What we know about Russia’s interference in the US election

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Everything we know so far about Moscows reputed involvement in the election that saw Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton

Did Russian hackers try to influence the US election?

According to US intelligence officials, Russian hackers made repeated attempts before this years election to get into major US institutions, including the White House and the state department. The tactics were simple: send out volleys of phishing emails and hope that someone clicked.

One of those who did was John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clintons campaign. A New York Times investigation this week revealed that a Podesta aide spotted the dodgy email and forwarded it to a technician.

By mistake, however, the aide wrote that the message was OK. This allowed Moscow to access about 60,000 of Podestas emails. The hackers also breached the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

The emails were passed to the WikiLeaks website, which published them before the US election. The furore dominated the news bulletins and damaged Clintons campaign.

Security experts believe two Kremlin-connected groups were behind the hacks. One was was from the FSB spy agency, the other from Russian military intelligence. Amazingly, they appear to have operated independently.

Russias state media protrayed Hillary Clinton as a warmonger, while coverage of Donald Trump was favourable. Photograph: Rick Wilking/Reuters

Why was Clinton targeted?

Vladimir Putin has a visceral dislike of Clinton. As US secretary of state, Clinton was responsible for a doomed attempt to reset relations between Washington and Moscow.

In 2011-12, Russians took to the streets to protest against Putins decision to become president for the third time. Putin didnt see this as a popular uprising; rather he believed Clinton had paid protesters to try to push him from power.

In the run-up to the US election, Russias state media portrayed Clinton as a warmonger. Its coverage of Donald Trump, by contrast, was favourable. On Thursday, Barack Obamas press secretary, Josh Earnest, said he shared the view of US intelligence officials that Putin had directly authorised the hack. (Putins press spokesman dismissed the claim as absurd.)

Putins primary objective was probably to undermine the US election and create chaos. He may not have actually expected Trump to win. The president-elect is now likely to lift sanctions on Russia. This would delight the Kremlin.

Amercian intelligence agencies say the Russians also hacked the Republican National Committees computer systems, but they didnt release anything.

German politicians have expressed fears that the Kremlin may try to interfere in Angela Merkels re-election bid in 2017. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Has Russia done similar elsewhere?

Yes. German officials say a Russian hacking group was behind a major attack last year on the parliament in Berlin. The attack like those in the US involved phishing emails. They were sent from an account,, which appeared to come from the United Nations. The hack may have gone on for six months.

There is evidence that the hackers have targeted Angela Merkels Christian Democratic party. German politicians have expressed fears that in the wake of US attacks the Kremlin may try to interfere in the 2017 general election. They are worried about Russian cyber-espionage activity, disinformation and fake news.

Internationally, Putin has had a terrific year, with the victory of Trump and the election of pro-Kremlin leaders in Bulgaria and Moldova. Merkel is the Europes most powerful politician, personally sceptical of Putin and an advocate of Russian sanctions. She is, therefore, an obvious target.

In Soviet times, the KGB used what it called active measures to destabilise its capitalist enemies. Cyberspace offers new global opportunities for old tactics.

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