Russian-affiliated hackers who targeted the Democratic party during the US elections are also believed to have targeted the Republican National Committee, but released almost none of the material they may have gotten their hands on, US government officials told The New York Times Friday.
The report came after US officials said the CIA believed Russia had actively intervened in the 2016 presidential elections to help Donald Trump win the race. President Barack Obama has ordered a review of all cyber-attacks that took place during the 2016 election cycle, amid concerns over Russian interference.
Officials now say it wasn’t just the Democrats that were targeted.
“We now have high confidence that they hacked the DNC and the RNC, and conspicuously released no documents” from the Republican organization, one senior administration official told The New York Times, referring to hackers allegedly working for the Russian government.
The report said it was unclear how many files were stolen from the Republicans, noting that in some cases, investigators never get a clear picture.
“It is also far from clear that Russia’s original intent was to support Mr. Trump, and many intelligence officials — and former officials in Mrs. Clinton’s campaign — believe that the primary motive of the Russians was to simply disrupt the campaign and undercut confidence in the integrity of the vote,” The New York Times noted.
The details of US intelligence’s assessment of Russian involvement were first reported by the Washington Post, which said that there were also disagreements between intelligence officials over unanswered questions, including the extent of the ties between the hackers and the Russian government. The actors involved were “one step” removed from the Kremlin, rather than employees, another US official said.
“Intelligence agencies do not have specific intelligence showing officials in the Kremlin ‘directing’ the identified individuals to pass the Democratic emails to WikiLeaks,” the Washington Post reported.
The Trump transition team released a statement dismissing the CIA assessment, saying “these are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”
In the months before the election, it was largely documents from Democratic Party systems that were leaked to the public. Intelligence agencies have concluded that the Russians likely gave the Democrats’ documents to WikiLeaks.
Republicans have a different explanation for why no documents from their networks were ever released. Over the past several months, officials from the RNC have consistently said that their networks were not compromised, asserting that only the accounts of individual Republicans were attacked. On Friday, a senior committee official told The New York Times he had no comment.
The paper pointed to Rep. Michael McCaul, the Texas Republican who is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, who said on CNN in September that the RNC had been hacked by Russia, but then quickly withdrew the claim.
McCaul initially told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer “It’s important to note, Wolf, that they have not only hacked into the DNC but also into the RNC.” He added that “the Russians have basically hacked into both parties at the national level, and that gives us all concern about what their motivations are.”
Minutes later, the RNC issued a statement denying that it had been hacked. McCaul subsequently said that he had misspoken, but that it was true that “Republican political operatives” had been the target of Russian hacking. So were establishment Republicans with no ties to the campaign, including former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.
McCaul may have had in mind a collection of more than 200 emails of Republican officials and activists that appeared this year on the website DCLeaks.com. That website got far more attention for the many Democratic Party documents it posted, The New York Times said.
The messages stolen from Republicans have drawn little attention because most are routine business emails from local Republican Party officials in several states, congressional staff members and party activists.