Christof Lehmann (nsnbc) : The U.S. State Department announced a number of sanctions including the expulsion of diplomats against Russia. The announcement was made following the publication of a joint Department of Homeland Security – NCCIC – FBI report that claims to provide evidence on Russian hacking. The « report » was published with a disclaimer, stating « This report is provided « as is » for informational purposes only. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not provide any warranties of any kind regarding any information contained within. » Russia considers expelling US diplomats in return.
On December 29, 2016 U.S. State Department (DoS) Deputy Spokesman Mark C. Toner issued a press release on the DoS’s website noting that the DoS had declared persona non grata 35 Russian officials operating in the United States who were acting in a manner inconsistent with their diplomatic or consular status. The DoS pointed out that it also had informed the Russian Government that it would deny Russian personnel access to two recreational compounds in the United States owned by the Russian Government. The DoS noted that:
The Department took these actions as part of a comprehensive response to Russia’s interference in the U.S. election and to a pattern of harassment of our diplomats overseas that has increased over the last four years, including a significant increase in the last 12 months. This harassment has involved arbitrary police stops, physical assault, and the broadcast on State TV of personal details about our personnel that put them at risk. In addition, the Russian Government has impeded our diplomatic operations by, among other actions: forcing the closure of 28 American corners which hosted cultural programs and English-language teaching; blocking our efforts to begin the construction of a new, safer facility for our Consulate General in St. Petersburg; and rejecting requests to improve perimeter security at the current, outdated facility in St. Petersburg. Today’s actions send a clear message that such behavior is unacceptable and will have consequences.
The State Department’s announcement coincided with the release of a joint analysis report issued by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the NCCIC and the FBI. The report was issued with the disclaimer: (Access the full report HERE)
This report is provided « as is » for informational purposes only. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not provide any warranties of any kind regarding any information contained within. DHS does not endorse any commercial product or service referenced in this advisory or otherwise. This document is distributed as TLP:WHITE: Subject to standard copyright rules, TLP:WHITE information may be distributed without restriction.
Russian Foreign Minister Segey Lavrov responded to the new round of sanctions against Russia stating:
« We, of course, cannot leave unanswered the insults of the kind, reciprocity is the law of diplomacy and foreign relations, » he said. « Thus, the Russian Foreign Ministry and officials of other authorities have suggested the Russian president to announce 31 personnel of the US Embassy in Moscow and four diplomats from the Consulate General in St. Petersburg persona non grata. »
However, Russian President Vladimir Putin, after initially considering to expel 31 U.S. diplomats, decided not to expel US diplomats from Russia in response to Washington’s actions – statement, reported the Russian State news agency Tass.
What The Hack – The Lack of Evidence – Posturing, Positioning and Propaganda
nsnbc international had a Danish expert in cyber security assess the report last night. The result of the review came in the early morning hours of December 30. The conclusion was that « the technical information could be correct, but that the report provides absolutely no conclusive evidence that would prove Russian government involvement ».
nsnbc’s consultant compared the validity of the claims issued in the report by Wordfence with data released by the Ukrainian government military which purportedly documents that a large number of hack attacks and brute force attacks originate for the Donbas region of Ukraine.
While these data are correct, these attacks affect Russian servers as much as they affect servers in the USA. Even nsnbc international noted that the larges number of attempted malicious attacks originate from Ukraine, and especially from the Donbas region, followed by Russia and the USA ranking third. It is noteworthy that these attacks also have been registered by media that have recently been listed as Russian propaganda media by the so-called PopOrNot site and the Washington Post.
nsnbc international’s consultant noted that neither the joint DHS – NCCIC – FBI report nor the date released by the Ukrainian government provide a valid basis for conclusions about the involvement of ny intelligence services because the owners or operators have not been identified.
A proper background check of the involved persons and eventual ties to intelligence services is, in other words impossible. What is possible, however, is to use (or abuse) these data for political positioning and posturing. nsnbc international’s consultant qualified his conclusion by adding that « it would be ludicrous to assume that the intelligence services of Russia, the USA, China, or any other major power would not use cyber-espionage, cyber subversion and other modern intelligence methods, including disinformation. It would also be ludicrous to claim that the intelligence services of these countries would be unable to pinpoint the involved individuals and publish their names if it served the interests of their respective countries ».
CH/L – nsnbc 30.12.2016