The Hack By Robert Young Pelton
continued from Part Five
When the truth is found
To be lies
And all the joy
Within you dies
- Jefferson Airplane
The political discussion up to the 2016 election was populated by earnest debate, partisan passion and well thought out decisions but also poisoned by false information, fear mongering, insults, deceivers, deceit and distrust. What should have been an informed electorate making clear decisions on candidates was infected with every manner of deception. Partly due to Trump’s embracing of chaos and division as an election strategy against Clinton’s, cool distant, carefully coached and manufactured approach.
Social media and the media took the bait and there were so many hot buttons and arguments that in retrospect it is difficult to understand how America was fooled so easy. To date there has been granular evidence of Russians hacking into the DNC, but that is only a silver of what attempts were made by various parties. What we have learned is that deceit was built into almost every facet of the election. Something that has nothing to do with technology but rather the fallibility of the human brain. Who played who, who lied, who cheated, did American get conned? As we have painfully learned, the answer appears that it was easier to deceive that to use the truth.
Where was the Clinton Dirt? Why were so many Russians offering dirt but coming up empty handed. What did they want? Why did they have nothing? The seeds of the Mueller investigation were planted when a young, eager George Papadopoulos was propositioned by a Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese professor who promised dirt. When they met on April 26, there was nothing, just more promises of further meetings to keep him interested. It was May 10, 2016 when Papadopoulos bragged about the Russians having Clinton Dirt to an Australian diplomat at a posh bar in London.
The FBI counterintelligence unit opened an investigation after someone tipped off the FBI about an American named Papadopoulos running his mouth to Australian high commissioner Alexander Downer at the Kensington Wine Bars in Notting Hill, London on May 2016. The Russians had dirt on Clinton, hacked emails, and they were going to use it to influence the election, was the version told to the FBI. This clearly was linked to Clinton’s sloppy and perhaps criminal, handling of her emails but it didn’t seem that way to the FBI, they were going to open an investigation into Trump, not Clinton.
This begins the key event that will flip an investigation of Hillary Clinton for sloppy or perhaps deceitful email handling into one of Donald Trump colluding with the Russian government to steal the election away from Clinton.
The FBI opened the “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation on July 31, 2016 just a few days after Director James Comey very publicly closed the investigation of Hillary Clinton for using a private email account on July 5.
The Papadopoulos meeting with Downer was not a simple affair. Depending on who you believe, Papadopoulos reached out to a friend named Christian Cantor at the Israeli Embassy official in London. Cantor introduced Papadopoulos to Downer’s lawyer, Erika Thompson. Thompson then set up the meeting at the wine bar.
Downer said he said up the meeting and that after getting a “tip” that the Russians were going to use Clinton Dirt during the election, Downer said he went to the U.S. Embassy in London to report it. The FBI said the tip came from two FBI agents flown to London on August 2, 2016 to interview Downer, “within hours of opening an investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia” according to the New York Times.
A third version is very different, six days before the boozy wine bar meeting, Papadopoulos was interviewed by the Times. Papadopoulos said that David Cameron should apologize for his negative comments about candidate Trump. It was Thompson, the lawyer who worked in the Australian embassy that reached out to Papadopoulos two days after the Times interview ran. According to this version, Downer met with the Trump foreign policy aide and told him to leave Cameron alone. All of these could be the same story told Roshomon style with each person having a different recollection of events.
The FBI would question Papadopoulos and he would omit the multiple meetings with Mifsud beginning on March 14, to set up Russian meetings, but it was not until April 26, a hotel in London that Mifsud would tell Papadopoulos that he had Clinton Dirt. As the FBI recounts Papadopoulos quoting Mifsud saying. “They [the Russians] have dirt on her”; “the Russians had emails of Clinton”; “they have thousands of emails.”
On January 27, 2017, the FBI questioned Papadopoulos in a voluntary meeting, but Papadopoulos would lie about his activities and timing. He would also delete his Facebook Account and change his cel phone. He was arrested in July of 2017. The FBI didn’t arrest Papadopoulos for colluding with Russians….they arrested him for lying to them. This was the first brick in the foundation of collusion.
