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Senate Russia Hearing: Hackers Targeted Rubio, Tried to Foment Angst Against Paul Ryan

Senate Russia Hearing: Hackers Targeted Rubio, Tried to Foment Angst Against Paul Ryan

Engaged in disinformation campaigns

The Senate Intelligence Committee held its first hearing on possible Russian interference during the 2016 presidential election and its “information warfare.”

It was revealed that hackers targeted Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) during his presidential campaign:

“Former members of my presidential campaign team who had access to the internal information of my presidential campaign were targeted by IP addresses with an unknown location within Russia,” Rubio said Thursday. “That effort was unsuccessful. I would also inform the committee within the last 24 hours, at 10:45 a.m. yesterday, a second attempt was made, again, against former members of my presidential campaign team who had access to our internal information — again targeted from an IP address from an unknown location in Russia. And that effort was also unsuccessful.”

Targeted Candidates and Opponents of Trump

Former FBI agent and cybersecurity expert Clinton Watts explained to the committee that Russia targeted Rubio and any opponents of President Trump with a propaganda campaign:

“[Russian information warfare activities] were in full swing during both the Republican and Democratic primary season and may have helped sink the hopes of candidates more hostile to Russian interests long before the field narrowed,” Watts said.

“Senator Rubio, in my opinion, you anecdotally suffered from these efforts,” he added.

Watts also relayed that experts “observed social media campaigns targeting speaker of the House Paul Ryan hoping to foment further unrest amongst US democratic institutions.”

Use of Disinformation

Watts also told the committee the methods the hackers used to spread disinformation. He reminded the senators that  “it’s not all automated and it’s not all human, it’s a combination of the two.” He continued:

“You can have someone engaging with you as an individual and using a bot to amplify their message… or [they] can create more personas on Twitter, for example.” This sort of thing saw an uptick in 2014, but Watts says it wasn’t until 2015 that “they tied hacking and influence together for the first time.”

He went on to explain how Russia state actors create believable sock puppet accounts by insinuating themselves into the middle of a demographic they wish to influence. Using Wisconsin as an example, Watts described how such an actor would first “inhale” all of the accounts from a given slice of the population, parsing out details so they can then replicate the prevailing qualities in an average account. “They look exactly like you. It looks like an American from the Midwest or the South.”

Hackers attempt “to build an audience within that target group, but they run into a bit of a problem when they wish to rebrand the sock puppet with a different identity.” The hackers do not want to shed the audience they’ve acquired so they reprogram the accounts “strategically” to push the information:

Those strategic accounts then work together to create the news of the day. Accounts associated with Russian intelligence “tweet heavily at Trump during times they know he’s online [in order] to push conspiracy theories.”

After pushing coordinated waves of the propaganda du jour, such a high volume of content usually ends up trending. “Once it pushes to the top of the feed, mainstream news pays attention.”

When established news organizations must weigh in in order to debunk those fake news pushes, it still sets the national conversation for the day and distracts from other news that might work against Russia’s interests, continuing the story’s spread “organically.”

The Senate Committee Wants to Remain Bipartisan

We’ve seen the House Intelligence Committee implode over this subject. Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) want to avoid the partisanship and fights that have plagued their counterparts:

“We’re all targets of a sophisticated and capable adversary,” Burr said in his opening statement, “and we must engage in a whole-of-government approach to combat Russian active measures.”

“We simply must — and we will — get this right,” Warner said. “The chairman and I agree it is vitally important that we do this as a credible, bipartisan and transparent manner as possible. As was said yesterday at our press conference, Chairman Burr and I trust each other.”

Both men also admitted that evidence shows Russia preferred Trump, but overall wanted to destabilize America:

“Candidly, while it helped one candidate this time, they are not favoring one party over another,” Warner said, “and, consequently, should be a concern for all of us.”

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Comments

Regardless of whatever else is true, the Russian oligarchy is NOT our friend.

They are NOT “for” any American. They are “for” themselves, and don’t give a good fluck about us.

    rabidfox in reply to Ragspierre. | March 30, 2017 at 10:23 pm

    Stalin wasn’t our friend either, but we did have common goals at the time – same as now. No one thinks Putin is a good guy.

