FBI did not alert US officials of Russian hacking attempts

This Feb. 3, 2012, file photo shows FBI headquarters in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)
Updated 26 November 2017
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FBI did not alert US officials of Russian hacking attempts

WASHINGTON: The hackers’ targets: The former head of cybersecurity for the US Air Force. An ex-director at the National Security Council. A former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
All were caught up in a Russian government-aligned cyberespionage campaign. None was warned by the FBI.
The bureau repeatedly failed to alert targets of the Russian hacking group known as Fancy Bear despite knowing for more than a year that their personal emails were in the Kremlin’s sights, an Associated Press investigation has found.
“No one’s ever said to me, ‘Hey Joe, you’ve been targeted by this Russian group,’” said former Navy intelligence officer Joe Mazzafro, whose inbox the hackers tried to compromise in 2015. “That our own security services have not gone out and alerted me, that’s what I find the most disconcerting as a national security professional.”
The FBI declined to discuss its investigation into Fancy Bear’s spying campaign, but did provide a statement that said in part: “The FBI routinely notifies individuals and organizations of potential threat information.”
Three people familiar with the matter — including a current and a former government official — said the FBI has known the details of Fancy Bear’s attempts to break into Gmail inboxes for more than a year. A senior FBI official, who was not to authorized to publicly discuss the hacking operation because of its sensitivity, said the bureau had been overwhelmed by an “almost insurmountable problem.”
The AP conducted its own investigation into Fancy Bear, dedicating two months and a small team of reporters to go through a list of 19,000 phishing links provided by the cybersecurity firm Secureworks.
The list showed how Fancy Bear worked in close alignment with Kremlin interests to steal tens of thousands of emails from the Democratic Party, the AP reported this month.
But it wasn’t just Democrats the hackers were after.
The AP identified more than 500 US-based targets in the data, reached out to more than 190 of them and interviewed nearly 80 people, including current or former military personnel, Democratic operatives, diplomats or ex-intelligence workers such as Mazzafro.
Many were long-retired, but about one-third were still in government or held security clearances at the time of the hacking attempts. Only two told the AP they learned of the hacking attempts from the FBI. A few more were contacted by the FBI after their emails were published in the torrent of leaks that coursed through last year’s electoral contest. To this day, some leak victims have not heard from the bureau.
One was retired Maj. James Phillips, who was one of the first people exposed by the website DCLeaks in mid-2016. A year later, Philips has yet to hear anything from the FBI.
In fact he didn’t learn his emails were “flapping in the breeze” until two months after the fact, when a journalist called him to ask for comment.
“The fact that a reporter told me about DCLeaks kind of makes me sad,” Phillips said in a telephone interview.
Phillips’ story would be repeated again and again as the AP spoke to officials from the National Defense University in Washington to the North American Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado.
Among them: a former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, retired Lt. Gen. Patrick Hughes; a former head of Air Force Intelligence, retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula; a former defense undersecretary, Eric Edelman; and a former director of cybersecurity for the Air Force, retired Lt. Gen. Mark Schissler.
Some targets of Fancy Bear’s spying said they don’t blame the FBI for not notifying them.
“The expectation that the government is going to protect everyone and go back to everyone is false,” said Nicholas Eftimiades, a retired senior technical officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency who teaches homeland security at Pennsylvania State University in Harrisburg and was himself among the targets.
But Charles Sowell, who previously worked as a senior administrator in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and was targeted by Fancy Bear two years ago, said there was no reason the FBI couldn’t do the same work the AP did.
“It’s absolutely not OK for them to use an excuse that there’s too much data,” said Sowell. “Would that hold water if there were a serial killer investigation, and people were calling in tips left and right, and they were holding up their hands and saying, ‘It’s too much’?
“That’s ridiculous.”
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EDITOR’S NOTE — Raphael Satter’s father, David Satter, is an author and Russia specialist who has been critical of the Kremlin. His emails were published last year by hackers and his account is on Secureworks’ list of Fancy Bear targets. He was not notified by the FBI.


Maldives arrests ex-leader Yameen for money laundering

Updated 18 February 2019
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Maldives arrests ex-leader Yameen for money laundering

  • No comment from Yameen or his legal team yet
  • The court already froze the ex-president’s local bank accounts containing $6.5 million

MALÉ, Maldives: Maldivian authorities Monday ordered the arrest of former strongman president Abdulla Yameen over money laundering charges, officials said.
The arrest came after a court began a preliminary hearing into allegations that Yameen received nearly $1.5 million in illicit payments just before he lost his re-election bid in September.
“Prosecutors said that Yameen had allegedly attempted to bribe witnesses,” a court official said, adding that the former president would be taken to the Dhoonidhoo prison island near the capital.
Yameen, who came to power in 2013 and jailed many of his opponents or forced them into exile, had been summoned to the Criminal Court Sunday to formally receive his indictment.
During his five-year tenure, Yameen relied heavily on China for political and financial support as he came under criticism over his dismal human rights record.
The Indian Ocean archipelago nation of 340,000 Sunni Muslims is heavily in debt to China.
Authorities believe millions of dollars allegedly siphoned off by Yameen could be stashed abroad, and have said that talks are underway with foreign entities to repatriate any cash found.
The court has already frozen Yameen’s local bank accounts holding about $6.5 million, a decision the former leader has contested.
There was no immediate comment from Yameen or his legal team on the latest court order.