Tuesday 16 July 2019

Hackers in Russia stole probe files, says Mueller

Investigation: US Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Photo: Getty Images
Investigation: US Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Photo: Getty Images

Sarah N Lynch

US Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office has revealed that hackers in Russia stole evidence in an attempt to tarnish its investigation of a firm charged with funding a Russian propaganda campaign to interfere in the 2016 US election.

Prosecutors said in a court filing in Washington that a Twitter handle called @HackingRedstone came online last October 22 to brag it had hacked some of the evidence in the case.

"We've got access to the Special Counsel Mueller's probe database as we hacked Russian server with info from the Russian troll case," the court document quoted the Twitter post as saying.

In February 2018, Mr Mueller indicted 13 Russians and three Russian companies with allegations of tampering in 2016 to support Donald Trump. In all, 34 people have pleaded guilty, been indicted or otherwise swept up in the broader inquiry.

The companies named in the indictment included the Internet Research Agency (IRA), known for its "trolling" on social media, Concord Management and Consulting LLC, which is said to have provided financial backing for the operation, and Concord Catering.

The Twitter account linked to an online file sharing portal which it said contained Mr Mueller's documents about the "IRA and Russian collusion". "Enjoy the reading!" it added.

The data that appeared online was "altered and disseminated as part of a disinformation campaign aimed (apparently) at discrediting ongoing investigations into Russian interference in the US political system," prosecutors wrote.

On the same day, a journalist contacted Mr Mueller's office to report receiving a Twitter message from someone who said they had hacked a Russian legal firm that had received the evidence from Concord's US-based law firm Reed Smith LLP.

The illicit activity outlined by prosecutors illustrates the concerns of US intelligence officials about continuing efforts by Russia to interfere in US politics.

The FBI has found no evidence that US servers were compromised, and the IP address of the account used to publish the materials originated in Russia, prosecutors said.

Concord Management is being prosecuted in Mr Mueller's investigation of US allegations that Moscow meddled in the American democratic process to help Mr Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Mr Mueller is also investigating whether there was any co-ordination between members of the Trump campaign and Moscow officials. The Kremlin denies election interference and Mr Trump denies there was any collusion, calling the inquiry a witch hunt.

Wednesday's filing in the US District Court for the District of Columbia is the latest in a dispute between prosecutors and Concord's American attorneys over how the defence team may share highly sensitive evidence with Concord's Russian corporate officers.

One of those officers is businessman Evgeny Prigozhin, an associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin and known in Russia as "Putin's cook".

In the indictment, prosecutors said Russian defendants adopted false online personas to push divisive messages, travelled to the US to collect intelligence and orchestrated political rallies while posing as Americans.

Mr Prigozhin was one of the 13 people indicted.

Irish Independent

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