Jefferson Morley | April 18, 2019
Mueller Redacted: GRU Used Wikileaks But Did Not Conspire With Trump
While Russian military intelligence operatives hacked the Democratic party and Hillary Clinton, they used the radical transparency organization Wikileaks to disseminate the stolen material, according to the report of special prosecutor Robert Mueller partially released Thursday.
President Trump’s campaign actively pursued the stolen material and communicated with Wikileaks about how it could be deployed against Clinton but did not violate any laws while doing so, Mueller concluded.
The 448-page report fleshes out a declassified January 2017 intelligence findingthat asserted, without evidence, that Russian agents used Wikileaks to help Trump’s campaign.
While the CIA has secretly intervened in scores of elections around the world in recent decades, Mueller’s report provides the strongest evidence to date that the Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) did the same in U.S. presidential election of 2016.
The Mueller report, heavily redacted in places, depicts a sporadic and improvised relationship—not a coordinated conspiracy–between the Russian intelligence office known as Unit 26165 and the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential campaign
The GRU responded rapidly to Trump’s interest in Clinton’s private communications, according to the report.
At a campaign rally on July 27 Trump denounced Clinton for deleting emails from her personal server, declaring, “Russia if you’re listening , I hope you can find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you’ll probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
“Within approximately five hours of Trump’s statement, GRU officers targeted for the first time Clinton’s personal office,” according to the report. “After candidate Trump’s remarks, Unit 26165 created and sent malicious links targeting 15 email accounts at a domain” controlled by Clinton’s personal office.
The GRU and the Trump campaign took actions “that were informed by or responsive to the other’s actions or interests,” Mueller concluded. But because there was no explicit agreement between them, “the investigation did not establish that the Trump Campaign coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
The GRU targeted the Clinton campaign, the Democratic National Committee, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in March 2016, according to the report. They used “spearfishing” campaigns against unwitting targets to gain access to their computers and then inserted malicious software to extract information and documents.
The hackers of Unit 26165 gained access to the DNC computers between May 25 to June 1, 2016, according to the report. Another GRU office, known as Unit 74455, assisted in the dissemination of the material.
The haul was not small. The Russian hackers obtained 70 gigabytes of data from the DNC servers in the spring of 2016 and another 330 gigabytes in the fall, according to the report.
Both GRU offices sought to hide their actions behind fictional online entities called “DCLeaks” and “Guccifer 2.0.”
The day after a cybersecurity firm retained by the DNC blamed Russian hackers for the attack, the report says the GRU created the “Guccifer 2.0” persona. Ostensibly a lone Romanian hacker, “Guccifer 2.0” was a disguise for GRU officers, according to the report.
In his first posting of DNC material, “Guccifer 2.0” used several unique English words and phrases that the GRU officers had searched for that day, according to the report.
Julian Assange, now in custody in London, has denied that he received the emails from the Russians.
Mueller’s report asserts that “GRU officers used both the DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 personas to communicate with WikiLeaks through Twitter private messaging and through encrypted channels, including possibly through WikiLeaks’s private communication system.”
On June 22, 2016, Wikileaks is said to have sent a private direct message to “Guccifer 2.0” asking for “any new material [stolen from the DNC] for us to review and it will have a much higher impact than what you are doing.”
On July 6, 2016, Wikileaks reportedly contacted “Guccifer 2.0” to say “if you have anything Hillary-related we want it in the next tweo [sic] days because the [Democratic National Convention] is approaching and she will solidify Bernie supporters behind her after.”
“Guccifer 2.0” reportedly responded, “ok I see.”
At the same time, an unnamed “former Trump campaign member” was in touch with the GRU officer posing as “Guccifer 2.0,” but did not seem that interested in his documents.
The report says that in early August 2016, “Guccifer 2.0” sent the campaign member a thank you message, and asked “do you find anything interest in the docs I posted?” Later that month, “Guccifer 2.0” asked the campaign member what he thought of one hacked documented posted online. The campaign member reportedly replied, “pretty standard.”
In short, the Mueller report shows that Trump and his campaign welcomed Russia’s covert support but did not break any laws to get it.
Shroud of Secrecy
Key details about the relation between the Trump campaign, the GRU, and Wikileaks remain secret.
The passages on the GRU hacking operations and Wikileaks are the most heavily redacted in the report. In 26 pages on Russian hacking efforts, at least 235 lines of text and footnotes, more than four full pages of material, are blacked out because they might “harm an ongoing matter.”
“Ongoing matter” could be a reference to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of Trump’s actions in regard to Russia. A counterintelligence investigation seeks to identify persons under the influence of a foreign power or intelligence service. Mueller is supposed to report to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees on that investigation.
“Ongoing matter” might also be a reference to other criminal investigations, perhaps of Assange, who could face additional charges if he is extradited to the United States. Civil liberties groups have rallied to Assange’s defense saying his prosecution poses a threat to freedom of the press.
For all his efforts to help the Trump campaign in 2016, Assange has reaped an ironic reward: He now faces prosecution by Trump’s Justice Department.