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FBI Probing Fake Documents Distributed To Damage Clinton Campaign

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies are examining faked documents aimed at discrediting the Hillary Clinton campaign as part of a broader investigation into what U.S. officials believe has been an attempt by Russia to disrupt the presidential election, people with knowledge of the matter said.

U.S. Senator Tom Carper, a Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, has referred one of the documents to the FBI for investigation on the grounds that his name and stationery were forged to appear authentic, some of the sources who had knowledge of that discussion said.

In the letter identified as fake, Carper is quoted as writing to Clinton, “We will not let you lose this election,” a person who saw the document told Reuters.

The fake Carper letter, which was described to Reuters, is one of several documents presented to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Justice for review in recent weeks, the sources said.

A spokeswoman for Carper declined to comment.

As part of an investigation into suspected Russian hacking, FBI investigators have also asked Democratic Party officials to provide copies of other suspected faked documents that have been circulating along with emails and other legitimate documents taken in the hack, people involved in those conversations said.

A spokesman for the FBI confirmed the agency was “in receipt of a complaint about an alleged fake letter” related to the election but declined further comment. Others with knowledge of the matter said the FBI was also examining other fake documents that recently surfaced.

U.S. intelligence officials have warned privately that a campaign they believe is backed by the Russian government to undermine the credibility of the U.S. presidential election could move beyond the hacking of Democratic Party email systems. That could include posting fictional evidence of voter fraud or other disinformation in the run-up to voting on Nov. 8, U.S. officials have said.

Russian officials deny any such effort.

In addition to the Carper letter, the FBI has also reviewed a seven-page electronic document that carries the logos of Democratic pollster Joel Benenson’s firm, the Benenson Strategy Group, and the Clinton Foundation, a person with knowledge of the matter said.

The document, identified as a fake by the Clinton campaign, claims poll ratings had plunged for Clinton and called for “severe strategy changes for November” that could include “staged civil unrest” and “radiological attack” with dirty bombs to disrupt the vote.

Like the Carper letter, it was not immediately clear where the fraudulent document had originated or how it had begun to circulate.

On Oct. 20, Roger Stone, a former Trump aide and Republican operative, linked to a copy of the document on Twitter with the tag, “If this is real: OMG!!”

Benenson’s firm had no immediate comment. Craig Minassian, a spokesman for the Clinton Foundation, said the document was “fake.” He said he did not know if the FBI had examined it.

Stone did not respond to emails requesting comment.

A spokesman for the Clinton campaign, Glen Caplin, said the document was a fake and part of a “desperate stunt” to capitalize on the leak of Democratic emails by Wikileaks.

The developments highlight the unusually prominent role U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies have played in a contentious election and an ongoing debate about how public they can or should be about their inquiries.

FBI Director James Comey, a Republican appointed by President Obama, touched off an outcry from Democrats last week when he alerted Congress that agents had found other emails that could be linked to an inquiry into Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was Secretary of State, effectively re-opening an investigation he had closed in July.

(Editing by Kevin Krolicki, John Walcott, Toni Reinhold)

IMAGE: U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks about the FBI inquiry into her emails during a campaign rally in Daytona Beach, Florida, U.S. October 29, 2016.  REUTERS/Brian Snyder

WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange Loses Internet Access, Blames Ecuador

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks said on Monday that its founder Julian Assange’s Internet access was shut down by the government of Ecuador, deflecting blame from the U.S. or British governments which have sparred with Assange for releasing sensitive material.

“We can confirm Ecuador cut off Assange’s Internet access Saturday, 5pm GMT, shortly after publication of (Hillary) Clinton’s Goldman Sachs speechs (sic),” the statement from WikiLeaks said.

Assange has lived and worked in Ecuador’s London embassy since June 2012, having been granted asylum there after a British court ordered him extradited to Sweden to face questioning in a sexual molestation case involving two female WikiLeaks supporters.

WikiLeaks said Assange lost Internet connectivity on Sunday night.

“We have activated the appropriate contingency plans,” added the Twitter message on Monday. People close to WikiLeaks say that Assange himself is the principal operator of the website’s Twitter feed.

The Ecuadoran government offered no immediate comment on the question of Internet access, but the country’s foreign minister, Guillaume Long, said Assange remained under government protection.

“The circumstances that led to the granting of asylum remain,” Long said in a statement late on Monday.

