On 15 December 2016, the British tabloid Daily Mail quoted Craig Murray, a former U.K. ambassador to Uzbekistan and “close associate” of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, as saying that the Democratic National Committee’s e-mails were not obtained by WikiLeaks due to the efforts of Russian hackers but were instead leaked by a disgruntled DNC operative who had legal access to them:
Murray insisted that the DNC and Podesta emails published by Wikileaks did not come from the Russians, and were given to the whistleblowing group by Americans who had authorized access to the information.
‘Neither of [the leaks] came from the Russians,’ Murray said. ‘The source had legal access to the information. The documents came from inside leaks, not hacks.’
He said the leakers were motivated by ‘disgust at the corruption of the Clinton Foundation and the tilting of the primary election playing field against Bernie Sanders.’
Murray said he retrieved the package from a source during a clandestine meeting in a wooded area near American University, in northwest D.C. He said the individual he met with was not the original person who obtained the information, but an intermediary.
Murray’s assertions flew in the face of news reports that U.S. intelligence agencies believed the Russian government had been involved in the hacking of e-mails from DNC members as well as Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. The intelligence community has been telling reporters that Russian operatives hacked e-mails and released them via Wikileaks:
CIA and FBI officials do not think Russia had a “single purpose” by intervening during the presidential campaign. In addition to helping Trump, intelligence officials have told lawmakers that Moscow’s other goal included undermining confidence in the U.S. electoral system.
No one has yet identified exactly who obtained the DNC e-mails published by WikiLeaks during run up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In his end-of-year press conference held on 16 December 2016, President Barack Obama reiterated intelligence claims that the Russians hacked the DNC’s information systems and went on to say:
I’d make a larger point, which is, not much happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin. This is a pretty hierarchical operation. Last I checked, there’s not a lot of debate and democratic deliberation, particularly when it comes to policies directed at the United States. We have said and I will confirm that this happened at the highest levels of the Russian government and I will let you make that determination as to whether there are high-level Russian officials who go off rogue and decide to tamper with the U.S. election process without Vladimir Putin knowing about it.
So far, no suspects have been named and no specific evidence has been produced regarding who obtained the e-mails that were systematically leaked throughout the course of the 2016 election cycle. (Assange has denied that it was Russians.) The Daily Mail noted that Murray’s claims cannot be verified and suggested that due to his ties to WikiLeaks he may not be considered a reliable source:
[Murray’s] links to Wikileaks are well known and while his account is likely to be seen as both unprovable and possibly biased, it is also the first intervention by WikiLeaks since reports surfaced that the CIA believed Russia hacked the Clinton emails to help hand the election to Donald Trump.
A 13 December 2016 report on the hacks by the New York Times described early, fumbled attempts by the FBI and DNC to address the issue, coupled with a less-than-sufficiently aggressive response by the Obama administration. Early on, the FBI had tried to warn the DNC that their computers were being hacked by a group called “the Dukes,” a group known to be linked to the Russian government:
While there’s no way to be certain of the ultimate impact of the hack, this much is clear: A low-cost, high-impact weapon that Russia had test-fired in elections from Ukraine to Europe was trained on the United States, with devastating effectiveness. For Russia, with an enfeebled economy and a nuclear arsenal it cannot use short of all-out war, cyberpower proved the perfect weapon: cheap, hard to see coming, hard to trace.
The Times‘ report relied on dozens of interviews to chronicle the timeline of the attacks, citing an internal memo by a DNC staffer dating from 2015 informing associates that the FBI was looking into cyberattacks by “the Dukes.”