In 2015, long before he was golden haired choice of the GOP, a Republican donor, Marco Rubio supporter and hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer through his right wing blog Washington Free Beacon, hired D.C. based oppo-research company FusionGPS to dig into Donald Trump’s background. He didn’t like what he saw but when Trump became the Republican candidate Singer got with the program. A month later, in April of 2016, Clinton campaign and DNC lawyer Marc E. Elias hired FusionGPS to keep digging. By June, Christopher Steele began looking for connections to Russia and Nellie Ohr, a Harvard educated, Russian-speaking academic is hired to manage the project.
In an odd but important detail, it turns out that much of the information in the Steele Dossier comes from an American source. This is from a conversation with Ohr’s husband, Bruce who worked for the FBI and took hand written notes in a December 10, 2016, meeting reveal that “Much of the collection about the Trump campaign ties to Russia comes from a former Russian intelligence officer (? not entirely clear) who lives in the U.S.,”
Ohr, was a high ranking member of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces but kept in touch with Steele long after the FBI had dropped him as a source. Ohr knew gangsters and Trump as a former casino owner, bankrupt and New York construction magnate ticked all the boxes.
The 35 page Steele Dossier is not written in any particular intel style, nor does it have any legal provenance or show the hallmarks of academic research like cites, footnotes or sources It is mostly unsupported anecdotes or second hand conversations all designed to build suspicion that Trump and his then campaign manager Manafort were being controlled by Vladimir Putin. The tools were supposedly a compromising “golden shower” video and perhaps documents, or financial leverage. It has all the hallmarks of a “Black Letter” an unsubstantiated collection of accusations that would send the media on a thousand journeys to find “Trump Dirt’.
Christopher Steele had leaked information to the media and was fired on November 1, 2016 but continued to provide information and chat with Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr, who had reported to Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.
On July 1, 2016 Steele emailed Ohr, “There is something separate I wanted to discuss with you informally and separately. It concerns our favourite business tycoon!” On July 5, Steele would meet with the FBI in Rome to discuss possible Russian attempts to influence the American election. That could be Trump but it could also Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who had been refused a visa and worked very closely with Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, a campaign manager who owed ten million dollars to Deripaska. according to litigation.
Deripaska’s lawyers filed suit in the Cayman Islands in 2014 saying that he invested $19 million with Manafort that year to create a TV station called Black Sea Cable.
Conversely, for the last decade, Manafort figured prominently in defeating U.S. interests in Crimea, supporting a Viktor F. Yanukovych a Ukrainian gangster turned politician and furthering Putin’s regional interests.
President Trump would later ask Manafort to resign after AP revealed that Manafort was lobbying for the pro-Russian Ukrainian government.
Ohr, his wife Nellie and Steele would meet on July 30, 2016, at the Mayflower Hotel, in Washington D.C. Steele sent a thankyou note after the meeting, “Great to see you and Nellie this morning Bruce, let’s keep in touch on the substantive issues/s. Glenn is happy to speak to you on this if it would help.”
On July 31, the FBI would open “Crossfire Hurricane”
The Russians had begun to spearfish DNC officials on March 10 of 2016. On Wednesday, June 15, Guccifer 2.0 appeared with an email to the Smoking Gun with DNC emails. “Hi,this is Guccifer 2.0 and this is me who hacked Democratic National Committee.”
The DNC knew they had been hacked. But none of this material contained Clinton’s missing emails, any dirt nor did it include the Steele file. But the DNC now knew that they had been hacked. Again a fine but important distinction. Mifsud was offering Papadopoulos the missing 30,000 emails supposedly hacked by the Russians not the DNC hack. Papadopoulos first met Mifsud in Italy on March 14,telling him he was going to be on Trump’s team, They met again
The agent who opened the investigation into Russian collusion to influence the election was Peter Strozk. Someone who vehemently to Congress that his hatred of Trump evidenced in texts to his mistress, another FBI employee would influence his decision to influence the election.
The FBI was under pressure the second Trump took office, he felt that the law enforcement agency was not only partisan but working against him. The Steele Dossier was probably the most embarrassing document and Steele had not only been working with FusionGPS but also for the FBI as an informant. Trump began to blame “Deep State” and insist he was being bugged, spied on and set up. The left wing media constantly referenced the Steele Dossier and the right wing pushed “Clinton Dirt” neither of these were absolute or even close to being factual. The election had been hacked by the U.S. media’s obsession with “Dirt” from each side.
