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Russian Security Expert Maintains Putin Was Behind DNC Hack


Moscow has flatly denied any interference in the U.S. presidential election. The Kremlin says a recent U.S. intelligence report that accuses Russia of hacking political networks proves absolutely nothing. Journalist Andrei Soldatov has been investigating Russia's intelligence services for almost two decades, and he told NPR's Lucian Kim the U.S. report missed the real story.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: I meet Andrei Soldatov in a cultural center named after the Soviet dissident and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov. The center has become one of the few places in Moscow where opponents of the Kremlin still gather. Soldatov was presenting his latest book about the Russian surveillance state which was first published in English under the title "The Red Web." When asked about the recent U.S. report on alleged Russian hacking, Soldatov agrees with the view that it was short on detail.

ANDREI SOLDATOV: For months, we expected the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies to provide something new, something which would point out to a particular agency and to provide some hard evidence about how the whole thing was organized.

KIM: That's not to say Soldatov doubts that the Russian government was behind the hacking, but he thinks U.S. intelligence is overlooking what he calls the murky world of informal actors.

SOLDATOV: It's a very murky world with lots of actors, some of them formal actors, like security agencies, intelligence agencies and the military. But also, we have lots of informal actors. And these people - well, they tend to be much more dangerous. They enjoy direct access to the Kremlin. And sometimes the Kremlin uses these people, not the formal actors, to do the most sensitive operations.

KIM: Using hard-to-trace freelance operatives, Soldatov says, helps the Russian government deny involvement in covert operations. He says the freelancers infiltrate servers and email accounts over many months, collecting potentially damaging information which can then be released when it's politically expedient.

SOLDATOV: It’s about a very interesting phenomenon that the information is not only stolen but also made public, which is a very Russian way of doing these things.

KIM: Soldatov and his partner, the journalist Irina Borogan, say they have faced harassment because of their work investigating the Russian security services.

SOLDATOV: It’s absolutely impossible for us to be hired by Russian media for many years. And now if we need to - or we have something sensitive, first, we need to find a Western publication to get it published.

KIM: Soldatov and Borogan signed copies of their book under a large photograph of dissident Andrei Sakharov, who suffered repression under the Soviet Union. They say that Russia's new cyber-warriors are following in the tradition of the Soviet secret police, only now their weapons are passwords and computers. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONSTER RALLY SONG, "ORCHIDS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lucian Kim
Lucian Kim is NPR's international correspondent based in Moscow. He has been reporting on Europe and the former Soviet Union for the past two decades.