    BTW, why does Rubio think the Russians viewed him as any kind of threat? He’s a ‘Me too-er’ taking his lead from McCain and never thinking a thought for himself. And easy puppet.

Maybe Webb was right about women in combat 30+ years ago.

Ho hum. Look, nation-states conduct intelligence operations against each other all the time and attempt to influence the internal politics of other states. Just look at the activities of Barack Obama with regard to specific electoral candidates in both Israel and Kenya as well as the British vote on leaving the EU. If this was not blatant interference in the elections of another sovereign nation then I do not know what is.

That having been said, it is dangerous to blame a nation-state for attempting to influence an election simply because a person attempted to hack a political campaign’s server from an IP address in that nation-state. All this proves is that the hacker, in this case unidentified, may be located in that nation. It does not prove that he is affiliated in any way with the national government itself. This is like blaming the United States government for a hacker attempting to gain entry to a government server in France. Maybe it is an agent of the US government, or maybe it is simply a criminal or even a high school student in his mother’s basement. These things are all speculation. They are theories made up largely to sell another narrative or agenda. It would be nice if someone would provide some real, hard evidence to support all of this.

    gibbie in reply to Mac45. | March 31, 2017 at 12:00 am

    Yes. Precisely.

    Infuriating, isn’t it?

    This is similar to the Bush National Guard memo. Given a sufficient level of IT expertise, a person could know with absolute certainty that the memo was a forgery without having to rely on the news media.

    The only difference in this case is that given a sufficient level of IT security expertise, a person can know with _a high degree of certainty_ that no one knows whether the hacks in question were perpetrated by the Russian government.

    And yet everyone and their favorite media goon thinks they know that they were.

Why would the Russian state try to hack from within Russia? They haven’t heard of proxies and VPNs?

The level of analysis here would embarrass a 12 year old.

Holy cow, what a heaping pile of nothing.

Somebody—no names, just “somebody”, working through a server which seemed to be located somewhere in Russia—which we know isn’t just a routine proxy server because, well, no, we don’t know that at all—seemed to be doing something involving the DNC’s network, but what that was, well, nobody knows, because it wasn’t successful … but we know what time it happened, errr, didn’t happen, and that means … well, nothing much, but it’s the only definite thing we know, so we’re throwing it in so that it looks like we have a handle on this … whatever “this” is. The successful attempts to do whatever it was that whoever it was was trying to do, well, we don’t know anything about those, because they were successful, but whatever they were trying to do … must have been something to do with doing something inconvenient to Rubio’s campaign, because … well, we have no idea. But it must have been big. Real big. Because it was too big to be small.

This Marx Brothers routine is embarrassing. These people are paid to do this, right? With pensions and everything. That Boris and Natasha stuff was funny when Jay Ward and Bill Scott did it, but when the FBI does it, not so much.

As for those dastardly Russkies, I don’t need an intelligence staff to predict that they’re doing exactly what they’ve been doing since at least the 1930s—tossing bogus memes to the “news” services in various Western nations, in full confidence that they’ll swallow the bait and go off, baying about … nothing much. Moscow used to plant this stuff via local Communist parties, and although those still exist, they don’t get their marching orders from Moscow any more. So the Russians use the media du jour to do the same job … that is, Facebook and Twitter. All of which is about as exciting as revealing that it’s Friday morning, and tomorrow will be Saturday. Ha! The Gregorian calendar! The Vatican must have hacked the election! Trump is either a traitorous stooge of the Pope, or … well, something else heinous.

Even if, and it’s a big if, the Russians did attempt to affect the Rubio Campaign, to the benefit of the Trump Campaign, what does it tell us?

We know that the Hillary Campaign and the Democratic Party thought that Trump was the best Republican nominee as far as they were concerned. The Democrats wanted to run against Trump.

Maybe whoever wanted to affect the other Republican contenders were trying to ensure Trump was at the top of the ticket. Hence, they were working to advantage the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton.

The Russians didn’t make Rubio support the Gang of 8.

That’s what killed his candidacy in a time when Americans are sick of uncontrolled borders.

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