Coming at a "sensitive" moment for US-Russian hacking diplomatic relations, on Friday Foreign Policy reported that emails belonging to a senior US State Department intelligence official involved in Russian affairs have been leaked by a hacker known as "Johnnie Walker." The official, whose work is focused on Russian domestic affairs and who was described to FT as “probably the top intelligence guy in the entire U.S. government on Russia [who] knows more than anybody about what’s going on there,” is said to have been particularly interested in Russian media and government reshuffling.
The emails which were sourced from a hacked nongovernmental account over a two-year period, were sent to “an unknown number of recipients" and while the leaks were first released on July 10, they did not gain widespread attention until Friday when both FP and Newsweek commented on the hack.
In a letter announcing the alleged hacking, Johnnie Walker said that the leak would provide evidence for establishing what was called “agenda formation in many countries worldwide, especially where the situation is insecure.” The sender also claimed that the US State Department official was in contact with various intelligence agencies, including the CIA, as well as “mainstream media, NGOs, and international funds.”
Although the alleged hacking victim holds “a senior position in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research” and while name was disclosed in the leaked emails, Foreign Policy outlet did not disclose the name, citing a request from the state department, which has so far neither confirmed nor denied the hack. The leaked correspondence was released online on Pastebin although its authenticity remains unclear for now. The description to the three archives available for download also adds the name of the alleged agent.
As part of his introduction to the leaked emails, the mysterious hacker says that “perhaps you know that the U.S. State Department has a direct bearing on the agenda formation not only at home but throughout the world. Now you can make sure it’s true." Below is the preface that "Johnnie Walker" posted on the pastebin:
Perhaps you know that the U.S. State Department has a direct bearing on the agenda formation not only at home but throughout the world.
Now you can make sure it's true. Let me show you the correspondence between the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency Robert P. Otto and his colleagues, CIA officers and other intelligence agencies, as well as representatives of mainstream media, NGOs, international funds and think tanks.
With the respect for privacy I've deleted his correspondence with his wife and relatives. The rest of emails will give evidence of who is responsible for different information campaigns, the so-called mythmaking and essentially engaged in the promotion of "American values" throughout the world.
As a reminder, two days before the find round of the French election, a dump of internal documents of then-French presidential hopeful Emmanuel Macron was also released on Pastebin, although it is unclear if the two releases are related. Apart from the name of the hacker’s target, the content of the letters has not been published in the Western media, although Russia's Kommersant claims it has access to the files.
The Russian newspaper says that the intel official sent his colleagues links to articles from different Russian news outlets, including Novaya Gazeta, The New Times, Vedomosti, and RBK, among others. Among the topic of particular interest for the State Department official were social media accounts of Russian officials, staff re-shuffling in governmental bodies, and the influence of some state officials. According to the report, it is also unclear if it was a single leak or only one in a series of hacking attacks.
As Redditor NathanOhio summarized overnight, the facts so far appear to be as follows:
- A hacker going by the name "Johnnie Walker" has hacked a senior state department official's personal Gmail account.
- The official has not been publicly named, but is claimed to be the foremost expert on Russia.
- Two years worth of emails were stolen and include exchanges between the victim and "CIA officers and other intelligence agencies, mainstream media, NGOs and international funds” that would “give you evidence of who is responsible for agenda formation in many countries worldwide, especially where the situation is insecure.”
- A link to the email cache has been published by "an obscure website in Crimea" that the MSM claims is "financed by the Russian secret service, and its topics assigned by top political leadership in Moscow."
In retrospect, it appears that the email contents are relatively innocuous: as the Redditor notes:
Reading through some of the messages, it seems they are mostly discussions between various neocon academics and forwarding of articles. Most of these people rather than experts seem to be groupthinkers endlessly building up the walls of their own echo chamber.
Found a couple of things that are interesting. A Russian scholar "Valery Solovei" is sending Robert Otto a monthly report on Russia. Also, Otto and his buddies HATE John Kerry and continually refer to him as an idiot!
With the Trump administration neck-deep in Russia-hacking drama, we expect that this story, which somehow failed to make last week's news cycle will be among the main topics in the days ahead, with questions (and predetermined answers) over the identity (and nationality) of Johnnie Walker among the most discussed items.