Russian cyber-attacks and hacking attempts were not limited to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the past election. Cybersecurity experts testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee said that several prominent Republicans including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) were targeted by “coordinated social media attacks” that apparently originated in Russia per CNN.
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Senator Rubio testified that members of his campaign staff were targeted at least twice. “Former members of my presidential campaign team who had access to the internal information of my presidential campaign were targeted by IP addresses with an unknown location within Russia,” Rubio said Thursday. “That effort was unsuccessful. I would also inform the committee within the last 24 hours, at 10:45 a.m. yesterday, [Wednesday, March 29] a second attempt was made, again, against former members of my presidential campaign team who had access to our internal information — again targeted from an IP address from an unknown location in Russia. And that effort was also unsuccessful.”
Clinton Watts, a former FBI agent and Senior Fellow at the George Washington Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, said that the attacks were not limited Rubio, but that all Republican candidates, with the exception of Donald Trump, were targeted by the Russians.
Watts noted that the attacks were ongoing. “This past week we observed social media campaigns targeting speaker of the House Paul Ryan hoping to foment further unrest amongst US democratic institutions,” he said.
Watts said later on CNN that Trump and his advisors, either knowingly or unknowingly, espoused Russian propaganda stories during the campaign. “What we can’t tell is whether President Trump realized he was actually citing Russian propaganda at times, which did happen. What did happen was his campaign manager [Paul Manafort] cited Russian propaganda seven days after it had been debunked in August 2016,” Watts said. “We see lots of lines that are pushed by the Kremlin that are fed into information briefings.”
“The other part is the coordination,” he continued. “We see hacks, we see leaks and those are very synchronized or come out very quickly with the campaign back in August, September, October. And that tends to lead to the belief that there was coordination.”
“The ultimate objective [of Putin] is to destroy democracies from the inside out,” Watts told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
When asked during the Senate hearing by Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oreg.) how the Intelligence Committee could track the cyberattacks to their source, Watts said that investigators should follow the money trail to determine who is bankrolling the many “fake news outlets, conspiratorial websites” run from Eastern Europe. Watts said that his best guess was that the outlets were funded by “some Russian intel asset.”
Watts also said that investigators should “Follow the trail of dead Russians.” He continued, “There have been more dead Russians in the past three months that are tied to this investigation, who have assets in banks all over the world. They are dropping dead even in western countries.”