Documents newly unsealed Thursday in a case involving a Russian entrepreneur and anti-Trump dossier author Christopher Steele reveal that a tech company owned by the Russian was used to hack Democratic Party leaders.
Aleksej Gubarev, a businessman who runs companies across the world, claims his organizations Webzilla and XBT Holdings were defamed by Steele after the unverified dossier was published by BuzzFeed on Jan. 10, 2017.
The dossier alleged that Gubarev’s companies “used botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data and conduct ‘alerting operations’ against the Democratic Party leadership.” The dossier also suggested that Gubarev played a “significant” part in the operation while “under duress” from the Russian security agency FSB.
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But the unsealed documents on Thursday include a forensic analysis report by a former top cyber expert in the FBI’s cybercrime division that concludes that Gubarev’s companies were indeed used by Russian operatives in an effort to hack Democratic Party leaders, the New York Times reported.
The report notes that the businessman’s companies were often used by criminal groups and Russian agents to carry out various operations, including an attack on Ukraine’s power grid in 2015.
Yet while the report links Gubarev’s companies to Russia’s larger efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, it doesn’t claim that the businessman or his executives actually participated in the hacking operations.
“I have no evidence of them actually sitting behind a keyboard,” Anthony Ferrante, the report’s lead author, said in a deposition, according to the Times.
Gubarev denied the involvement in the hack, while his lawyers tried to ensure the report would be kept under seal and inaccessible to the public and the media, but the judge last December refused the request and ordered the documents unsealed.
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Steele and his company, Orbis Business Intelligence, were hired by Glenn Simpson’s U.S. based company, Fusion GPS, to work on the dossier and promote its contents to journalists. Fusion GPS received $1.8 million via the law firm Perkins Coie, with the money paid by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign.
A transcript of a court deposition unsealed Thursday also reveals that an associate of the late U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was in contact with multiple journalists and government officials in an effort to disseminate the dossier.
David Kramer, a former State Department official, said in a Dec. 13, 2017, deposition that the dossier was provided to journalists at McClatchy, NPR, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and BuzzFeed and CNN’s Carl Bernstein, according to the Daily Caller.
The report by Steele was also shared with State Department official Victoria Nuland, Obama National Security Counsel official Celeste Wallander and Illinois GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger.
Kramer said that Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson suggested he would use McCain to pass the dossier around.
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“I think they felt a senior Republican was better to be the recipient of this rather than a Democrat because if it were a Democrat, I think that the view was that it would have been dismissed as a political attack,” Kramer said, according to the outlet.