Contacting almost 80 people who were targeted by the Russian intelligence agency known as ‘Fancy bear’ in 2015 and 2016, the Associated Press found only two who had heard anything about it from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Working from a list provided by cybersecurity firm Secureworks, AP reporters “identified more than 500 U.S.-based people or groups and reached out to more than 190 of them, interviewing nearly 80 about their experiences.”
Although the list included present and former officials working in national security, “only two told the AP they learned of the hacking attempts on their personal Gmail accounts 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. But to this day, some leak victims have not heard from the bureau at all.
[…] Rob “Butch” Bracknell, a 20-year military veteran who works as a NATO lawyer in Norfolk, Virginia, said an FBI agent visited him about a year ago to examine his emails and warn him that a “foreign actor” was trying to break into his account.
“He was real cloak-and-dagger about it,” Bracknell said. “He came here to my work, wrote in his little notebook and away he went.”
Victims who never heard a peep from the FBI include “a former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency … a former head of Air Force Intelligence … a former defense undersecretary … and a former director of cybersecurity for the Air Force.”
The AP story casts fresh light on the controversy surrounding Russian intrusions of Democratic emails. FBI agents showed up suddenly at Hillary Clinton’s Brooklyn campaign headquarters in March 2016, but they offered very little information and would not identify the source of the threat.
“The agents offered little more than generic security tips the campaign had already put into practice and refused to say who they thought was behind the attempted intrusions,” the AP reports.
The FBI also did not take possession of the Democratic National Committee’s compromised email server, working instead from a copy. Conspiracy theorists have latched on to that event as “proof” of a nefarious scheme to blame Russia, but it now seems to have been the single most proactive Bureau effort to deal with the Kremlin hacking campaign.
Fancy Bear’s ‘spearphishing’ attacks also affected far more than just a political party.
“An AP analysis of the data suggests that out of 312 U.S. military and government figures targeted by Fancy Bear, 131 clicked the links sent to them,” they report. “That could mean that as many as 2 in 5 came perilously close to handing over their passwords.”
The FBI apparently does not consider it important to warn everyone they know is being targeted by foreign adversaries. Some of the people contacted by AP shrugged this off, but others were alarmed.
A former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, who like many others was repeatedly targeted by Fancy Bear but has yet to receive any warning from the FBI, said the lackluster response risked something worse than last year’s parade of leaks.
“Our government needs to be taking greater responsibility to defend its citizens in both the physical and cyber worlds, now, before a cyberattack produces an even more catastrophic outcome than we have already experienced,” McFaul said.
Indeed, there is no reason to suspect that Russian cyberwar efforts have subsided since the election. If anything, the lack of response by the Department of Justice and the Trump administration will tend to encourage new, bolder intrusion efforts.
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