National Security

FBI Knew of Russian Hacking Problem for Years

The agency knew U.S. officials' personal emails were being targeted but failed to alert them.

Political Editors · Nov. 28, 2017

A Russian hacking group called Fancy Bear was known to have been targeting three U.S. government officials’ private emails without their knowledge for well over a year. Those officials were the former head of cybersecurity for the U.S. Air Force, an ex-director at the National Security Council and a former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. News recently surfaced revealing that the FBI was aware these officials were being targeted by the hacking group and yet never bothered to warn them.

The FBI claims that it “routinely notifies individuals and organizations of potential threat information.” However, former Navy intelligence officer Joe Mazzafro, whose private email was targeted by Fancy Bear in 2015, said, “No one’s ever said to me, ‘Hey Joe, you’ve been targeted by this Russian group.’ That our own security services have not gone out and alerted me — that’s what I find the most disconcerting as a national security professional.”

The knowledge of the hacking group recently come to light when it was reported last month that Fancy Bear worked closely with the Kremlin in hacking and stealing thousands of emails from the Democratic National Committee. However, the group didn’t just focus on Democrats, but also more than 500 other U.S.-based targets including military personnel, diplomats and ex-intelligence workers.

The Associated Press interviewed more than 80 individuals who had been targeted by Fancy Bear and learned that only two were alerted by the FBI. A few others were notified by the FBI only after their emails had been leaked and published. And there are still individuals whose emails were hacked and leaked who have yet to hear from the FBI. Retired Maj. James Phillips, upon learning he had been hacked, said, “The fact that a reporter told me about DCLeaks kind of makes me sad.” Phillips said that he did not know that his emails were “flapping in the breeze” for two month until a journalist called him to asking for a comment.

An FBI official blamed the agency’s delay and lack of timely notifications on being overwhelmed by an “almost insurmountable problem.” But Charles Sowell, who formerly work as a senior administrator in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and who was also a victim of Fancy Bear’s hacking, isn’t buying it. Sowell said, “It’s absolutely not OK for them to use an excuse that there’s too much data. Would that hold water if there were a serial killer investigation, and people were calling in tips left and right, and they were holding up their hands and saying, ‘It’s too much’? That’s ridiculous.”

It seems that former FBI Director James Comey knew about the Russian hacking problem for years and yet it was only late last year when Americans learned about the problem. Why?

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