Back to the Hack
“You have about 18 seconds to catch the hack”, one of the SybrTek tech experts explains, “then you might have another hacker slide in behind him and exploit that hack, or sometimes you can jump ahead of the hack. You can make it look like someone else did the hacking” Ray explains as he tries to shape the rapid, chaotic world of hacking. He and others make it clear that hacking has no religion, it’s often done just to see if the hacker can get in. Most have no idea what they will find once they are inside a server or computer. Hackers work both as security experts and as “red team” hackers. An associate of mine made a living by hacking into nuclear subs and sensitive bases for the NSA. It was easy considering how old, large and slow government acquisition for IT products is. You hire a thief to catch a thief.
In a stunning example, the U.S. government banned the anti hacking software program provided by the Moscow-based, Kaspersky Security Network because it posed a threat to the U.S. government computers…only to discover that the Kaspersky coding was built deep into thousands of U.S. government programs and had the ability to access any computer that had their software installed, examine and in some cases transfer files to any where they want. Kaspersky estimates that there are 315,000 new malicious programs created every day and there is no evidence of any malicious acts by the Russian national. It was a head smacking moment on just how vulnerable government computers are. And still are.
Even the CIA is often confused about how to identify hackers with even legendary Carl Bernstein taking the media to task for being pawns of the CIA and then supporting the CIA findings in the latest CNN story by promoting the “golden shower” dossier. To make things more obscure James Clapper head of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence which manages the 17 U.S. intelligence agencies did not initially endorse or deny the CIA allegations against Russia because “they can’t prove intent”. Eventually only four of them weighed in on a Russian hack.
The threat is not just to computers, During her time as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton continued to use unsecured Blackberry’s during her visits to foreign countries, all coordinated well in advance. As a Blackberry user. There are devices like a false Wi FI base station or femtocel that can fit in a pocket using the same tools the phone companies use to refigure Blackberry firmware.
Malware and hacking software is freely available. Anything that can be run by software can by hacked by software including the software that U.S. government agencies use to prevent hacking. A group calling themselves Shadow Broker is offering a collection of NSA hacking tools for the equivalent of $1.8 million in bitcoin. The CIA found themselves “hacked” by an insider who dumped their tools on WikiLeaks. Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear with their password reset scams, almost seems like an archaic way to hack these days.
“There was a guy at Black Hat outside of the hall selling CD’s with that Cozy Bear and that other Russian malware out of a duffel bag for $50 a copy last year” remembers Ray from SybrTek.
Hacking is both a business and a social force. Whether it is the social media that fueled Arab Spring of locking down computers for bit coin ransom. There an now plenty of “data analytics” companies like the defunct Cambridge Analytica who transferred their skills used from military election and psyops projects in Iraq, Somalia, Nigeria and other regions to the U.S. elections.
A member of SybrTek who has been inside the transition team and has a background in military influence operations explains the tool used to help Donald Trump get elected, “Trump’s son in law hired Cambridge Associates to help in the campaign, Jim explains, “They were battling an unseen robotic enemy that would automatically retweet negative responses to a Trump tweet.
“It’s called Message Flooding. Social media platforms that run machine software bot-generated traffic. It makes you appear like you have a million followers and can be generated automatically. You push preloaded message. One tweet can be retweeted 5000 times 6 times an hour. The secret is to not do it too much so you don’t get caught by other bots that look for spamming.”
“There is also a group of cyber mercenaries and hactivists that screwed around both the Trump and the Clinton campaign that would trigger automated responses. Around 38% of Trump’s retweets and responses were machine spoofed. There is a $40,000 piece of software you can buy in Russia that does this well. This system is designed to fool the analytics crowd.” Analytics is how you measure the effectiveness, audience and other factors of an online campaign.
Jim estimates that 80% of the fake retweets from the machine responses were negative to fool the analytics. “Trump averaged about 14,000 retweets. There’s a lot of people that don’t like him so this software simply used an algorithm to find those negative sentiments and retweet them.” Twitter has only recently wiped out 70 million bot accounts. Pew Research estimated that two thirds of all accounts linked to major organizations or companies are fake. They estimate that between 41 and 44% of accounts linked to political sites are bots. Not as damning as the 90% rate for adult content sites but just under half the political discussion on Twitter was artificial.
It took two years for Facebook to shut down 538 million fake sites, a quarter of their base of 2 billion user. Not all these sites are political but the concept of contentious, outrageous, inflammatory and polarized content feeds the advertising machine.
