Russian trolls try to attend Texas Democrat Convention

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Russian trolls try to attend Texas Democrat Convention

Post by FaxModem1 » 2018-03-15 03:25pm

NBC News
Possible Russian trolls try to register for Texas Democratic convention
by WILLIAM M. ARKIN and KEVIN MONAHAN

Next Saturday, March 24, hundreds of Texas Democratic Party activists will gather at the Austin Hyatt Regency to nominate candidates for political office in Travis County, a kick-off event leading up to the 2018 midterm elections.

But some people who tried to register will not be attending, among them Candida McGruder. Gustavo Chubb. Geraldo Tinsley. Vincent Amundson. Roxie Male.

That's because these five individuals and 43 others who signed up to attend don't appear to be Travis County residents, or Texans, or even Americans. They might not even be real people. They may be pranksters — or they may be Russian trolls, and their appearance in Texas could represent the first public example of foreign probing of the 2018 elections.

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Five senior intelligence officers, two current and three former, say the case of the Texas 48 looks like Russian meddling. And they tell NBC News that despite the clumsiness of the failed registrations, the Texas case fits a pattern of Russian behavior seen in its covert operations.

Image: Online Sign Up Form
The sign-up page to be a delegate to the Democratic Party's Travis County Convention at the Austin Hyatt Regency. Travis County Democratic Party
U.S. intelligence officials tell NBC News that Russia has never stopped trying to influence American politics through fake social media accounts and propaganda. The officials have not disclosed any specific cyberoperations aimed at voter rolls or the 2018 midterms, but they say they fully expect Russian interference attempts to continue.

"In the context of what we already know, the Texas case points to the broader Russian effort," a senior intelligence official said.

Earlier this year, as Texas party officials prepared for the March 24 county meetings that would nominate candidates for office, Glen Maxey noticed something odd about online registrations for the Travis County meeting in Austin. Some of the people attempting to register either didn't fully fill out their online form or provided obviously false information.

Maxey, legislative affairs director for the Texas Democratic Party and a former member of the Texas House of Representatives, said that at the time just over 2,500 Texas citizens had successfully registered online for the Travis County meeting. He went through the aborted registrations by hand, checking to see whether the registrations had been "kicked back" because of simple errors, in which case he would follow up with the individuals.

Maxey found a few unfinished registrations that were simple mistakes. But he identified 48 that were problematic, meaning they seemed unconnected to anybody living in Texas. Twenty-five of those 48 were trying to register with email addresses ending in "mail.ru." Those last two letters, .ru, are the internet designation for domains in Russia.

Maxey told NBC News he and his team hadn't seen any other examples of pranks or false registrations in past cycles. He also said he didn't know who to contact in Texas state government and had received no guidance from either state or federal authorities regarding anything to do with potential Russian interference.

Images: Texas 48
An excerpt of a spreadsheet showing some of the failed registrants for the Democratic Party's Travis County Convention and their ".ru" email addresses, provided by Glen Maxey, legislative affairs director for the Texas Democratic Party. Travis County Democratic Party
NBC News wrote to the 48 suspicious registrants, using the email addresses they provided in their online registrations, asking for additional information. Of the 48, 16 emails bounced back — "undeliverable" in internet terms, meaning the addresses were likely false. But the others — including all 25 ending in @mail.ru, were evidently delivered to their respective inboxes. After a week, NBC News has heard no responses.

"These are not automated names caught in some spam filter," the senior intelligence official told NBC News, when he was told of the circumstances of the Texas 48. He points out that the suspect addresses seem to link to an actual human or humans rather than automated "bots" in that someone had to physically navigate to the website and fill out web forms.

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The official also notes that in contrast to Russian probes during the 2016 election, where operatives tried to penetrate voter registration systems or voter lookup systems, whoever is pranking or probing the Democratic Party in Texas is focusing on the broader election process.

Special counsel Robert Mueller's Feb. 16 grand Jury indictment, the official points out, shows meticulous Russian low-level activity to use social media and influence party activists in specific states and localities.

Whoever is behind the Texas 48 is targeting a political party instead of voter registration systems, the official said, the "systems that state officials and homeland security are now prepared to defend."

Image: Glen Maxey
Texas State Rep. Glen Maxey, D-Austin, seen here in 1999, noticed something odd about online registrations for the Travis County meeting in Austin. Harry Cabluck / AP file
So are the Russians coming?

