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This Week In Hacks: The Democrats, Russia And Trump

Jul 30, 2016
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Even by the strange standards of this long, strange election season, this past week has stood out. First came word of a Kremlin conspiracy - Russia trying to meddle in U.S. politics by hacking into the servers of the Democratic National Committee.

And while people were still digesting that, Donald Trump weighed in on Wednesday with this.

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DONALD TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.

MARTIN: Trump was talking about Hillary Clinton's private email server. He later said he was being sarcastic, but not before sending the national security establishment into a tailspin. And then, just as the work week was winding down, came news of more hacks.

So we thought this would be a good time to take a breath and sort through what we actually know and what we don't. So we've called our national security correspondent Mary Louise Kelly for that. Mary Louise, thanks so much for joining us.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: My pleasure, Michel.

MARTIN: So the DNC confirmed that it was hacked yesterday. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which raises money for House Democrats, said it's been hacked. Do we know that Russia is behind this?

KELLY: I would characterize - at least the evidence that has been made public - as powerful, but not definitive. The Kremlin has denied involvement. However, U.S. cybersecurity firms that have gone through the forensic evidence here say, no question, this is Russian security services. And privately, U.S. intelligence officials will tell you the same thing.

The White House has been very careful not to finger Russia. Let me play you a little bit. This is the director of national intelligence, Jim Clapper, speaking this week out at the Aspen Security Forum.

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JIM CLAPPER: Don't think we're quite ready yet to make a call on attribution. We all know there are just a few usual suspects out there.

KELLY: Just a few usual suspects out there, he says. But you will notice he didn't name any other possible suspects.

MARTIN: So is the reluctance to come right out and identify Russia - is that because they really don't know or are there diplomatic or political considerations involved?

KELLY: Jim Clapper was asked that very question, and what he said was it's a little bit of both. The only time that the U.S. has directly laid the blame on another country for a cyberattack - it was two years ago, the Sony attack. The White House came out and said that was North Korea. There is no downside, though. The U.S. doesn't have diplomatic relations with North Korea.

If you look at Russia, there is, of course, this complicated relationship. The U.S. and Russia are trying to find ways to work together all over the world - in Syria, for example. You can imagine the blowback if there's this huge war of words.

On the other hand, there are consequences to not reacting. So these are all the considerations that are in play right now.

MARTIN: What would be the relationship, though, between Russian intelligence and WikiLeaks, which did release this information and said explicitly that they did so in order to harm former Secretary of State Clinton's political prospects?

KELLY: Certainly, there is no love lost, either between WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Clinton or between the Kremlin and Clinton. I mean, President Putin has come out and said that he does not like Hillary Clinton. And he's come out and said relatively nice things about Donald Trump.

And, of course, it's always in WikiLeaks' interests to keep itself on the front pages. WikiLeaks' mission is to put information out there that would otherwise not be in the public eye. And certainly, this fits what they say they're trying to do.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, what do we know about these reports of yet another attack, this time on computers of the Clinton campaign?

KELLY: The Clinton campaign says a data program that they used to conduct voter analysis was compromised. But they say this was a DNC - a Democratic National Committee - program, and that that hack was part of the DNC hack we all already knew about and have known about since June. So this is not - to be clear, this is not yet another separate attack. The Clinton campaign says its own emails, computers don't appear to have been targeted.

That said, every time there's another little twist or little turn, it raises questions about how big all of this is. Is this isolated episodes? Is this evidence coming to light of some big campaign coordinated by Russia to target U.S. politics? And if so, what's the goal? And who's directing it? And what other shoes might drop?

MARTIN: That's NPR's Mary Louise Kelly. Mary Louise, thanks so much.

KELLY: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.