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Leaked Report Says Russia Tried To Break Into U.S. Voter System

  • RFE/RL

The published document expands on U.S. allegations that Russian President Vladimir Putin directed a concerted effort, involving hacking and disinformation, to tilt the election toward Trump.

A top-secret National Security Agency document leaked to news media shows that hackers from Russian military intelligence tried repeatedly to break into U.S. voting systems before last year's presidential election.

After the document was leaked to the online publication The Intercept and published online late on June 5, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it had arrested an employee of a national security contractor for leaking top-secret information to "an online news outlet."

The Intercept said the classified document depicts a hacking operation tied closely to Moscow's GRU intelligence agency that targeted private U.S. companies providing voter registration services and equipment to local governments around the country.

The document said that the operation potentially threatened the integrity of the U.S. voting system by trying to trick more than 100 local election officials into opening malicious spyware, and that it went on for months -- ending just days before the November 8 election. It did not say whether the operation affected the outcome of the presidential vote.

The Intercept, which focuses on national security issues, said the White House National Security Agency (NSA) document was dated May 5, 2017, and is the most up-to-date and detailed discussion of Russian influence efforts as yet disclosed to the public or press.

The Intercept did not say how it acquired the document, but shortly after its report appeared online, the Justice Department said it had arrested Reality Leigh Winner, 25, an employee of a national security contractor, for the leak of a top-secret document dated "on or about May 5." It said Winner worked at a facility in Georgia and was arrested on June 3.

The indictment said Winner was one of only six people to print the document in question and that she had exchanged e-mails with the news outlet, which the indictment did not name but which Reuters reported was the Intercept.

Intercept spokeswoman Vivian Siu said the NSA document was given to the outlet anonymously and "the Intercept has no knowledge of the identity of the source."

The Intercept said that the NSA sought to dissuade it from publishing the document, and then requested redactions, some of which were accepted by Intercept.

The published document expands on U.S. allegations that Russian President Vladimir Putin directed a concerted effort, involving hacking and disinformation, to tilt the election toward Trump.

It comes days after Putin repeatedly denied any interference in the election in a series of interviews, though at one point he said that there could have been hacking by Russians he said were unconnected to the government.

The NSA report says that "Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) actors ... executed cyberespionage operations against a named U.S. company in August 2016, evidently to obtain information on elections-related software and hardware solutions."

"The actors likely used data obtained from that operation to...launch a voter registration-themed spear-phishing campaign targeting U.S. local government organizations," it says.

The report shows that, by trying to steal log-in credentials and using spear-fishing e-mails to plant malware, the hackers "obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple U.S. state or local electoral boards."

How successful the operation was, and what kind of data may have been stolen, is not known, the document said.

The document also notes that despite President Barack Obama's warning to Putin in September 2016 to not interfere with the election, the hacking attack on voter systems continued through October.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters
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