Over the last two weeks, Democratic Party officials and U.S. government agencies have accused the Russian government, including the country’s “senior-most officials,” of pursuing a campaign of cyber attacks against Democratic Party organizations ahead of the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election.

WikiLeaks has been one of the most prominent Internet outlets to post and promote hacked Democratic Party materials. While denying any connection with a Russian hacking campaign, Assange has refused to disclose WikiLeaks’ sources for hacked Democratic Party messages.

Sources close to both the Democratic Party and WikiLeaks say they believe WikiLeaks has acquired as many as 40,000-50,000 emails hacked from the personal accounts of John Podesta, the former White House advisor who now chairs of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Despite Assange’s complaint that his Internet connection was cut, WikiLeaks posted on Monday afternoon what it said was a fresh batch of Podesta’s emails.

According to a summary of the latest emails posted on Russia Today, a media outlet with close links to the Russian government, highlights include campaign staff discussions about “galvanizing Latino support” and about how to handle media queries about Clinton’s “flip-flopping” on gay marriage.

(Reporting by Mark Hosenball; Additional reporting by Alexandra Valencia in Quito, Ecuador; Editing by Julia Edwards and Tom Brown)

Photo: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gestures during a news conference at the Ecuadorian embassy in central London August 18, 2014. REUTERS/John Stillwell

FBI Probes Suspected Foreign Hacks Targeting Phones Of Democratic Party Officials

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The FBI is investigating suspected attempts to hack mobile phones used by Democratic Party officials as recently as the past month, four people with direct knowledge of the attack and the investigation told Reuters.

The revelation underscores the widening scope of the U.S. criminal inquiry into cyber attacks on Democratic Party organizations, including the presidential campaign of its candidate, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

U.S. officials have said they believe those attacks were orchestrated by hackers backed by the Russian government, possibly to disrupt the Nov. 8 election in which Clinton faces Republican Party candidate Donald Trump. Russia has dismissed allegations it was involved in cyber attacks on the organizations.

The more recent attempted phone hacking also appears to have been conducted by Russian-backed hackers, two people with knowledge of the situation said.

Federal Bureau of Investigation representatives had no immediate comment, and a Clinton campaign spokesman said they were unaware of the suspected phone hacking.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) did not respond to a request for comment. An official of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) said that nobody at the organization had been contacted by investigators about possible phone hacking.

Interim DNC Chairwoman Donna Brazile told CNN: “Our struggle with the Russian hackers that we announced in June is ongoing – as we knew it would be – and we are choosing not to provide general updates unless personal data or other sensitive information has been accessed or stolen.”

FBI agents had approached a small number of Democratic Party officials to discuss concerns their mobile phones may have been compromised by hackers, people involved said. It was not clear how many people were targeted by the hack or whether they included members of Congress, a possibility that could raise additional security concerns for U.S. officials.

If they were successful, hackers could have been able to acquire a wide range of data from targeted cellphones, including call data, text messages, emails, photos and contact lists, one person with knowledge of the situation said.

“In a sense, your phone is your office brain,” said Bruce Schneier, a cyber security expert with Resilient, an IBM company, which is not involved in the investigation. “It’s incredibly intimate.”

“Anything that’s on your phone, if your phone is hacked, the hacker can get it.”

The FBI has asked some of those whose phones were believed to have hacked to turn over their phones so that investigators could “image” them, creating a copy of the device and related data.

U.S. investigators are looking into whether hackers used data stolen from servers run by Democratic organizations or the private emails of their employees to get access to cellphones, one person said.

Hackers previously targeted servers used by the DNC, the body that sets strategy for the party, and the DCCC, which raises money for Democrats running for seats in the House of Representatives, officials have said.

Clinton said during Monday’s presidential debate there was “no doubt” Russia has sponsored hacks against “all kinds of organizations in our country” and mentioned Russian President Vladimir Putin by name.

“Putin is playing a really tough, long game here. And one of the things he’s done is to let loose cyber attackers to hack into government files, to hack into personal files, hack into the Democratic National Committee,” Clinton said.

Trump countered that there was no definitive proof that Russia had sponsored the hacks of Democratic organizations.

“I don’t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC,” he said. “It could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people.”

(Reporting By Mark Hosenball; Editing by Kevin Krolicki and Grant McCool)

IMAGE: The headquarters of the Democratic National Committee is seen in Washington, U.S. June 14, 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron