimand for the revelation of the alleged @realDonaldTrump blackmail dossier?
There were a number of sources for that dossier (which, I am happy to report, is now taken seriously by everyone who hasn't become completely addicted to "orange Kool-aid"). Could Mikhailov be one of them? It's hard to imagine a high-level FSB officer spilling those kinds of beans to a former MI6 agent like Christopher Steele.
And in related news...
Insufficient attention has been given to the fact that the Russians -- presumably the Russians -- hacked the Democratic party in Wisconsin
, one of the three states where the election results were, in my estimation, very suspicious.
Mary Ginnebaugh, chairwoman of the 8th Congressional District and Brown County parties, told USA Today-Network Wisconsin for a story Monday (http://gbpg.net/2koZV7D ) that the Winnebago County party first noticed a problem with their website in November after the election. A consultant discovered party sites for Winnebago, Marinette, Shawano, Oconto, Kewaunee, Calumet, Brown and the 8th Congressional District all were hacked.
She says the intruders caused no damage. She says two new administrator names with suffixes indicating a Russian origin were left behind.
Before proceeding, I have to ask a simple question: Why would the Russians sign their work?
As you ponder that poser, consider this bit from a Counterpunch story
on the DNC hack...
Mark McArdle wonders, “If we think about the very high level of design, engineering, and testing that would be required for such a sophisticated attack, is it reasonable to assume that the attacker would leave these kinds of breadcrumbs? It’s possible. But it’s also possible that these things can be used to misdirect attention to a different party. Potentially another adversary. Is this evidence the result of sloppiness or a careful misdirection?” 
“If the guys are really good,” says Chris Finan, CEO of Manifold Technology, “they’re not leaving much evidence or they’re leaving evidence to throw you off the scent entirely.”  How plausible is it that Russian intelligence services would fail even to attempt such a fundamental step?
Now go to the discussion of this incident on DU
. I direct your attention to this comment...
So they hacked into the servers and created their own administrator accounts so that they could have full access to, and control of, the server. That makes sense (from their viewpoint).
But you'd think that they'd delete those accounts when they finished. And you'd think that they would use generic names such as "admin1" and "admin2" rather than obvious Russian names.
I'm wondering if they wanted to be discovered. No doubt one of Putin's goals is to cause dissent by making us doubt our own election results. What better way to do that than to leave obvious hacking footprints?
Maybe. Or maybe GOP-friendly hackers in this country are using the Russians as convenient fall guys.
And that brings us back to the place where we began this post.
Over the years, all of the accusations now being leveled at Putin have also been leveled at our own security services -- or rather, at a cabal of right-wingers working within our intelligence community. I'm talking about the whole package: Hidden cameras in hotels, the use of prostitutes to obtain kompromat
, hacking into private computers for kompromat
, selective leaks, the use of troll armies to demonize liberal politicians (especially those named Clinton).
Americans did all of these things many years before fingers started to point at Russia.
If we allow ourselves to discuss the un-discussable hack -- i.e., the hack of America's computerized election systems -- why should we consider Putin the only potential bad guy? This blog has been talking about election fraud since 2004, and so have many other websites. A lot of people think that election fraud prevented a Kerry victory; nobody thinks that Russia played a role.
On the other hand: Russia's involvement in the 2016 election seems quite definite. Even Trumpenstein grudgingly admits it. Why else would Kaspersky (and others) point to "the bears"? Why else would our own intelligence community finger Sergei Mikhailov? Why would so many high-level people (including the head of MI6) take the Orbis dossier seriously? Why would...
Oh hell. No need to go on. You know the evidence as well as I.
Nevertheless, the Trump trolls -- lead by Trump himself, until very recently -- have tried their damnedest to muddy the waters and to point away from Russia. One does not want to help those trolls in any way.
(Side note: Did you smile the way I smiled when Trump said "I know a lot about hacking"? The guy doesn't even use a real computer. Mention the word "computer" to him and he immediately starts blathering about his ten year-old kid
. Donald Trump would know about hacking only if someone briefed him on the topic -- and then you have to ask why
someone would brief him on that topic. Donnie always blurts out more than intended.)
My bottom line is this: I have developed information suggesting that a faction within our own intelligence community -- a faction linked to Breitbart -- helped Trump attain power. But I don't know how to pursue that story without inadvertently aiding the right-wingers who want to let Putin off the hook.