Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

Dutch Spied on Russian Group Linked to 2016 U.S. Election Hacks

Updated on
  • Dutch agency hacked ‘Cozy Bear’ network in summer of 2014
  • Newspaper investigation cites six people with direct knowledge

The Dutch intelligence service passed on “crucial evidence” to the FBI about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant reported Friday, citing the results of an investigation.

Hackers from the Dutch intelligence service known as the AIVD gained access to the network of Russian hacking group “Cozy Bear” in the summer of 2014. While monitoring the group’s activities, the AIVD learned of attacks launched on the Democratic Party, according to six unidentified American and Dutch sources cited by the investigation.

The information provided by the Dutch gave grounds for the FBI to start an investigation into the influence of Russian interference on the election race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, according to the newspaper report based on a collaborative investigation with Eelco Bosch van Rosenthal, a journalist at Dutch news program Nieuwsuur. A spokeswoman for the AIVD declined to comment on the report when contacted by phone on Friday.

Russia didn’t hear any statement from Dutch special services in this case, Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian president Vladimir Putin, told reporters on a conference call.

A Jan. 6, 2017 report issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, based on an assessment by the CIA, FBI and NSA, said that the U.S. had “high confidence” that Putin had ordered “an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election.” The Kremlin “aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting” Clinton, the report said.

Moscow Access

Volkskrant cited sources as saying this certainty was derived from “AIVD hackers having had access to the office-like space in the center of Moscow for years.”

Based on pictures taken of visitors to the Moscow-based hacking center, the AIVD managed to deduce that the hacker group was led by Russia’s external intelligence agency, the SVR.

The AIVD and its military counterpart, MIVD, informed the NSA liaison at the U.S. embassy in The Hague in November 2014 of Russian preparations to attack the State Department, enabling the NSA and FBI to counter Russian attempts. The information was found important enough for the NSA to open a direct line with the AIVD headquarters in Zoetermeer, Netherlands.

Trump Won’t Admit Russian Meddling, Strengthening Putin’s Hand

The Americans were taken completely by surprise by the Russian aggression, the U.S.’s former top cyber diplomat, Chris Painter, told Volkskrant, adding that unpreparedness by the U.S. intelligence services was “one of the reasons the Dutch access was so appreciated.”

Volkskrant said it spoke with 15 people over the course of the seven-month investigation. Six of those had direct knowledge of the Dutch access while the other nine are familiar with the intelligence community, the working methods of Russian hacking groups or the U.S.-Dutch international relationship, it said.

“Throwing coal into the furnace of anti-Russian hysteria that’s going on in America is not the most noble task,” Russia’s Peskov commented on the Dutch newspaper reports.

— With assistance by Stepan Kravchenko

(Updates with Peskov comments in fourth and final paragraphs.)
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