On the surface, said cyberintelligence expert and NBC News consultant Sean Kanuck, "this almost sounds like junior high school students ordering pizzas under fake names."

But beneath the surface, Kanuck thinks perhaps something more sinister could be afoot.

Despite the ham-handedness that announces an obvious Russian origin, said Kanuck, who served as the first national intelligence officer for cyber issues at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence from 2011 to 2016, the methods and even the in-your-face nature of the trolling fit the pattern of "a Russian strategic campaign to delegitimize the democratic electoral process."

"I would speculate that Russia is testing the waters for possible interventions or disruptions in the future," Kanuck said.

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And why be so obvious?

Play U.S. Intel: Russia 'compromised' seven states prior to 2016 election
U.S. Intel: Russia 'compromised' seven states prior to 2016 election 6:26
Kanuck and others say the Russians are interested in announcing their presence as long as they can at the same time deny government involvement and maintain "plausible deniability." The Russian goal is to stir up suspicion and chaos in the American political system. Second, they say, obvious and even seemingly incompetent activity could serve as a shield hiding more sophisticated and undetected covert activities.

Said Maxey, who discovered the Texas 48, "If things like this appear to be happening in small county registration systems in Texas, what could that mean for other parts of the country?"

NBC News repeatedly asked the Department of Homeland Security, which has responsibility for protecting state and local elections, both as a domestic intelligence agency and under their January 2017 designation as part of the "critical infrastructure," for comment on the Texas activity. The department did not respond.

Russia and the 2018 midterms
If there's one thing that U.S. intelligence officials are unanimous about, it is that Russia will be back, that is, if indeed they ever left.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee in February that Russia "views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target." The directors of the NSA and the Defense Intelligence Agency agreed.

Image: Austin Hyatt Regency
The Austin Hyatt Regency, where the Democrats' Travis County Convention will be held on March 24. Google
"We have seen Russian activity and intentions to have an impact on the next election cycle," CIA Director Mike Pompeo said two weeks earlier. Pompey declined in open session to provide any details.

A senior U.S. intelligence official tells NBC News that there is "concern" within the intelligence community that state election systems are being targeted. But the official declined to provide any additional detail, saying that DHS is the responsible domestic agency.

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Coats told the committee that his new Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center (CTIIC) was already on the job monitoring Russian action. In March, he told the Senate Armed Services Committee that no "robust actions" had yet been detected.

For now, there are more questions than answers regarding the Texas 48, even to intelligence insiders who have spoken to NBC News.

"This may seem like a small scale incident," a former senior FBI official tells NBC News. "In fact, it's indicative of a much larger problem. How can the federal government be part of the solution if they're not even following the facts that some state and local officials are discovering? It's unacceptable."

Image: Dan Coats
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats testifies on worldwide threats during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Feb. 13, 2018. Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images file
A current senior intelligence official says that this kind of activity, even if it is merely "mischief," can't be dismissed. "Whether Russia is intent on penetrating the election system to change votes or not, this kind of outside activity serves to sow the seeds of doubt in the American process," he says.

Kanuck further explains, based on years of experience as the top cyberintelligence analyst for the U.S. government, that conducting probes or testing filters and reactions are the equivalent of "testing the waters … 'prepping the environment' for a range of possible contingencies."

In the cyber world, Kanuck says, cyberweapons must often be tailored to specific targets and would therefore need to be tested "in the wild" to have confidence in how they will really work. But gaining surreptitious access to targeted systems is often attempted "without knowing when or how such access might ultimately be leveraged in future operations."

"I get the sense that we have foreigners trying to get a better understanding of the very complicated patchwork of local elections and primaries in the U.S.A. This is the kind of due diligence that I would expect a determined targeting analyst to undertake."

If the Russians are indeed casing Travis County, Maxey says, not only has he heard nothing from either homeland security or the FBI, but he doesn't even have any protocols under which he would even communicate with them.

Play Putin suggests 2016 election meddlers could have been Jews, Ukrainians
Putin suggests 2016 election meddlers could have been Jews, Ukrainians 0:38
"Who would I report political interference to?" Maxey told NBC News. "There has been no guidance of any kind from the feds or the state."

Maxey added that he has heard of no other activity similar to the Texas 48 in other counties.

In testimony last week, Coats, the national intelligence director, himself pointed out that the federal government and the intelligence community still need to do a better job. He said that the intelligence community "need(s) to inform the American public that this is real, that this is going to … happen."

