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US Intel Vets Dispute Russia Hacking Claims

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Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

MEMORANDUM

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Allegations of Hacking Election Are Baseless

A New York Times report on Monday alluding to "overwhelming circumstantial evidence" leading the CIA to believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin "deployed computer hackers with the goal of tipping the election to Donald J. Trump" is, sadly, evidence-free. This is no surprise, because harder evidence of a technical nature points to an inside leak, not hacking -- by Russians or anyone else.

Monday's Washington Post reports that Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has joined other senators in calling for a bipartisan investigation of suspected cyber-intrusion by Russia. Reading our short memo could save the Senate from endemic partisanship, expense and unnecessary delay.

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In what follows, we draw on decades of senior-level experience -- with emphasis on cyber-intelligence and security -- to cut through uninformed, largely partisan fog. Far from hiding behind anonymity, we are proud to speak out with the hope of gaining an audience appropriate to what we merit -- given our long labors in government and other areas of technology. And corny though it may sound these days, our ethos as intelligence professionals remains, simply, to tell it like it is -- without fear or favor.

We have gone through the various claims about hacking. For us, it is child's play to dismiss them. The email disclosures in question are the result of a leak, not a hack. Here's the difference between leaking and hacking:

Leak: When someone physically takes data out of an organization and gives it to some other person or organization, as Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning did.

Hack: When someone in a remote location electronically penetrates operating systems, firewalls or any other cyber-protection system and then extracts data.

All signs point to leaking, not hacking. If hacking were involved, the National Security Agency would know it -- and know both sender and recipient.

In short, since leaking requires physically removing data -- on a thumb drive, for example -- the only way such data can be copied and removed, with no electronic trace of what has left the server, is via a physical storage device.

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Awesome Technical Capabilities

Again, NSA is able to identify both the sender and recipient when hacking is involved. Thanks largely to the material released by Edward Snowden, we can provide a full picture of NSA's extensive domestic data-collection network including Upstream programs like Fairview, Stormbrew and Blarney. These include at least 30 companies in the U.S. operating the fiber networks that carry the Public Switched Telephone Network as well as the World Wide Web. This gives NSA unparalleled access to data flowing within the U.S. and data going out to the rest of the world, as well as data transiting the U.S.

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