Spicer: Trump’s keeping an open mind on Russia intel

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An open mind, but not an unskeptical approach. Donald Trump has not reached any conclusions on the allegations of Russian hacks against the DNC and manipulation of the media via propaganda, incoming press secretary Sean Spicer tells Good Morning America’s George Stephanopoulos, but he certainly has a number of questions about them. The chain of evidence is one question that’s looming large in the president-elect’s mind, for instance:

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President-elect Donald Trump is “prepared to listen and understand” how U.S. intelligence agencies determined the attempted interference of Russian and other foreign entities in U.S. elections, incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer said today. …

Spicer said Trump will attend the briefing with an open mind but he will also ask questions about how the intelligence community came to its conclusions based on the evidence, particularly concerning the hacking of emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

“The DNC is saying the FBI never looked at their server. The FBI is saying the DNC never gave them access to their server,” Spicer said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “If the server was never looked at, how do you in the intelligence community come to this conclusion? It’s a fair question to ask. I think he’s going to ask questions like that.”

The circumstances should prompt plenty of questions. Spicer’s referring to yesterday’s inexplicable news from Buzzfeed that the DNC refused to cooperate with the FBI and grant access to the servers after the hack had taken place. Rather than conduct its own probe, the FBI relied on the firm hired by the DNC to provide the forensics of the crime. For some reason the FBI didn’t get a search warrant either, even though a federal crime had taken place, which seemed rather unusual to others in the industry:

It’s unclear why the FBI didn’t request access to the DNC servers, and whether it’s common practice when the bureau investigates the cyberattacks against private entities by state actors, like when the Sony Corporation was hacked by North Korea in 2014.

BuzzFeed News spoke to three cybersecurity companies who have worked on major breaches in the last 15 months, who said that it was “par for the course” for the FBI to do their own forensic research into the hacks. None wanted to comment on the record on another cybersecurity company’s work, or the work being done by a national security agency.

The Blaze reported independently on why outsourcing the forensics could be a problem:

Shannon McMurtrey, assistant professor of management information systems at Drury University in Springfield, Missouri, told TheBlaze Thursday that while access to a compromised computer server can help determine the source of a cyberattack, the task of assigning blame can be much more complicated.

“Attribution is extremely difficult due to the ease with which you can spoof just about every detail. Physical access to the server is a start, but even then critical logs may be missing or altered,” McMurtrey said.

On top of that, the DNC insists that they cooperated fully — and the FBI never asked for access to the servers:

“The DNC had several meetings with representatives of the FBI’s Cyber Division and its Washington (DC) Field Office, the Department of Justice’s National Security Division, and U.S. Attorney’s Offices, and it responded to a variety of requests for cooperation, but the FBI never requested access to the DNC’s computer servers,” Eric Walker, the DNC’s deputy communications director, told BuzzFeed News in an email.

It’s not difficult to credit the Russians with attempts to manipulate the election through hacks and propaganda. Intelligence services had been warning about that very threat for the past few years, but the Obama administration shut down the one unit that was attempting to deal with that in 2015, and shot down an effort by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AL) to revive the effort early this year. It doesn’t appear that the Obama administration or law enforcement took any of this seriously until they lost the election, which is one reason Trump might be rightly skeptical of the hysteria, if not the facts presented.

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