Did Trump win because of these bot armies? Did Hillary lose because of these automated public opinion shapers? Were they from Russia? “No Clinton had the same problem.” Says Bill, “There is a definite science on how to influence people’s thinking. It’s called influence operations in the military.” Realizing that this may sound too Orwellian, he walks it back “The great thing about this is that anything that can be designed can be reverse engineered. We can screen that traffic and block it. In reality these tools come from the marketing world not the military”.
President Obama was the first to really use social media. DC-based Bluelabs was founded by data scientists Elan Kriegel and Chris Wegrzyn worked for Obama measuring shaping and timing messages to match big data research. They are now a successful analytics and technology company that promise to get politicians elected. Trump also used social media to great success. It is the future of targeted advertising.
The SybrTek points out that, in their opinion, Clinton’s tactics were flawed and archaic. Bill points out, “Clinton used one algorithm from the mid to late 80’s named Ada to focus visits and ads. Although Ada could absorb and analyze 400,000 simulations a day the data entered from traditional phone polls were flawed.” Ironically Ada was named after the daughter of Lord Byron, Ada Lovelace, an early 19th century female mathematician and a close associate of Charles Babbage inventor of the first computer or “counting machine”. “She (Clintons campaign) relied on traditional polling and advertising but the majority of people are moving to smart phones as their primary news media” he says, “Obama used social media in the 2012 elections back when Twitter first started using Bluelabs were the pioneer in social media and big data science. Trump was also able to do sentiment analysis using geo data to find clusters. People think differently in New York than Texas”
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This new internet blitzkrieg on voters and to a certain degree Trump’s style of governing, is understandable in a pre-social media concept known as the OODA loop created in 1997 by the late United States Air Force Colonel John Boyd to describe a decision cycle of “observe, orient decide and act”. “40 Second” Boyd (so named because he bragged no one could ever evade him for 40 seconds in aerial maneuvers) used his successful aerial dog fighting theory to handle complex ever changing scenarios that occur in larger aspects of warfare. Boyd laid out the idea that the goal is to react faster than your enemy forcing him to react and then speeding up your reaction time until the enemy fails. The need to insert ambiguity and unpredictability also prevents the enemy from reshaping his tactics or strategy in any meaningful fashion. This combination of constantly shifting, reacting and repetition is designed to put the opponent on the defensive and rapidly degrading their capabilities to respond or predict. His theory is still very popular in both military and business strategy planning.
Although a wide range of academics have tried to create a precise taxonomy of influence strategies they range from military targeting of communications networks and entire nations to playful game like scenarios. and you an entire toolbox of deception to steer the population.
The Russians with their small size and large army, along with aggressive isolated posture but expansionist acts. The Russians have eagerly embraced information warfare. In 2013, the Valery Gerasimov, Russian Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces and Deputy Defense Minister was said to lay out what he called the “Gerasimov Doctrine” in an speech, later referenced by NYU resident Russia expert, Professor Mark Galeotti in his blog.
Gerasimov is supposed to have outlined non military means of achieving political and strategic goals with the “combination of political, economic, information, technological, and ecological campaigns.” One of his examples was the Arab Spring and the use of social media to plunge nations into chaos. A form of Guerrilla Geopolitics that can preserver trade and social links but create devastating social impact without linking to the cause. The confusing and opaque Russian forays into the Crimea and Ukraine are examples of this. An older version was Russian creating a false insurgency or coup and then that invented political Russian proxy inviting Russian troops in to rescue them. There is one minor wrinkle to this story, the professor who wrote the story about the doctrine in 2014, Mark Galeotti later apologized for inventing The Gerasimov Theory in a March 2018, Foreign Policy article. It turns out the Russian General was interpreting what he though caused the Arab Spring but the media and pundits picked up Galeotti’s term as precisely what the Russians were doing in Ukraine and Crimea. A brilliant example of psychological operations in which fiction becomes fact and then fiction again.
Is Trump a genius of social media? Does he practice psychological operations on Americans? Is he harnessing complex OODA loop thinking that constantly wrong foots his opponents yet emboldens his supporters? Could his tweets be precisely written by algorithms and then sent by bots to hit the right eyeballs at the right time? No, but buried in the mumbo jumbo science of information operations are the natural instincts of sociopathy. Doing things to manipulate people instead of plainly explaining goals and tasks to garner support.
