How deep are Donald Trump’s ties to Russia? A new investigation dredged up a secret mail server owned by the Trump organization, which appears to have had an even more secret link set up exclusively for communicating back and forth with a Russian bank.
Donald Trump thinks Hillary Clinton has an email problem?
Franklin Foer from Slate reports that a group of computer scientists discovered this while trying to guard the Trump campaign against attacks by Russian hackers. After all, since the DNC got hacked, it only stands to reason the Trump campaign would be next.
Instead, “they found something they weren’t expecting,” as Foer dryly states, an email server that suggests Donald Trump’s ties to Russia may be way deeper and more tangled than we thought.
It all started when the high tech search squad started poring over data on DNS lookups — records of Internet users from Russia sending email and visiting websites — and stumbled on something strange. A bank in Russia kept “pinging” a server that belonged to the Trump Organization’s offices on Fifth Ave. in New York.
A security analyst who goes by the handle “Tea Leaves” told Franklin Foer it didn’t look like the Trump server was fending off an attack. It looked more like the kind of back and forth you see when people are talking via email.
‘The irregular pattern of server lookups actually resembled the pattern of human conversation—conversations that began during office hours in New York and continued during office hours in Moscow.’
Don’t dismiss what Tea Leaves has to say just because of the silly name, there are many reasons to respect what he’s saying: (1) he’s one of the top dogs in the networking community; (2) DNS records are really hard to fake; and (3) they need to keep their corporate clients and top-level U.S. security clearances so (Edward Snowden aside) these white hat hackers rarely venture into politics.
Who was on the other end, though? Given Donald Trump’s ties to Russia, who do you think?
‘It dawned on the researchers that this wasn’t an attack, but a sustained relationship between a server registered to the Trump Organization and two servers registered to an entity called Alfa Bank.’
Alfa Bank isn’t just any bank, either. It’s the biggest bank in Russia, but only by the grace and good favor of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. If Donald Trump’s as cozy with Alfa bank as it seems, then he needs stay in Putin’s favor as well. The Alfa Bank is run by founder Mikhail Fridman, one of many oligarchs who rose from the rubble of post-Soviet Russia.
Unlike other Russian banks, Alfa does lots of business in the U.S. Their holding company, Letter One, just invested $200 million in Uber and plans to bet $3 billion more in U.S. health care. Vladimir Putin? He tolerates this because it’s in his best interests, too…at least for now.
Here’s the kicker for anyone who worries about Donald Trump’s ties to Russia and their agents trying to interfere with the 2016 election: Tea Leaves gathered all the data from the DNS records and plotted them on a timeline as shown in the graph below.
Activity of the secret communications between the Trump Tower Server and Moscow. LOOK HOW THE *** IT WENT UP DURING ELECTIONS pic.twitter.com/KWh3g9bE2A
— Redmor11 (@redmor11) October 31, 2016
The spikes in activity all correlate with major events in our election cycle. After the New York Times contacted Alfa Bank with a request for comment at the end of September, the Trump organization’s server kept returning DNS errors and then vanished.
Here’s a quick summary of major election-related events in Tea Leaves’ timeline:
- Weeks leading up to the GOP convention: The first major spikes occur in late June as the last primary results roll in and it grew more apparent that Donald Trump would win the GOP nomination.
- The RNC Platform Committee meeting: This took place in mid-July just before the convention, during which the Trump campaign is rumored to have pressured the GOP into softening its stance on defending NATO countries.
- The GOP Convention: As the GOP convention on July 18-22 in Cleveland approached, communications between the servers at the Trump organization and Alpha Bank intensified.
- The Democratic Convention: A similar spike in activity occurred as the Democratic National Convention approached on July 25-28 in Philadelphia approached.
This isn’t the first time Donald Trump’s unsavory ties to Russia have put him in the spotlight. In August, Hillary Clinton’s campaign released a damning new ad, and just two weeks ago, the Democratic Coalition Against Trump (DCAT) filed a formal complaint with the FBI. Several past and present campaign staffers have extensive ties to Russian business interests, as does the Trump organization and Donald Trump himself.