WASHINGTON — Federal law enforcement officials are investigating the supposed Russian-led intrusion into the Democratic National Committee computer servers, the FBI told BuzzFeed News Monday.
"The FBI is investigating a cyber intrusion involving the DNC and are working to determine the nature and scope of the matter," an FBI spokesperson said in an email. "A compromise of this nature is something we take very seriously, and the FBI will continue to investigate and hold accountable those who pose a threat in cyberspace."
The FBI would not say for how long they’ve been probing the intrusion, which was first reported by the Washington Post more than a month ago. An FBI cybersecurity official who left the bureau since the hack was revealed told BuzzFeed News he was unfamiliar with the incident.
It's the latest development in a bizarre story that has shaken the DNC on the eve of its historic convention in Philadelphia, sending its leader packing and reigniting furor over the party's nomination process. The intrusion skated under the radar until last Friday evening, when Wikileaks dumped a trove of nearly 20,000 DNC emails on its website. Republicans, including just-minted GOP nominee Donald Trump, said the documents revealed corruption in the DNC. The Clinton campaign, including campaign manager Robbie Mook, meanwhile, said the timing of the release was an attempt by Russia to meddle with American politics, and further stack the deck in favor of Trump.
The emails rolled an effective grenade into an already wild election cycle — but until Monday morning, Washington was oddly quiet.
Government officials both on the Hill and off remained confused over whether federal investigators were even involved in the case when asked by BuzzFeed News ahead of the FBI's announcement. No one was sure who had been given briefings or who hadn't, who was involved and who wasn't.
One intelligence official, whom BuzzFeed News talked to before the FBI announced their investigation, didn’t understand why the Bureau hadn’t gotten involved back when the intrusion was first reported.
The lack of clarity on the FBI's investigation “fascinated” the U.S. intelligence official, who requested anonymity to discuss the sensitive cybersecurity incident. Why the Democratic National Committee had sought a private investigation from cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike rather than immediately request law enforcement support perplexed him, he told BuzzFeed News, especially after the results of that investigation pointed towards Russian hackers. If there really was hard evidence of state-sponsored involvement, ”the FBI would almost certainly have been involved" from the get-go, he said.
The Bureau has frequently jumped out ahead of large-scale cyber intrusions, especially those suspected of coming from a foreign government. When Sony Pictures’ systems were breached by North Korean-sponsored hackers in 2014, it took only a week for the FBI to get involved. In contrast, the FBI stayed on the sidelines for more than a month in this case, despite the hackers supposedly having access to DNC networks for up to a year.
Part of the disconnect appeared to be that Washington’s lawmakers and their staff are on their annual summer recess — a traditionally slow time within the Beltway — and were having a hard time getting on the same page.
“It’s tough for committee members to get to secure locations for classified briefings while they’re back in their districts, so [House Intelligence Committee] staff in DC is looking into it,” one intelligence committee staffer said.