The FBI had information that Russian hackers were trying to break into the email accounts of US officials but failed to notify them of the threat, the Associated Press reported Sunday.
The bureau withheld the information despite having evidence for more than a year that showed scores of officials were the target of a Kremlin-linked hacking entity known as Fancy Bear, an investigation by the news agency found. Of the nearly 80 interviews with Americans targeted by the Russian government-aligned group, only two cases were identified as being informed by the FBI, the investigation found.
The bureau said it works with other government agencies to keep the public informed of possible threats.
"The FBI routinely notifies individuals and organizations of potential threat information and will continue to work closely with federal, state, and local partners to keep the public informed of potential threats," the bureau said in a statement. "In the course of investigations, the FBI observes cyber threat indicators which is provided to the public and private industry partners in order to help systems administrators guard against the actions of persistent cyber criminals."
The revelation comes amid heightened concerns in Washington that hackers working for the Russian government penetrated US computer networks and exploited social media platforms to meddle with the US 2016 election. Government investigators are examining whether the Russian government may have attempted to influence the electorate and whether President Donald Trump or anyone working for him was knowingly involved. Trump has repeatedly denied involvement.
The Fancy Bear operation was linked to DCLeaks, one of the websites that published emails of Democratic Party officials during the 2016 election, the AP reported.
While some interviewees said the FBI had a responsibility to alert them, others told the AP they could understand possible reasons the bureau didn't inform them.
"Perhaps optimistically, I have to conclude that a risk analysis was done and I was not considered a high enough risk to justify making contact," said retired Gen. Norton Schwartz, who was targeted by the operation in 2015.
The well-known hacking group was discovered in November 2016 to be exploiting a Windows vulnerability in a hacking campaign that sent people bogus emails in an attempt to con them out of personal data. Microsoft issued a patch after Google informed the software giant of the flaw and went public with the information, causing some friction between the two tech giants.
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