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Why Trump and Assange Are Wrong About a ’14-Year-Old’ Hacker

January 4, 2017, 3:53 PM UTC
Julian Assange
This is an undated handout photo issued by Sunshine Press made available Tuesday May 10, 2016 of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with a kitten in Ecuador's embassy in London . It may not be so lonely for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in the embassy quarters he's called home for nearly four years. Now he has a kitten to keep him company.The kitten had not been named yet. (Sunshine Press/Wikileaks via AP)
Sunshine Press/Wikileaks via AP

President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday cited a recent claim by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange that a “14-year-old” could be responsible for a series of email hacks that targeted Democratic party officials. Assange’s claim, however, has already been met with ridicule, and is unlikely to dispel a consensus among cyber security experts that the hacks were the work of Russian operatives.

Trump’s pronouncement came on Twitter (TWTR), where he claimed Russia did not share information with Assange. Trump also tweeted an image from an interview in which the Wikileaks boss, who lives as a fugitive in an embassy in London, spoke with Fox News’s (FOX) Sean Hannity.

Others, however, quickly set about to demolish the claims that a 14-year-old may have carried out the hacks of the DNC, or that Assange lacked ties to Russia.

A Twitter account known as Pwn All The Things, which is popular among cyber-security types, pointed out that an online personality known as Guccifer 2.0—which is widely regarded to be a front for Russian hackers—has acknowledged giving private documents—including those tied to the Hillary Clinton campaign—to Wikileaks.

In other tweets, Pwn All The Things also pointed to a smoking gun to show a series of hacks targeting U.S. political figures was carried out by the same group, dispelling the suggestion that the DNC hacks could have been carried out by a 14-year-old or any other single individual. (The smoking gun in question, which was reported in October by Motherboard and others, came in the form of a common URL shortener, which the hackers used repeatedly to target DNC Chair John Podesta, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and others).

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In short, the recent claims by Assange, who is in exile to avoid an arrest warrant for rape in Sweden, simply do not add up. Meanwhile, Trump’s motivations for supporting Assange’s claims are unclear. As with many of his statements, it’s not clear if he is unaware Assange is wrong or if he simply doesn’t care.

Currently, the President-elect is an ongoing spat with the intelligence communities over claims by the FBI, Homeland Security, and others that Russia hacked the email of American politicians in a bid to meddle with the U.S. election. While Trump last weekend said he would disclose new details about the hacking on Monday or Tuesday, he has yet to do so.

More broadly, the extent of Russia hacking in the U.S. remains a subject of debate and, at times, of hyberbole. Last weekend, for instance, major news outlets reported that the country had hacked computers attached to Vermont’s power grid, a claim that has since been debunked. But for Russia, whose foreign policy involves fomenting disinformation among democracies, every false story amounts to a victory.