Said Clint Watts, a former FBI special agent and cyberexpert who serves as an NBC News analyst: "We've done nothing to comprehensively clear up this problem to protect our state election systems. Until we do so, we have no way of knowing how serious a threat these particular emails are."

"This case in Texas needs to receive the highest level of urgency," Watts said. "It's outrageous that we are in March, just months ahead of midterms, and we are not feeling this urgency from our own government."
Russia is really trying to skew American politics.
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Re: Russian trolls try to attend Texas Democrat Convention

Post by The Romulan Republic » 2018-03-15 04:41pm

No surprises here. We all know Russia has decided what the outcome of 2018 is going to be, and will do everything in its power (with the tacit allowance if not outright cooperation of the White House) to make it happen. The only question is weather the greater public awareness of the threat, and high Democratic turnout, will be enough to overcome the attempt this time around.
"Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes" When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty -- to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy." - Lincoln.

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Re: Russian trolls try to attend Texas Democrat Convention

Post by aerius » 2018-03-15 07:33pm

This chart is from the article.

Image

Let's punch in the IP addresses from those Russian emails and see where they go.
https://whatismyipaddress.com/ip-lookup

Look pretty American to me. I haven't gone through all of them yet, but so far I have NY, AZ, KS, and Inner Mongolia. But it's a .ru email so it's gotta be Russian!
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Re: Russian trolls try to attend Texas Democrat Convention

Post by CetaMan » 2018-03-15 07:34pm

Well, I'd honestly be surprised if they weren't using a proxy.

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Re: Russian trolls try to attend Texas Democrat Convention

Post by aerius » 2018-03-15 07:54pm

Going through it a bit more. Lois Kessell traces to NY, has a Russian email, and a UK phone number. Yeah. The phone numbers look to be lifted off of random web pages, and some of the emails are known spammer emails.

I could build a far more convincing case that this is some prankster having a cheap laugh rather than some deep, elaborate Russian plan. But let me guess, "THAT'S WHAT THE RUSSIANS WANT YOU TO THINK!"
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Re: Russian trolls try to attend Texas Democrat Convention

Post by The Romulan Republic » 2018-03-15 08:01pm

One should await solid evidence before jumping to the conclusion that it is Russians.

One should also await solid evidence before jumping to the conclusion that it is definitely not Russians, as well.
"Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes" When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty -- to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy." - Lincoln.

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Re: Russian trolls try to attend Texas Democrat Convention

Post by aerius » 2018-03-15 08:48pm

The Romulan Republic wrote:
2018-03-15 08:01pm
One should await solid evidence before jumping to the conclusion that it is Russians.

One should also await solid evidence before jumping to the conclusion that it is definitely not Russians, as well.
I suggest taking your own advice.
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Re: Russian trolls try to attend Texas Democrat Convention

Post by The Romulan Republic » 2018-03-15 08:54pm

There is now overwhelming evidence of Russian interference in the last election, including the unanimous verdict of US intelligence agencies, the findings of other countries' intelligence agencies, the last round of Mueller indictments, and the email records that show Trump campaign officials discussing getting dirt on Clinton from the Russians. Weather Trump personally colluded has not yet been definitively proven (though I no longer doubt that it will be, in time), but only the delusional, or dishonest, could claim that no Russian interference occurred.

Of course, that can all be hand-waved if you simply dismiss any evidence that does not fit your pre-determined conclusion as a lie, you pathetic Quisling shill.
"Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes" When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty -- to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy." - Lincoln.

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Re: Russian trolls try to attend Texas Democrat Convention

Post by Napoleon the Clown » 2018-03-15 09:03pm

Using a proxy is fucking trivial, to the point where anybody who is up to shady shit on the internet does it. When I worked at eBay in 2005 there were certain IP addresses (AOL) that were cause for immediate suspicion unless the user had been using AOL for a prolonged period with multiple legitimate transactions due to scammers knowing that proxies are a thing. The ISP that gets detected being an American ISP is exactly what you would expect out of someone who isn't a complete and total (and also brain damaged) amateur. If Eastern European (primary source of hijacked accounts when I was there, mighta changed by now) scammers in 2005 (and before) could do it, so can paid trolls or whatever you wanna call them in 2018.
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Re: Russian trolls try to attend Texas Democrat Convention

Post by aerius » 2018-03-15 09:45pm

So let me get this straight. There's a bunch of fictitious names on the list, with random overseas phone numbers that were lifted off of various websites, with IP addresses that are likely proxied, and most of have a .ru email that's on a known spammer list. Therefore, this must be an organized Russian conspiracy to undermine the Democratic Party election process and destroy democracy in America. Does that sound about right or am I missing something here?
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Re: Russian trolls try to attend Texas Democrat Convention

