The US Intelligence Community is confident that the Russian government was behind recent hacks against the Democratic National Committee that compromised thousands of emails from top DNC members. The Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Election Security said in a joint statement:
The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of emails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organisations. The recent disclosures of alleged hacked emails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts. These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process.
The joint statement continues, saying Russian officials have used similar tactics across Europe and Eurasia to influence public opinion. Given the scope and sensitivity of the hacks, US officials believe only Russia's senior-most officials could have authorised the attacks. Although US intelligence officials do not come out and say that Russia was trying to manipulate the 2016 US presidential election, they do clearly state Russia has tried to influence elections in other areas of the world.
The joint statement also says that US states have recently seen scanning and probing of election systems and, in most cases, the activity was traced back to servers operated by a Russian company. Luckily, US officials found that it would be extremely difficult for anyone — state actor or otherwise — to actually alter the election system.
The intelligence community's assessment of Russia's involvement in the DNC hacks leaves President Obama with a difficult choice in his final months as leader of the US. He could publicly accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of being responsible for the attack, but such an accusation would send an already deteriorating relationship into the gutter.
Even with its risks, Obama has referenced Russia's involvement in other global hacking incidents, saying in a recent NBC News interview that "on a regular basis, they try to influence elections in Europe".
DNC emails were released by Wikileaks in July, when the site's founder Julian Assange also publicly stated that he hoped the leaks would hurt Hillary Clinton's chances of winning the US presidency. Shortly after the trove of emails was published, private cybersecurity firms said they believed Russia was involved due to electronic fingerprints left by the hackers. Now, US officials are joining in on that consensus.
As terrible as it sounds, hacking another country's political parties is a fairly regular occurrence in the intelligence community. The US has been caught collecting information from allies such as Germany and also frenemies like Russia for more than a decade. The difference, however, is that those findings are never published publicly.
The federal investigation — which involved the FBI and other US intelligence agencies — has been going on since April, when the Democratic National Committee hired private cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike to find the source of the hacks. Although the private security firm and US officials both have a high level of confidence that Russia was behind the attacks, it still seems unlikely that President Obama or FBI director James Comey would ever formally announce the Russian government as the attacker.