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AP: 'Digital Hit List' Provides Evidence Of Hackers' Links To Kremlin


At the time that Russia was believed to be hacking to try and influence the U.S. presidential election that may have just been part of their plans. The Associated Press is out this morning with essentially a hit list of what it reports were targets of Russian hacking.

One of the reporters who wrote that AP story is Raphael Satter. He joins us on Skype this morning. Good morning.

RAPHAEL SATTER: Good morning.

GREENE: So who does it appear Russia was targeting and why?

SATTER: Thousands of people from all over the world. We've got about 160 countries here on this list. But the overwhelming majority of them seem to come from countries that are of special interest to Moscow - countries like Ukraine or Syria or Georgia, neighboring countries in the post-Soviet space and, of course, the United States.

GREENE: So does this undermine, potentially, the narrative that Russia had this very narrow specific plan to try and influence the U.S. presidential election? This might have been just one part of a master plan to hack into a lot of countries in - you know, to help their interests.

SATTER: I think the data fixed a variety of arguments. So some might see this as evidence that the Russians weren't particularly interested in the Democrats, and I think that you could make that argument.

Some might see this as evidence that the Russians were particularly interested in the Democrats because our data does show that about 130 individual members of the Democratic Party or employees or supporters were targeted by these hackers.

That's an unusually high number. They don't usually go after a single political party quite like they do the Democrats. So there's some stuff that the data doesn't quite tell us.

GREENE: Now, the hackers responsible - I know that they're known as Fancy Bear, that name. They accidentally left some of their phishing out on the Internet, which is how you ultimately got access to it in your reporting. But how certain are we that Fancy Bear is tied to the government in Russia?

SATTER: We can't make that argument based on the data that we have at our disposal. What we can say is that Fancy Bear's interests seem to coincide almost perfectly with the interest of the Kremlin. So, for example, they're very interested in opposition politicians in Russia, in anti-corruption campaigners in Russia. Well, we know that the Kremlin is very interested in those people, too.

They're very interested in Syrian rebels and Ukrainian fighters. Well, we know that Russia is fighting those people as we speak. So the interests seem to line up pretty perfectly.

GREENE: So there's also a personal note in all of this for you. Your dad was one of the people on this hit list?

SATTER: Yeah, he was. That was a little bit of a shock - it was a little bit of a shock to discover that. Now, we knew, of course, that my father was hacked because it happened last year. And it was written about by other journalists.

When I took a look at Secureworks' lists, I saw his name on there. And we went back through his emails and, sure enough, there was a malicious email right when the list said there would be. So I said it was a shock, but actually it wasn't that much of a shock. It was more startling than anything else.

GREENE: (Laughter) I guess. And your dad, we should say, is an author and Russia specialist who has criticized the Kremlin. So maybe startling, but not so much of a shock.

SATTER: Yeah, not surprising.

GREENE: Yeah. Raphael Satter from the Associated Press, thanks for your reporting and thanks for taking the time this morning.

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