Time to Take a “Phishing” Trip

Yesterday the Obama administration announced sanctions on Russia for their interference in the election process of the United States. The sanctions amounted to the United States expelling 35 Russian diplomats and closing two properties owned by the Russian government that the U.S. said they used for spying. Russia responded, surprisingly, by saying they will not reciprocate at this time and will wait until the new President, Donald Trump, is sworn into office.

First, there is no doubt in my mind that the Russian government attempted to use cyber methods to influence our elections. But lets be clear about what they did. They did not, and I repeat they did not, hack into any part of our electoral process with regards to voting or any voting machines. Yet I continue to hear many liberals say this is what happened. What they did was conduct a phishing campaign to try and get access to email accounts. Anyone that uses email is familiar with attempts by criminal elements to get us to click on some link that will either install some form of malware on our computer or crash our computer. If you have read about “ransom” emails then you get an idea of what criminals do. They get access to a personal or business computer, lock it up, and then you have to pay a ransom to get access to your own computer. They are able to do this because someone clicked on a link in an email.

In this case the Russians were phishing both the Democrat National Committee and the Republican National Committee. Both of these organizations have sophisticated IT departments that are always on guard for attempts to gain access to their systems. They put up firewalls to protect them and make use of passwords to keep intruders out. So how did someone get into the email system of the Democrat campaign? Very simple. From what I understand John Podesta asked one of the IT people about a particular email. The IT guy looked at it and thought it was suspicious so he wrote back to Podesta that it was an illegitimate email and that Podesta should change his password. The problem was he misspelled “illegitimate” and spell check corrected it to “legitimate” and Podesta followed his instructions and clicked on the link and changed his password. Presto, the person sending phishing email now had access to Podesta’s email account and the all of the emails he had sent and would send on that account. If you look at everything that was released the common thread was that John Podesta was included in the email exchanges.

So maybe we can blame all of this on spell check or some innocent IT guy who did not realize that spell check had changed the word in the email he sent back to Podesta that made Podesta think that it was OK to click on the link and change his password. Or maybe, just maybe, we can all blame John Podesta.

So now we turn to the question of why? To be honest this is what intelligence agencies do around the world. They try to gain access to information – governmental, corporate and personal – that would be of use to them in conducting their foreign policy. Corporate hacking is much more prevalent as hackers try to gain access to steal secrets held by companies. This is very lucrative and can help them speed up the development of products in their own countries. Technology in the military is very valuable to other intelligence services and they spend a great deal of time and money on trying to get access to that information.

What the Obama administration is not saying at this point is that the United States engages in this type of activity as well. We also try to interfere in the elections of other nations.

I am sure some of you remember when the media reported that President Obama go involved in Israeli politics. According to the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), the State Department gave $349,276 in U.S. taxpayer-funded grants to a political group in Israel to build a campaign operation, which subsequently was used to try to influence Israelis to vote against conservative Benjamin Netanyahu in the March 2015 election for prime minister.

The United States was actively involved in the politics of Honduras. This was all done while Hillary Clinton was the Secretary of State and it was done for ensure that the United States maintained its influence in the country. The link below will give you much more detailed information. It is an article from the National Catholic Reporter.

https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/us-role-honduras-coup-and-subsequent-violence

The United States also has a history of trying to influence Russian elections. Below is another article from the Huffington Post, not exactly a conservative media site, detailing some of the actions taken by the U.S. in Russian politics.

https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/us-role-honduras-coup-and-subsequent-violence

My point in citing these examples is that we do not come to this argument with clean hands. We are engaged in intelligence activities around the world just as any other nation. We try to influence elections in other nations for various reasons. But you don’t hear any of the liberals that are suddenly outraged that the Russians might have been trying to influence our elections expressing similar outrage at the activities of President Obama and Secretary Clinton on these issues.

The most interesting part of this whole escapade is that our intelligence service, which means the Obama administration, knew about what the Russians were attempting to do for quite some time. But they did not think it was that big a deal and so they did not say anything. To the Democrats in power it still looked like Hillary Clinton was going to breeze towards the Presidency so why divulge that we know what some other intelligence service was doing. Once you let them know that you are on to them they have to abandon that effort and try something new. In other words if some other intelligence agency is trying to get into cyber space to glean information and we know how they are doing it we don’t want to tip them off and we can monitor what they are actually doing and in some cases feed them false information.

But a funny think happened during the election. Donald Trump actually beat Hillary Clinton and suddenly the Russian hacking was not as funny to them. The one thing the Democrats do not engage in doing, at lease with the exception of Donna Brazille, is denying what the emails said. There was nothing of any real value vis-à-vis intelligence but there was a lot of embarrassing information to certain Democrat operatives. The release of the emails showed a DNC that was stacking the deck against Clinton’s opponent Bernie Sanders. The emails showed that certain members of the Democrat elites in the DNC held much of the American public in total disdain. It showed that there was disagreement in how the campaign was being run and internal sniping was the norm. All of that is fun to read but in reality it did not give you anything that would turn an election.

What the Democrats are focusing on is the FBI and their investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private server. They were ecstatic when Director Comey, after listing a litany of violations that occurred by having the private server, announced that he would not recommend filing any charges against Mrs. Clinton. They trumpeted over and over this news and said it vindicated Mrs. Clinton. Then when he reopened the investigation after the discovery by the New York FBI office of the laptop being shared by Huma Abedin and her philandering husband Anthony Weiner they quickly turned on Comey and he became the villain in this drama.

So here is the dilemma that the Democrats are facing. It consists of several points.

  1. The “hacking” was really “phishing” and it was the head of the Clinton campaign that opened the door giving the outsiders access to his emails.
  2. They know that there was no real hacking of the electoral process but they let that thought simmer out there and many somehow believe that the voting machines themselves were hacked. The Democrats, including the President, know this but they do very little to dispel this myth.
  3. They want to blame the Russians for “phishing” their servers and then use that to blame them for influencing the election but they cannot deny what was in the emails because they speak for themselves.
  4. They have to walk a fine line on the issue of hacking because they cannot raise the possibility that Secretary Clinton’s private server could have been hacked. There is no conclusive evidence pointing to that but there is also no conclusive evidence that it was never hacked. A good hacker does not let you know they were there.
  5. They have to be careful how much blame they ascribe to President Obama because that will not sit well with his supporters. It was obvious he knew what was happening because in October he famously told Putin “to cut it out.” Podesta has publicly said the White House and the FBI should have been more forthcoming as soon as they had concrete information.

So in the end we have the Democrats looking or a scapegoat to pin the loss. FBI Director James Comey seems to be leading the field as their target. In their minds he letter to Congress announcing that he was reopening the investigation was so powerful that thousands, if not millions, of voters changed their vote from Clinton to Trump after hearing about his in the media. There has to be a reason they lost, it simply cannot be that the American public, particularly in the Midwest, could have abandoned Clinton and allowed Donald Trump to become the 45th President of the United States.

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