During a call on July 25 with his Ukrainian counterpart, US President Donald Trump referred to a cybersecurity company, CrowdStrike, which has been the subject of fantastic contemplations by conspiracy theorists. The theorization kicked into overdrive after the White House released a released report of the interview on Wednesday, which has triggered a whistleblower complaint and an accusation investigation.
CrowdStrike, whose name readers may already recognize this newsletter, is the digital forensic company investigating infringements at the Democratic National Committee in the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election. Why did his name appear during the call? It is not entirely clear. But the statement starts to make sense if one maintains fringe beliefs, fantasies, and paranoid speculation.
This is what Trump said to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky:
I would like you to do us a favor, because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I want you to find out what happened to this whole situation with Ukraine, they say CrowdStrike … I think you have one of your rich people … The server, they say that Ukraine has it. Many things have happened, the whole situation. I think you surround yourself with the same people. I want the Attorney General to call you or your people and I want to find out.
Ultimately, the president seems to be referring to an idea that alt-right commentators and pro-Russia sympathizers have been pushing for years: that CrowdStrike was wrong that Russia hacked the DNC – and moreover that CrowdStrike deliberately blamed Russia for political reasons. The findings of CrowdStrike have of course been repeatedly confirmed by the intelligence community, the Ministry of Justice, members of Congress and the office of Robert Mueller. Last year, the government sued ten Russian intelligence officers for their role in the hack plan.
The conspiracy theorists object. They say the FBI should not trust CrowdStrike. (CrowdStrike provided the office with digital images of the DNC’s hacked systems, as is common in this industry.) They say CrowdStrike’s findings are suspicious because the company has links with Google, whose former chairman and CEO, Eric Schmidt, supported the elections. from Hillary Clinton. (CrowdStrike is supported by a private equity firm, CapitalG, owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet.) They say CrowdStrike is owned by a Ukrainian billionaire. (A co-founder of the California-based company was born in Moscow and moved to America as a teenager.) And they say CrowdStrike is under the influence of Viktor Pinchuk, an Ukrainian oligarch. (Pinchuk finances a think tank, the Atlantic Council, where the aforementioned CrowdStrike co-founder is a senior fellow.)
These straw-grabbing claims and actual distortions are fuel for the fire of disinformation. Furthermore, the idea that a “missing” server is missing and that the server can exist somewhere – as in Ukraine – has no reality. The DNC’s network consisted of many servers and computers that were either put out of the way, restarted or rebuilt to get rid of malware and intruders. As the DNC explained in a 2018 lawsuit against the Russian government, it had to “decommission more than 140 servers, remove and reinstall all software, including operating systems, for more than 180 computers and rebuild at least 11 servers” as a result of hacking.
CrowdStrike usually stops in the midst of the storm and only says it stays steady. “With regard to our investigation into the DNC hack in 2016, we provided the FBI with all forensic evidence and analysis,” a CrowdStrike spokesperson wrote in an email to Fortune. “As we said before, we stick to our findings and conclusions that are fully supported by the US intelligence service.”
Robert Hackett | @rhhackett | email@example.com
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