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Donald and His Suspicious Computer Connection to Russia

2016-11-03

There is an intriguing story in Slate, posted yesterday, relating to Donald and his potential relationship with Russia, specifically the activities of a computer server owned by Trump that communicated with a server run by the Russian bank Alfa.  The story details frustratingly vague connections that don’t quite rise to the level of damning information, but are enough to make you very suspicious.

In short, there was a computer server owned by Trump and said to be used by a marketing company called Cendyn, although it was registered to the Trump Organization on Fifth Avenue.  The server was set to communicate only with a very small number of other servers, two of which belong to the Russian bank Alfa (which was founded by the second-richest man in Russia, who has connections to Putin.)  Another server was registered to Spectrum Healthcare in Michigan, but there was little traffic on that connection.  There was a peak in communications between Trump’s server and the two Alfa servers in August and early September.

The communications connection was accidentally discovered by a small group of computer specialists whose day job is preventing malware from infecting the Internet and causing chaos.  These specialists are variously employed by cybersecurity firms, universities, and government security agencies like NSA and CIA.  They were initially concerned with the news that Russian hackers had penetrated the Democratic National Committee and wanted to look for attempts to attack Donald Trump’s campaign’s computers.  They located, tracked down, and assembled logs of the connections made between Trump’s computer and the Alfa computers (information called metadata, such as dates, times, lengths of messages, and the like– not the putative actual messages.)

After reviewing the information in these logs, they concluded that there must have been emails exchanged between the entities.  Other potential explanations of the exchanges, such as attempts by the Trump-owned computer to send spam and coupons for hotel discounts or the like, were considered to be highly unlikely.  The investigators were unable to access the content of the messages.

New York Times reporters became interested in the story and contacted Alfa on September 21; within a few days and before the reporters got in touch with Trump’s representatives, the Trump-owned server was shut down.  Three days later, a new connection was established under a new host name, trump1.contact-client.com; this channel was only used for a few days.  The Trump organization, while it denied that there was any contact between Trump and Russia, failed to explain the new host or answer follow-up questions.

The details of these computer interactions are quite complex and well beyond my two hundred fifty word limits.  Suffice it to say that there is strong suspicion that there was a private communications connection between Trump and an entity in Russia that is connected with the government.

This is one of the angles that the FBI has been investigating.  They have come to the conclusion that there is not enough evidence of an illegal connection between Trump and Russia.  The possible benign explanations of the series of computer interactions leave room for considerable doubt; they are explored in Slate’s follow-up article.

The connections between Paul Manafort, whom I previously wrote about, and the Russians were also evaluated by the FBI, with no definite results.  All of these suspicious connections are frustratingly vague and fail to come to the level of “smoking guns”, much like the connections that Republicans repeatedly try to make between Hillary and top secret emails or the Benghazi attacks.  The difference is that Trump has made numerous statements favorable to the Russians, suggesting that he really does owe them something.

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