FBI believes Russia hacks aimed at disrupting election, not electing Trump

Illustration: Rob Beschizza

None of the ongoing federal investigations into Russian cyber-hijinks this election season have found “any conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government,” the New York Times reports, citing unnamed officials. Even the hacking of Democratic emails, say FBI and intel sources, is “aimed at disrupting the presidential election rather than electing Mr. Trump.”

Snip from the New York Times:

F.B.I. officials spent weeks examining computer data showing an odd stream of activity to a Trump Organization server and Alfa Bank. Computer logs obtained by The New York Times show that two servers at Alfa Bank sent more than 2,700 “look-up” messages — a first step for one system’s computers to talk to another — to a Trump-connected server beginning in the spring. But the F.B.I. ultimately concluded that there could be an innocuous explanation, like a marketing email or spam, for the computer contacts.

The most serious part of the F.B.I.’s investigation has focused on the computer hacks that the Obama administration now formally blames on Russia. That investigation also involves numerous officials from the intelligence agencies. Investigators, the officials said, have become increasingly confident, based on the evidence they have uncovered, that Russia’s direct goal is not to support the election of Mr. Trump, as many Democrats have asserted, but rather to disrupt the integrity of the political system and undermine America’s standing in the world more broadly.

The hacking, they said, reflected an intensification of spy-versus-spy operations that never entirely abated after the Cold War but that have become more aggressive in recent years as relations with Mr. Putin’s Russia have soured.

A senior intelligence official, who like the others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a continuing national security investigation, said the Russians had become adept at exploiting computer vulnerabilities created by the relative openness of and reliance on the internet. Election officials in several states have reported what appeared to be cyberintrusions from Russia, and while many doubt that an Election Day hack could alter the outcome of the election, the F.B.I. agencies across the government are on alert for potential disruptions that could wreak havoc with the voting process itself.

“It isn’t about the election,” a second senior official said, referring to the aims of Russia’s interference. “It’s about a threat to democracy.”