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Russians Fail To Hack Computers Of Democratic Sen. McCaskill


U.S. intelligence officials said the Russians were going to try to hack the midterm elections. Now, it appears to have happened. The target is one of this fall's most vulnerable Democrats, Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill. NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell is with us in the studio now. Hey, Kelsey.


MARTIN: What can you tell us?

SNELL: Well, this is the first-known target of Russian interference in the 2018 election. It was first reported by The Daily Beast. And they found that Russian hackers made an unsuccessful attempt to breach McCaskill's computer system through targeted emails. McCaskill issued a statement last night saying she was not going to be intimidated by these attempts. She says she'll continue speaking out against Russia and said it's outrageous that Russia thinks they can get away with continued interference in U.S. elections.

The Daily Beast reported that hackers sent forged notifications that asked users to reset Microsoft Exchange passwords. In essence, it was a phishing scheme in that they were trying to bait McCaskill's staff into clicking on a link that would take them to a site where their information could be compromised.

MARTIN: This is what they've done before, right?

SNELL: Right.

MARTIN: I mean, the Russians are known to have done this phishing thing in the 2016 election.

SNELL: Yeah. The reporting indicates that it's really similar to what we saw in 2016, very similar to other ways that Russian hackers have attempted to get into U.S. email systems. It's the kind of thing that U.S. intelligence officials have been warning about. The director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, was saying that there were already these red warning lights blinking, saying that Russia was going to be interfering in the upcoming election. And that is, essentially, the entire U.S. intelligence community's assessment of what was going to happen.

MARTIN: Right.

SNELL: But it seems like it would contradict something that the president himself tweeted, which was that if the Russians were going to interfere in the election, he said that they were going to help Democrats, not go against Democrats. And that it was McCaskill seems to contradict that entirely.

MARTIN: OK. So why her?

SNELL: Well, McCaskill is one of the most prominent critics of Russia and of President Trump. She is - she's very outspoken on this. She noted in her own statement that this is something that she expects that she would be targeted. But she is also in a really competitive race. Missouri is seen as one of those places that could very easily go red in 2018. And she, you know, she's a close ally of Hillary Clinton and has been a strong critic of Putin. So this is something that she said that she was prepared for.

MARTIN: I mean, clearly, if the U.S. intelligence agencies have been warning about the possibility of Russian hacks into the midterms for so many months now, political campaigns had to have been prepared. I mean, you're saying that this was unsuccessful, so presumably, the McCaskill campaign had something in place to make this unsuccessful.

SNELL: Well, we don't really know yet. She hasn't really been commenting all that much. All we know is that, like we said, it was a phishing scheme. So the idea was that they were sent a link. They would click on it, and then presumably, have to put in information. The Daily Beast is reporting that the site that they went to mimicked some sort of internal Senate server that looked very much like something where you would reset a password. And it - by all appearances, they - maybe the staff did not go along with that. But it is a warning sign to all other Senate campaigns that this could be happening - or any campaign at all, that Russia is active and that the warning from the intelligence community is not incorrect.

MARTIN: NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell for us this morning. Kelsey, thanks so much.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.