As my colleague Adam Garrie has pointed out, The New York Times story that Russian President Putin has ‘suggested’ that patriotic Russian hackers might have hacked Podesta and the DNC is mendacious and wrong.
I would add that it is not merely the headline of The New York Times article which is mendacious and wrong. The opening paragraph is so also. It reads as follows
Shifting from his previous blanket denials, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia suggested on Thursday that “patriotically minded” private Russian hackers could have been involved in cyberattacks last year that meddled in the United States presidential election.
This is a complete misrepresentation of Putin’s words. Putin made no such ‘suggestion’. As the full text of his comments shows he made no reference to the US Presidential election at all. As for hacking, as my colleague Adam Garrie correctly says, Putin on the contrary categorically denied that the Russian state ever engages in hacking.
All that did Putin was discuss in response to a question the universally known fact that some hackers are Russians, and speculate that sometimes they might hack from a patriotic motive. However he emphatically denied that the Russian state directs their activities and he did not admit – because by his own admission he does not know – that Russian hackers have ever been involved in any politically motivated hack.
My colleague Adam Garrie has provided a video of Putin’s comments. Here is the official translation provided by the Kremlin website both of the question which was put to Putin and of his answer to that question which the New York Times so completely misrepresents
General Director of DPA Peter Kropsch: (In German.) I want to thank you for finding the time to meet with my colleagues and me.
And maybe a second question. I know you answered that but I am asking for your advice. There is always a kind of nervosity in Germany about the situation that it could be that some hackers, maybe also from Russia, could try to influence, by leaking information or by false information, this election process. Would you think that could be possible and what would be your advice for Germany and the German officials?
Now regarding hackers: hackers can be anywhere, they can lurk in any country in the world. Of course, the general context of inter-state relations should be taken into account in this case because hackers are free people like artists. If artists get up in the morning feeling good, all they do all day is paint. The same goes for hackers. They got up today and read that something is going on internationally. If they are feeling patriotic they will start contributing, as they believe, to the justified fight against those speaking ill of Russia. Is that possible? In theory, yes. At the government level, we never engage in this. This is what is most important. This is the first point.
Second. I can image a scenario when somebody develops a chain of attacks in a manner that would show Russia as the source of these attacks. Modern technology allows that. It is very easy.
And finally, what is most important is I am deeply convinced that no hackers can have a real impact on an election campaign in another country. You see, nothing, no information can be imprinted in voters’ minds, in the minds of a nation, and influence the final outcome and the final result. This is my answer.
We do not engage in this activity at the government level and are not going to engage in it. On the contrary, we try to prevent this from happening in our country. At any rate, I believe that no hackers can affect the election campaign in any European country, nor in Asia or in America.
Note that these comments do not refer either to the US, or to the hacks of Podesta or the DNC, or to the US Presidential election. They were made in response to a question from a German journalist about possible future hacks in Germany. It is the New York Times not Putin which has inserted the US Presidential election and the Podesta and DNC hacks into the story. This introduces an element into the words which is not there.
Also, whilst the New York Times has focused on Putin’s comments about hackers possibly being Russian, it ignores his other words that it is also possible for hackers who are not Russians to disguise themselves as Russians, making it extremely difficult to establish their true nationality.
As to the point about some hackers being Russian, and about some hackers from time to time acting out of patriotic motives, Putin simply made the same point which I made when discussing the DNC hack on 28th July 2016 ie. at about the time the FBI’s counter-espionage investigation following the DNC leak got underway
……..some people in the US are saying that Russian intelligence agencies “farm out” operations of this sort in order to preserve “plausible deniability”. I don’t for a moment believe that. Would intelligence agencies carrying out secret work really be willing to “farm out” a “dirty tricks” operation in that way?
The risks of involving outsiders in an operation of that sort where the stakes are so high seem to me so enormous that I can’t imagine them doing it. Besides they would surely know that Hillary Clinton and the NSA would be unlikely to be fooled by it.
Whilst on such a murky subject certainty is impossible, on balance I think it is very unlikely the Russian authorities were behind the leak.
By contrast It is highly possible that a Russian private individual or group of individuals might have been behind the leak. There is a huge pool of people in Russia who have very high mathematical and computer skills and who do not like Hillary Clinton.
It is by no means implausible that some of them might have hacked the DNC and passed on its emails to Wikileaks. That might explain the Russian traces that some claim to find in the hack. However that does not mean Putin or the Russians authorities were involved and personally I doubt that they were.
(bold italics added)
Needless to say my comments on 28th July 2016 were as speculative as Putin’s are now. Neither Putin nor I know the identity or nationality of any particular hacker. Certainly I do not know that the person or persons who hacked Podesta or the DNC were Russian. I have no way of knowing whether they were or not.
What I said on 28th July 2016 in connection to the DNC leak was that the hackers might have been Russian because of the very large number of people in Russia who have the necessary motivation and skills to carry out the hack. However I made it clear that I did not think that either Putin or the Russian authorities were involved.
Putin for his part did not even say that, since he was not talking about the US election at all. He merely made the uncontroversial point that some hackers are Russians, along with the perhaps slightly more controversial point that these hackers might sometimes act from patriotic motives. However he made it clear in the latter case that the Russian authorities are not involved in directing them.
Weirdly my comments are closer to the sentiments expressed in The New York Times story than Putin’s are, though as I have no inside knowledge they are and can be an admission of nothing.
Not only has the New York Times distorted Putin’s words, but as the true meaning of his words is perfectly clear, it must have done so intentionally.
That is a gross violation of journalistic standards from the erstwhile ‘paper of record’.
I have previously said that in the absence of facts to support the Russiagate narrative those who are driving the Russiagate scandal are increasingly obliged to invent them. The New York Times story, attributing to Putin’s ‘suggestions’ he never made, is an example of this.