Clinton, Trump and Russia

A good article at The Dispatch that explains what has come out about the Clinton’s campaign involvement in the Russiagate allegations.

Durham’s most explosive assertion—and this was new to the latest filing—was detailing that internet data, which Sussmann had taken again in updated form to the government in February 2017: domain name system (DNS) connected with, among other entities, “Trump Tower, Donald Trump’s West apartment building, and the Executive Office of the President of the United States.”

Internet traffic from the White House, exploited by a private actor with ties to the Clinton campaign? It’s not hard to see why conservative media would pick up the ball and run with this, and so they did: Fox News’ report said the Clinton campaign had “paid a technology company to ‘infiltrate’ servers belonging to Trump Tower, and later the White House,” while the Daily Mail asserted that the firm had been paid “to hack into [Trump’s] White House and Trump Tower servers.”

This is a big deal. It isn’t necessarily illegal or hacking, but it is highly unethical. I say this as a former director of the company that managed the .nz servers for New Zealand.

Why was this collection likely legal? Because Neustar had contractual access to it. The Virginia-based company is one of the world’s largest providers of DNS services, with annual revenue north of $1 billion, and it had a contract to perform such services for the White House.

What, precisely, did the entail? Describing it as “internet traffic,” as Durham did, is accurate but perhaps slightly misleading to us non-techies—it isn’t synonymous with, say, users’ web history. DNS servers are like internet phone books, translating web addresses that are intelligible to human beings (say, “thedispatch.com”) into IP addresses, the strings of digits that tell a computer where to find the server where that website lives. When one server needs to find another, it consults the DNS server to find out where to look, which the server then logs as a DNS lookup. DNS lookup logs thus don’t tell you what one server is communicating with another—merely that two servers are in communication.

What companies like Neustar offer clients is, in essence, a phone book that stops you from dialing —if a particular server is known to have been used for phishing schemes, for instance, it may swoop in and prevent your computer from establishing a connection with that server. This is why DNS lookups are logged in the first place—if your organization’s being targeted, it’s good to know when and from where.

But Durham alleges that Joffe put this to use in a way that was anything but routine: “Tech Executive-1 tasked these researchers to mine Internet data to establish ‘an inference’ and ‘narrative’ tying then-candidate Trump to Russia.” In the end, this research bore fruit in the form of a theory of Trump’s ties to Russia—which made its way into the press in the last days of the 2016 campaign—that a “Trump server” was secretly communicating with Russia-based Alfa Bank. (The theory fell apart in days; the “Trump server” in question turned out to have belonged to marketing company Cendyn, which sent marketing emails for Trump hotels.)

In the original indictment of Sussmann, Durham provided an email from Joffe suggesting a motive for his actions: “I was tentatively offered the top [cybersecurity] job by the Democrats when it looked like they’d win. I definitely would not take the job under Trump.”

So a top executive at a company paid to managed DNS used that privileged position to try and find data that would support the allegation that Trump was compromised by Russia. And he did so, after having been offered a top cybersecurity job by the Clinton team.

Again not illegal, but stinks badly.

Joffe, a tech executive with non-trivial ties to the Clinton campaign—they shared a lawyer in Sussmann, and Joffe believed he had been offered a tentative position in a Clinton administration—used his position atop a company with extensive government and private-sector contracts to go digging for information on Clinton’s opponent, an effort in which Sussmann was involved and for which (Durham asserts) Sussmann billed his time to the Clinton campaign.

I think Trump is a sociopathic menace to society. But what Joffe did was wrong, regardless of your view on Trump.

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