Saturday, October 1, 2022
Published 3 Years Ago on Friday, Nov 15 2019 By Inside Telecom Staff
By FRANK BAJAK AP Cybersecurity Writer
A discredited conspiracy theory that blames Ukraine, and not
Russia, for interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election reared its head
again during the first day of public impeachment hearings into President Donald
Trump’s alleged attempt to pressure Ukraine into investigating a political
First, California Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on
the House Intelligence Committee, referenced it obliquely in defending Trump,
saying “indications of Ukrainian election meddling” had troubled the president.
Subsequently, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for
European and Eurasian Affairs George P. Kent, under questioning, said there was
“no factual basis” to any theory of Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election —
while there is ample evidence of Russian interference.
In broad outline, the theory contends, without evidence,
that the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee was a setup somehow perpetrated
with Ukrainian complicity in which computer records were fabricated to cast
blame on Russia. One key figure in this supposed conspiracy: CrowdStrike, a
security firm hired by the DNC that detected and analyzed the hack five months
before the 2016 election.
Kent said Wednesday that he hadn’t even heard of the theory
until a whistleblower alerted the public to a July 25 call between Trump and
the Ukrainian president.
Here’s how the call brought the debunked theory back into
During that July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr
Zelenskiy, Trump made a brief and cryptic reference to CrowdStrike. According
to a reconstructed transcript of the call released by the White House, which is
not a verbatim account, he said:
“I would like to find out what happened with this whole
situation with Ukraine, they say CrowdStrike . I guess you have one of your
wealthy people. The server, they say Ukraine has it.” Trump added that
he’d like to have Attorney General William Barr call “you or your people
and I would like you to get to the bottom of it.”
CrowdStrike determined in June 2016 that Russian agents had
broken into the committee’s network and stolen emails that were subsequently
published by WikiLeaks. Its findings were confirmed by FBI investigators, with
whom it later shared the forensic evidence.
Based on those findings, Special Counsel Robert Mueller
indicted 12 members of Russia’s military intelligence agency and later
concluded that their operation sought to favor Trump’s candidacy.
Mueller testified before the U.S. Congress the day before
Trump’s phone call with Zelenskiy.
In the call, Trump mentioned Mueller’s “incompetent
performance” and said “they say it started with Ukraine.”
Ukraine and Russia have essentially been at war since
Russia’s 2014 military intervention and annexation of Crimea. Unsubstantiated
conspiracy theories about a purported Ukrainian link to the DNC hack began
circulating almost immediately after it was discovered.
Some propagated by Russian media and online included mention
of a supposed “hidden DNC server,” which acolytes of the Republican
political operative Roger Stone picked up and circulated.
Stone is now standing trial for allegedly lying to Congress,
obstructing justice and witness tampering after getting swept up in the Mueller
probe. He has claimed that CrowdStrike is concealing evidence that could
presumably clear Russia of culpability.
The presiding judge has denied Stone’s efforts to challenge
the investigation into the hack.
CrowdStrike has also worked for the GOP. It helped the
National Republican Congressional Committee investigate email thefts by
unidentified hackers during the 2018 campaign, the company told the AP in
THE UKRAINIAN CONNECTION
One version of the conspiracy theory holds that CrowdStrike
is owned by a wealthy Ukrainian. In fact, company co-founder Dmitri Alperovitch
is a Russian-born U.S. citizen who immigrated as a child and graduated from the
Georgia Institute of Technology.
Trump himself has made this erroneous reference before.
In an April 2017 interview with The Associated Press, Trump
said: “Why wouldn’t (former Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John)
Podesta and Hillary Clinton allow the FBI to see the server? They brought in
another company that I hear is Ukrainian-based.”
“CrowdStrike?” the interviewer asked.
“That’s what I heard,” Trump replied. “I
heard it’s owned by a very rich Ukrainian, that’s what I heard. But they
brought in another company to investigate the server. Why didn’t they allow the
FBI in to investigate the server? I mean, there is so many things that nobody
writes about. It’s incredible.”
WHY IT MATTERS
The reference raises questions about Trump’s ability — or,
perhaps, willingness — to sort between fact and fiction, analysts say.
“If we take Trump’s words at face value, then it
appears that the president of the United States is intellectually unable to
distinguish between utterly outlandish conspiracy theories and solid
intelligence assessments based on facts,” said Thomas Rid, a Johns Hopkins
security studies professor.
Joan Donovan of Harvard University said conspiracy theories
generally have two principal attributes: They simplify matters and lack
attribution. And some political actors see a benefit to encouraging them.
“Who can know the truth in these conditions? No
one,” said Donovan, who directs the Kennedy School’s technology and social
change research project.
CrowdStrike said in a statement that it “provided all
forensic evidence and analysis to the FBI.” It added: “We stand by
our findings and conclusions that have been fully supported by the US
A PREVIOIUS REFERENCE
In October, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney
said the Trump administration’s decision to hold up military aid to Ukraine was
linked to his demand that Kyiv investigate the DNC and the 2016 campaign. Those
who believe Trump should be impeached say there is ample evidence the aid was
frozen in order to pressure Zelenskiy to investigate political rival Joe
Biden’s son’s business activities in Ukraine.
“The look back to what happened in 2016 certainly was
part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that
nation,” Mulvaney said.
“Did he also mention to me in the past the corruption
that related to the DNC server? Absolutely, no question about that,” he
added. “That’s why we held up the money.”
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington
contributed to this report.
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