FBI took months to warn Democrats of suspected Russian role in hack -sources

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WASHINGTON/SAN FRANCISCO, Aug 2 (Reuters) - The FBI did not tell the Democratic National Committee that U.S officials suspected it was the target of a Russian government-backed cyber attack when agents first contacted the party last fall, three people with knowledge of the discussions told Reuters.

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And in months of follow-up conversations about the DNC's network security, the FBI did not warn party officials that the attack was being investigated as Russian espionage, the sources said.

The lack of full disclosure by the FBI prevented DNC staffers from taking steps that could have reduced the number of confidential emails and documents stolen, one of the sources said. Instead, Russian hackers whom security experts believe are affiliated with the Russian government continued to have access to Democratic Party computers for months during a crucial phase in the U.S. presidential campaign, the source said.

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MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 28: Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at the Democratic National Committee summer meeting on August 28, 2015 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Most of the Democratic Presidential candidates including Clinton, Bernie Sanders , Martin O'Malley and Lincoln Chafee are attending at the event. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 23: Democratic Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks at the Democratic National Committee's Women's Leadership Forum October 23, 2015 in Washington, DC. The DNC is holding its 22nd Annual Women's Conference. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton (2nd-R) celebrates on stage with husband former US president Bill Clinton (R), running mate Tim Kaine (2nd-L), and son-in-law Marc Mezvinsky (L) on the fourth and final night of the Democratic National Convention at Wells Fargo Center on July 28, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. / AFP / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 28: Khizr Khan, father of deceased U.S. Army Capt. Humayun S. M. Khan, delivers remarks as he is joined by his wife Ghazala Khan on the fourth day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center, July 28, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton received the number of votes needed to secure the party's nomination. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Philadelphia, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Democratic National Convention kicked off July 25. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 28: Crowds cheer during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 28, 2016. (Photo by Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 28: Delegates from Arkansas, some dressed in costumes, sit at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 28, 2016. (Photo by Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 28: Hillary Clinton celebrates on stage after accepting the Presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 28, 2016. (Photo by Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
ABC NEWS - 7/28/16 - Coverage of the 2016 Democratic National Convention from the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA which airs on all ABC News programs and platforms. (Photo by Ida Mae Astute/ABC via Getty Images) BALLOON DROP
ABC NEWS - 7/28/16 - Coverage of the 2016 Democratic National Convention from the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA which airs on all ABC News programs and platforms. (Photo by Ida Mae Astute/ABC via Getty Images) KATY PERRY
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 28: A delegate films the singing of the U.S. National Anthem on the fourth and final night of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center on July 28, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 28: (EDITORS NOTE: This image was converted using digital filters) A Spectator shows her fingernails painted with Hillary Clintons likeness the 2016 Democratic National Convention at Wells Fargo Center on July 25, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mike Coppola/WireImage)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 28: Bernie Sanders supporters protest as Democratic Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton addresses the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Thursday, July 28, 2016. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 28: Chelsea Clinton delivers remarks on the fourth day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center on July 28, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Philadelphia, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Democratic National Convention kicked off July 25. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 28: Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on the convention floor on the fourth day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center on July 28, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Philadelphia, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Democratic National Convention kicked off July 25. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 28: Virginia delegate Morgan Jameson sports patriotic fashion during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Thursday, July 28, 2016. (Photo by Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 28: Virginia delegate Morgan Jameson sports patriotic fashion during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Thursday, July 28, 2016. (Photo by Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 28: Connecticut delegate Audrey Blondin wears anti Donald Trump buttons as part of her costume, during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Thursday, July 28, 2016. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 28: Matthew Larding (left) and Thelma Sias, members of the Wisconsin delegation, observe the invocation during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Thursday, July 28, 2016. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 26: An delegate hold up a sign in support of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on the second day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center, July 26, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Philadelphia, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Democratic National Convention kicked off July 25. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 27: An attendee holds a phone with a Hillary Clinton themed case on the third day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center, July 27, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton received the number of votes needed to secure the party's nomination. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Philadelphia, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Democratic National Convention kicked off July 25. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 27: An attendee wears a cape in support of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during the third day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center, July 27, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Philadelphia, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Democratic National Convention kicked off July 25. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
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As late as June, hackers had access to DNC systems and the network used by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a group that raises money for Democratic candidates and shares an office with the DNC in Washington, people with knowledge of the cases have said.

A spokeswoman for the FBI said she could not comment on a current investigation. The DNC did not respond to requests for comment.

In its initial contact with the DNC last fall, the FBI instructed DNC personnel to look for signs of unusual activity on the group's computer network, one person familiar with the matter said. DNC staff examined their logs and files without finding anything suspicious, that person said.

When DNC staffers requested further information from the FBI to help them track the incursion, they said the agency declined to provide it. In the months that followed, FBI officials spoke with DNC staffers on several other occasions but did not mention the suspicion of Russian involvement in an attack, sources said.

The DNC's information technology team did not realize the seriousness of the incursion until late March, the sources said. It was unclear what prompted the IT team's realization.

Emails captured in the DNC hack were leaked on the eve of the July 25-28 Democratic Party convention to name Hillary Clinton as the party's presidential candidate in the Nov. 8 election against Republican Party nominee Donald Trump.

Those emails exposed bias in favor of Clinton on the part of DNC officials at a time when she was engaged in a close campaign against U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders for the party's nomination.

The DNC said on Tuesday that three senior officials had resigned after the email embarrassment.

Last week, Debbie Wasserman Schultz stepped down as DNC chairwoman as criticism mounted of her management of the party committee, which is supposed to be neutral.

U.S. officials and private cyber security experts said last week they believed Russian hackers were behind the cyber attack on the DNC. The Obama administration has not yet publicly declared who it believes is responsible.

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Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said last week the U.S. intelligence community was not ready to "make the call on attribution."

It was not immediately clear how the FBI had learned of the hack against the DNC. One U.S. official with knowledge of the investigation said the agency had withheld information about details of the hacking to protect classified intelligence operations.

"There is a fine line between warning people or companies or even other government agencies that they're being hacked - especially if the intrusions are ongoing - and protecting intelligence operations that concern national security," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The first internal DNC emails alerting party officials to the seriousness of the suspected hacking were sent in late March, one person said. In May, the DNC contacted California-based cyber security firm CrowdStrike to analyze unusual activity on the group's network.

The Brooklyn-based Clinton campaign operation was also the target of hacking, people with knowledge of the situation have said. The Clinton campaign has confirmed that a DNC-linked system the campaign used to analyze voter data was compromised.

Yahoo News reported last week that the FBI had warned the Clinton campaign that it was the target of a hack in March, just before the DNC discovered it had been hacked.

Glen Caplin, a Clinton campaign spokesman, said it had taken steps to safeguard its internal information systems.

"Multiple Democratic party organizations, including our campaign and staff, have been the subject of attempted cyber attacks that experts say are Russian intelligence agencies, which enlist some of the most sophisticated hackers in the world," Caplin said.


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