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The Russians have finally provided the first definite official information about the arrests of FSB officers and hackers which have been taking place in Moscow since December.
Dmitry Peskov, President Putin’s spokesman, has flatly denied that the individuals who have been arrested were involved in hacking Podesta and the DNC. Peskov has also repeated Russia’s denial of the US intelligence community’s claims that Russia passed the DNC’s and Podesta’s hacked emails on to Wikileaks for publication during the election. Here is what Peskov is reported to have said
In any case, no matters of this sort can have any relation to such absurd insinuations [about hacker attacks] or, as we have already said, we categorically deny any assertions about the possible complicity of the Russian side in any hacker attacks
This must be true. As I have written previously, claims that the individuals who have been arrested were involved in hacking Podesta and the DNC are inconsistent with the treason charges which have been brought against them. The claims that they were look very much like disinformation
the article in The London Times reads strongly as if it has been written on the basis of information provided to The London Times by the British intelligence service. That this is so is strongly suggested by the highlighted words of the above paragraph, which imply that Mikhailov, Stoyanov and Dokuchaev were actually involved in hacking Podesta and the DNC.
On the face of it that is extremely unlikely.
Firstly Mikhailov, Stoyanov and Dokuchaev cannot by any stretch of the imagination be described as “high-level figures” of the sort the article says are now the subject of a “crackdown”.
Secondly, if they really were involved in hacking the DNC and Podesta on the Kremlin’s orders then it is difficult to see on what basis they are being charged with treason. Even if they hacked Podesta and the DNC on their own initiative, the treason charges are difficult to understand. It would in that case be more logical to charge them with theft.
In light of what Peskov has said, any further speculation that the individuals who have been arrested were involved in hacking Podesta and the DNC is obviously wrong, and should be ignored.
It is now confirmed that – as I have been saying all along – the individuals have been arrested for passing on information to a foreign power, which – as I also speculated – is confirmed to be the US. The official Russian news agency TASS quotes a lawyer familiar with the case as follows
No CIA is mentioned in the case. It is only the country that is mentioned. Yes, the talk is about America, not about the CIA
(bold italics added)
This is not a denial that the CIA was the US agency with which the arrested individuals are supposed to have been in contact. All that the lawyer is saying is that the CIA is not referred to in the charges. However he explicitly confirms that the country with which the arrested individuals were in contact was the US.
Lastly the lawyer has poured cold water over the claims that the individuals arrested had some connection to the Shaltai Boltai group
The lawyer rejected media reports that leader of the Shaltay Boltay hacker group Vladimir Anikeyev was among the suspects in the criminal case. “It does not follow from official documents that Anikeyev and the Shaltay Boltay group are mentioned in this criminal case,” the lawyer said, declining to disclose other details of the case.
It seems as if the Russian media talk about the Shalta-Boltai group was all wrong. Conceivably it was disinformation deliberately spread by the FSB to conceal the actual direction of the inquiry. More likely it was simply someone’s mistaken guess.
Whilst this information has finally resolved some of the mysteries about the case – we now know definitely that at least two FSB officers and a cyber specialist have been arrested in Moscow charged with passing on secrets to the US – the theory that these individuals were a source for the US intelligence community’s claims about Russian interference in the US election remains for the moment speculation.
We will no doubt find out more shortly even though what is clearly shaping up to be a major spy trial will be held in private, as such trials usually are in most countries, not just in Russia.