The Federal Bureau of Investigation did not inform scores of U.S. officials that Russian hackers tried to break into their personal Gmail accounts even though it had evidence for at least a year that the targets were in the Kremlin’s cross-hairs. According to the Associated Press, about 80 interviews with Americans targeted by the Russian cyber-espionage group Fancy Bear shows that there were only two cases in which the bureau provided information. Senior policymakers found out that they were targeted when the Associated Press contacted them.
“It’s utterly confounding. You’ve got to tell your people. You’ve got to protect your people,” said Philip Reiner, a former senior director at the National Security Council, who was targeted in 2015 and found out about that from the Associated Press.
The FBI did not want to discuss the investigation and only said that it notifies persons and organizations of potential threat information. The bureau had information for more than a year that the Russians wanted to break into Gmail, three persons familiar with the matter say. An unnamed FBI official said that the bureau was overwhelmed by the sheer number of attempted hacks.
“It’s a matter of triaging to the best of our ability the volume of the targets who are out there,” he said.
A team of reporters for the Associated Press recently went through a hit list of Fancy Bear targets provided by the cyber-security firm Secureworks. The list comprises 19,000 lines of targeting data. The agency identified more than 500 U.S.-based people or groups and interviewed about 80 about their experiences. About one quarter were still in the government or held security clearances when targeted, but many were retired. Only two persons were informed about the hacking attempts.
Officials say that there is no reason the FBI couldn’t do the same work the Associated Press did.
“It’s absolutely not OK for them to use an excuse that there’s too much data.Would that hold water if there were a serial killer investigation, and people were calling in tips left and right, and they were holding up their hands and saying, ‘It’s too much’? That’s ridiculous,” said Charles Sowell, a former senior administrator in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence who was targeted by Fancy Bear two years ago.