Post by The Romulan Republic » 2018-03-15 09:48pm

aerius wrote:
2018-03-15 09:45pm
So let me get this straight. There's a bunch of fictitious names on the list, with random overseas phone numbers that were lifted off of various websites, with IP addresses that are likely proxied, and most of have a .ru email that's on a known spammer list. Therefore, this must be an organized Russian conspiracy to undermine the Democratic Party election process and destroy democracy in America. Does that sound about right or am I missing something here?
Can't speak for anyone else, but as I already said, I'm not jumping to conclusions about this specific case. Could be Russians, could be a random asshole. I'll wait until I know more.

I'm just sick of you rushing into deny any possibility of Russian interference in our politics. At this point, you can honestly build a stronger case for 9/11 Trutherism than for Russian Interference Denialism.
"Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes" When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty -- to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy." - Lincoln.

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Re: Russian trolls try to attend Texas Democrat Convention

Post by aerius » 2018-03-15 09:57pm

The Romulan Republic wrote:
2018-03-15 09:48pm
I'm just sick of you rushing into deny any possibility of Russian interference in our politics. At this point, you can honestly build a stronger case for 9/11 Trutherism than for Russian Interference Denialism.
Where exactly in my posts did I deny that the Russians did it? Oh, that's right, I didn't, you illiterate fart sniffer.
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Re: Russian trolls try to attend Texas Democrat Convention

Post by The Romulan Republic » 2018-03-15 10:40pm

aerius wrote:
2018-03-15 09:57pm
The Romulan Republic wrote:
2018-03-15 09:48pm
I'm just sick of you rushing into deny any possibility of Russian interference in our politics. At this point, you can honestly build a stronger case for 9/11 Trutherism than for Russian Interference Denialism.
Where exactly in my posts did I deny that the Russians did it? Oh, that's right, I didn't, you illiterate fart sniffer.
aerius wrote:
2018-03-15 08:48pm
The Romulan Republic wrote:
2018-03-15 08:01pm
One should await solid evidence before jumping to the conclusion that it is Russians.

One should also await solid evidence before jumping to the conclusion that it is definitely not Russians, as well.
I suggest taking your own advice.
This.

Since I, you know, didn't actually jump to any conclusions about Russian involvement in this thread, I assumed that you were likely referring to my views on Russian interference in general. On which point you have made your views quite clear in other threads.
"Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes" When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty -- to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy." - Lincoln.

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Re: Russian trolls try to attend Texas Democrat Convention

Post by aerius » 2018-03-15 11:01pm

You ASSUMED. As usual.

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Re: Russian trolls try to attend Texas Democrat Convention

Post by The Romulan Republic » 2018-03-16 01:59pm

Well, the alternative is that you misread my posts in this thread. Which is equally shocking.
"Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes" When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty -- to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy." - Lincoln.

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Re: Russian trolls try to attend Texas Democrat Convention

Post by Napoleon the Clown » 2018-03-17 12:39am

aerius wrote:
2018-03-15 09:45pm
So let me get this straight. There's a bunch of fictitious names on the list, with random overseas phone numbers that were lifted off of various websites, with IP addresses that are likely proxied, and most of have a .ru email that's on a known spammer list. Therefore, this must be an organized Russian conspiracy to undermine the Democratic Party election process and destroy democracy in America. Does that sound about right or am I missing something here?
Dunno how much of this was directed at me, but at no point did I even use "Russia" in my post. It's certainly possible that this is from the effort of Russian trolls, people paid by Russia, or otherwise connected to Russia. Or it could be dickheads that decided to use .ru email addresses to be cheeky fuckers and are from... wherever and have no real connections to Russia and decided to be cheeky. Pointing to IP address origins, however, is absolutely meaningless for establishing anything.

You cannot deny, while maintaining a shred of intellectual credibility, that Russia (more specifically, the dictator of Russia called Vladimir Putin), wants to destabilize the West so that landgrabs and generally being a sack of shit to neighboring countries is easier. You cannot deny that Russia has done things to try and sway elections in the US. Is this an example of another such attempt? Who the fuck knows? Using .ru email addresses after going to the effort of proxy IPs that trace to the US is an amateur move, so the odds are honestly pretty good it was just some cheeky fuckers after a laugh.
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