Sociopathy, is defined as “a personality disorder characterized by persistent antisocial behavior, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited, and egotistical traits”
On the road, Trump would see 6000 people standing outside a stadium for hours and he felt that he got the pulse of what people were thinking and that is why he crushes.” John, a Psyops specialist from SybrTek, when what the logic Trump is using when he turns to Twitter to send out negative comments, the answer is quite analog. “People were so tired of ten minute long Obama answers that mean nothing” Even when he (Trump) does a big whopper, they laugh and move on”
Is Trump a genius of the dark arts or a sociopath?
John laughs, “Trump doesn’t give a shit. The man is a billionaire for a reason. I am not saying he is a genius, in some areas he is shallow, but he understands human nature. But (if he has a problem) he can find the right people at the right price.”
And that may be the ultimate psyop. The ability to confuse and baffle your enemies as to your intentions and activities. A leader of a country who will choose any tactic that suits him and from any source that is willing to provide that expertise.
Was that Russia?
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The traditional media is losing credibility as the public doesn’t know who to believe anymore. A recent Edelman poll showed that the trust of the U.S. government had dropped lower than at any time in their 18 –year-long Trust Barometer report and that the media was the least trusted institution. Now seven in ten American’s worry about fake news and almost 60% polled say it’s harder to tell if the media is telling the truth.
John the man who messes with minds fromSybertek, insists the media is played and wants to be played.
“At first people didn’t take the casino owner turned reality show star seriously. There was a lot of public opposition. When Trump appeared at rallies, people would violently protest. Many were genuine, but some weren’t. The public didn’t’ see the ads that appeared on Craigslist offering $15 an hour to protest Trump. It was a tactic seen in the riots in Ferguson. John insists, “All you need is few people to show up for the media and an iPhone to post it on social media. Counter hacking put wrong information in the ads, phone numbers were programmed to be multi-dialed and the protest organizers were flooded with fake emails.”
The end result is a loss of faith in both media and politicians. And more dangerously a lack of interest in what the government is actually doing or what is real. Sentiment tracking is part of government control and it doesn’t really matter if what you like is real or imagined. But it is how governments and politicians work.
So with the loss of trust in traditional media, populations turn to social media for their news. They are essentially the news sources and form their own networks. These users can like or dislike, support or argue, comment and amplify anger and outrage . This is called sentiment tracking another word for opinion polling. The life blood of politics.
Ray explains, “Sentiment is based on a particular event. There are algorithms that can be used (to measure sentiment). Knowing the cultural differences across a large area or small area you can tell what people are thinking. You can actually see people on mobile devices, you can see the density in a specific area by using word choices. We (SybrTek) have algorithms that can predict the rise of that sentiment.”
Sentiment trackers use the innovation curve used in marketing to find early adopters. The curve starts off slow and then picks up speed until it reaches peak adoption and then drops. The key is to find that sharp rise and exploit it hard. Sentiment is more accurate, faster, cheaper, broader based and perhaps sneakier than traditional polling. Traditional polling is someone asking a question of a sample and tabulating the answers. Politicians like consumer brands, use this science to develop campaign platforms, slogans, and even pick words in their speeches. That sentiment can be skewed by robots, retweets and false actors, as laid previously. There are ways to determine and eliminate robots. The bottom line is that Trump’s people were tracking positive growth and sentiment using social media tools while Clinton’s polls and many media polls were missing key or disenfranchised voters in what they thought were Blue States.
The ultimate irony in all this is that Trump managed to lose the popular vote but win the presidency despite having no political experience and having probably one of the most corrosive and combative campaigns in modern history. Some confirm that Trump enjoyed the free publicity. Around $2 billion of free media coverage according to some estimates
“I don’t’ think Trump wanted to win, or rather maybe he didn’t care if he won” says James who has been part of the campaign insiders, “but sentiment analysis on October 28 started to show “positive” growing. The analysis of Hillary showed negative growing but positive was stable. That’s when Trump started winning.”
Was Clinton’s stalling and Trump’s upward move caused by Vladimir Putin and his Russian hackers? Well after vociferously criticizing his intelligence agencies and the reports, President Elect Donald Trump finally admitted that it might be Russia. But could it have been Deep State, or the liberal opposition….or even a cute young girl in Romania?