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Grassley and Johnson want answers about DARPA's role in Russia saga

John Durham
FILE – In this April 25, 2006 file photo, U.S. Attorney John Durham speaks to reporters on the steps of U.S. District Court in New Haven, Conn. (AP Photo/Bob Child, File) Bob Child/AP

Grassley and Johnson want answers about DARPA’s role in Russia saga

April 29, 07:00 AM April 29, 10:51 AM

Two Republican senators are seeking answers from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency about any role it played in attributing the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee to Russia.

DARPA denied any role in attributing the 2016 hack to Russia after emails indicated special counsel John Durham’s team had asked a computer expert who had researched Trump-Russia collusion claims about it, though newly released emails indicate DARPA-associated researchers mentioned special counsel Robert Mueller and the DNC hack.

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Sens. Ron Johnson and Chuck Grassley told DARPA Director Stefanie Tompkins on Thursday that “recent reports have raised questions about whether an individual doing research on behalf of” the agency had “investigated the 2016 hack” of the DNC.

Democratic cybersecurity lawyer Michael Sussmann was indicted last year for allegedly concealing his clients, including Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, from the FBI when he pushed now-debunked claims of a secret back channel between the Trump Organization and Russia’s Alfa Bank.

Durham revealed in February that he has evidence Sussmann’s other client, known to be former Neustar executive Rodney Joffe, “exploited” domain name system internet traffic at “the Executive Office of the President of the United States” and elsewhere.

Department of Justice’s Andrew DeFilippis said during a Wednesday court hearing the special counsel is scrutinizing Joffe, potentially related to DARPA fraud.

Sussmann has pleaded not guilty, and Joffe has not been charged with anything.

DURHAM RAISES THE POSSIBILITY JOFFE COMMITTED FRAUD

The indictment’s “Researcher-1” was identified as Manos Antonakakis, a computer scientist at Georgia Tech. “Researcher-2” is David Dagon, a data scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Durham immunized Dagon in July 2021.

The special counsel’s filings reference Georgia Tech’s “Agency-1 [DARPA] Contract.”

Durham says Joffe “tasked” the computer scientists with mining internet data to establish “an inference” and “narrative” tying Donald Trump to Russia. Durham said Joffe indicated he was doing this to please certain “VIPs” on the Clinton campaign.

Antonakakis wrote in a July 2021 email that DeFilippis asked him about work he had done associated with DARPA, apparently also asking him about an online persona named “Guccifer 2.0,” whom U.S. intelligence officials concluded was created by Russian intelligence to assist in the hack-and-leak operation.

“I was asked point blank by Mr. DeFilippis, ‘Do you believe that DARPA should be instructing you to investigate the origins of a hacker (Guccifer 2.0) that hacked a political entity (DNC)?’ Let that sync for a moment, folks,” Antonakakis wrote to Georgia Tech lawyers in July 2021. “Someone hacked a political party (DNC, in this case), in the middle of an election year (2016), and the lead investigator of DOJ’s special council [sic] would question whether U.S. researchers working for DARPA should conduct investigations in this matter is ‘acceptable’!”

The emails, first published by the Federalist, prompted DARPA to deny to the Washington Examiner it had any involvement in determining it was Russian intelligence behind the hack.

“DARPA was not involved in efforts to attribute the DNC hack. Dr. Antonakakis worked on DARPA’s Enhanced Attribution program, which did not involve analysis of the DNC hack,” Jared Adams, DARPA’s chief of communications, told the Washington Examiner in March. “Further, DARPA was not involved in efforts to attribute the Guccifer 2.0 persona, nor any involvement in efforts to attribute the origin of leaked emails provided to WikiLeaks.”

Adams also spoke about a meeting between DARPA and Durham.

“The meeting between DARPA and special counsel Durham was to provide a high-level overview of the Enhanced Attribution program,” the DARPA spokesman said. “During the course of that meeting, DARPA did not discuss matters related to the DNC hack, Guccifer 2.0, or leaked DNC emails provided to WikiLeaks.”

The spokesman added, “To the best of our knowledge, no DARPA-funded researchers investigated” the DNC hack, and he added the agency did not assist the FBI’s or Mueller’s investigation into the matter.

“The DNC hack occurred during the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, which was marked by claims of meddling by foreign actors,” Grassley and Johnson said Thursday. “Some of those claims have since been confirmed to be disinformation efforts by operatives from the Democratic campaign.”

This was likely a reference to the discredited, Democratic-funded Steele dossier and the debunked Alfa Bank claims.

New emails seemingly connecting DARPA researchers to Mueller and to the investigation of the DNC hack, despite the federal agency’s denials of any involvement, were reported by the Federalist this month.

Dagon, who received immunity from Durham, responded to a grand jury subpoena from the special counsel last summer. Georgia Tech lawyer Jody Westby said in a July 2021 email to Georgia Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Young that “at our direction, David made a list of documents/data sources that he thought would be responsive to the subpoena.”

This included four “DARPA whitepapers,” including “Whitepaper on DNC attack attribution”; “Analysis of attacks of EOP (Executive Office of the President) networks”; “Whitepaper for DOJ on APT-29 related hackers, crypto coin transactions, and analysis that includes Yota-related domains”; and a “Mueller List” described as a “list of domains and indicators related to APT-28.”

The “Whitepaper on DNC attack attribution” seems to be a reference to the DNC hack, and the “Mueller List” references Mueller and the “Cozy Bear” hacker group that has been associated with Russian intelligence, some of whom are allegedly tied to the DNC hack.

There was also a July 28, 2021, email from Young about Antonakakis that was sent to DeFilippis, again referencing Mueller.

“You indicated that there was a ‘fairly large file of Trump-related materials’ that had been assembled for production to the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller or the DOJ,” the email said. “We are unable to locate such a file.”

DARPA did not respond to the Washington Examiner’s request for comment about the newly released emails.

Grassley and Johnson said their goal was to “better understand DARPA’s work with Georgia Tech” and asked for the agency to hand over “all contracts” it had with the university between 2016 and now. They also asked for “all records between and among employees of DARPA and Georgia Tech,” including but not limited to all of the alleged “white papers.”

“As details continue to emerge, the public is rightly concerned about the extent to which various federal agencies investigated, validated, dispelled, or relied on these claims,” Grassley and Johnson said.

CrowdStrike, a U.S. cybersecurity firm, examined the DNC’s systems in 2016 and concluded that Russian state actors were responsible for cyber intrusions. Sussmann testified it was his recommendation the DNC retain CrowdStrike.

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Mueller’s report concluded that GRU, Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, interfered in the 2016 presidential election through hacking. Russia denied involvement, and WikiLeaks denied receiving emails from Russia.

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