In addition to targeting Democrats and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, Russian hackers took aim at the emails of top U.S. officials for more than a year leading up to the election.
The Russian hacker group Fancy Bear—which multiple cybersecurity firms have traced to Russia’s foreign military intelligence agency GRU—tried to break into 573 email addresses used by top U.S. diplomats and security officials, according to a hit list obtained by the Associated Press.
These officials included then-Secretary of State John Kerry, then-NATO Supreme Commander U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, one of his predecessors, U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark, members of Clinton’s inner circle, former Secretary of State Colin Powell and others, including both Democrats and Republicans.
The list was exposed in a Fancy Bear digital trail by the cybersecurity firm Secureworks, which tracked the group’s activity between March 2015 and May 2016. The firm found the hit list in the data after Fancy Bear unintentionally left the email scamming method they used, known as phishing, exposed online.
The group worked to compromise the emails of 130 Democratic party employees, campaign staff, and the party’s supporters.
In July and October 2016 Wikileaks published emails that U.S. intelligence agencies have said were hacked from the Democratic Party and Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta.
In January 2017, key American intelligence agencies issued a report that tied the emails to a hacking and misinformation campaign launched and guided by the Kremlin with the aim of interfering in the election. An independent probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller and investigations in the House and Senate are now examining the issue further.
Documents unsealed earlier this week in the case of Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, show he was told by a Kremlin-linked professor in April 2016 that Russia had “dirt” and “thousands of emails” from Clinton.
Moscow has denied any attempt to interfere in the U.S. election and hacking American political parties and officials.
When he examined the hit list, Andras Racz, a Russian security policy specialist at Pazmany Peter Catholic University in Hungary, told the AP he has “no doubts” that it was the work of “the Kremlin and the general staff.”
The hit list also included people like Serhiy Leshchenko, a Ukrainian member of parliament, who has alleged the Trump campaign’s former chairman Paul Manafort hid payments from ousted Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. Manafort was indicted Monday on charges of money laundering by Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Targets also included Maria Alekhina, a member of the anti-Putin activists Pussy Riot, Russian anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny, members of Ukraine’s military, and others.
“If you’re not Russia, hacking these people is a colossal waste of time,” Michael Kofman, a Russian military expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center think tank in Washington told the AP. “It’s simply hard to see how any other country would be particularly interested in their activities.”