Photo: Mike Mozart / Flickr
Top U.S. officials suspect Russian hackers influenced the 2016 presidential election, but what was the true motive behind the cyber sabotage? Was Russia trying to shake the credibility of the U.S. Political system? Or was there something else at stake? Was the Kremlin — as both the CIA and FBI assert — supporting a Trump presidency? If so, Why? Could the hack be a ploy to remove roadblocks to one of the biggest oil deals in history between ExxonMobil and Russian oil giant Rosneft?
Here are some of the unsettling connections.
Trump Picks ExxonMobil CEO for Secretary of State
Trump recently selected ExxonMobil’s CEO, Rex Tillerson, to be his choice for Secretary of State, a role that leads U.S. foreign policy negotiations. If appointed, Tillerson would probably have to sell his stock in the company — valued at over $150 million — although there are complications regarding shares that won’t vest for years to come. There would be clear conflicts of interest if Tillerson maintained his holdings because decisions made by the Secretary of State will significantly impact Exxon’s profits.
Regardless of his foreseen divestment in the company, Tillerson has served Exxon for over 40 years; his family, friends and life are highly intertwined with the corporation. When asked whether he would increase domestic oil operations to stabilize U.S. energy markets, Lee Ramond, former CEO of Exxon, stated, “I’m not a U.S. company, and I don’t make decisions based on what’s good for the U.S.”
Would Tillerson’s position in the White House harness his patriotism and motivate him to disregard Exxon’s profits? Or would he support the claim of his corporate predecessor?
“To put the CEO of Exxon in charge of our negotiations on climate change, our negotiations on oil, on energy, on human rights, with countries around the world where this company has interests, where it has a track record of abuses, is patently irresponsible,” said Carroll Muffett, President and CEO of the Center for International Environmental Law.
Tillerson still needs a senate majority vote to be appointed and both Democrats and Republicans question his diplomacy, largely based on his ties to the Russian oil and gas industry and President Putin.
Tillerson’s in Cahoots With Putin and Russian Oil Giant Rosneft
For years, Tillerson, acting as Exxon’s front man, has been doing business with Russia’s oil industry. He met Putin in the 1990s while working on an oil and gas project in Russia’s Eastern Sakhalin Island.
In 2011, the U.S. owned oil monster formed a partnership with Rosneft, Russia’s state-owned oil and gas company, to research, explore and develop drilling operations in the Russian Arctic, which holds the promise of billions of barrels of oil, an increasingly attractive resource as Exxon and other oil companies scramble to find cheap reserves. Putin estimated the deal would require as much as $500 billion in investment.
In 2014, after Russia broke international protocol by deploying military action in Crimea, Ukraine, Obama issued Executive Orders to impose trade sanctions on Russian energy companies, and other sectors of the economy.
Tillerson actively apposed the trade restrictions and told shareholders, “We always encourage the people who are making those decisions to consider the very broad collateral damage of who they are really harming with sanctions.”
Despite its opposition to the sanctions, ExxonMobil complied with restrictions and stopped oil and gas “activities involving offshore Russia in the Black Sea, Arctic regions, and onshore western Siberia,” which exposed them to up to $1 billion in losses as of December 2014.
Could this deal be the carrot for Russian hackers to support Trump?
The CIA & FBI Say Russian Hackers Supported Trump’s Victory
Russian hackers targeted Democratic National Committee (DNC) members by sending out “phishing” emails in which they tricked recipients to give them access to classified emails.
As the New York Times explained in detail, the DNC was warned about the attack but doubted the legitimacy of the tip-off and was slow to respond.
Months later, in April 2016, the Committee eventually hired CrowdStrike Services, a private cyber security company, to fight the attack; however, thousands of emails had already been stolen from the DNC and Clinton’s core team.
The day after, a hacker — using the alias Guccifer 2.0 and alleging Romanian nationality — claimed he was responsible for the DNC attack. He released a classified DNC document on Trump’s record and said he gave more info to WikiLeaks, which would be released soon. Guccifer 2.0 attempted to make a fool of CrowdStrike for thinking the hack was a covert Russian operation.
Shortly after, two independent cyber security companies – Fidelis Cybersecurity and Mandiant – backed CrowdStrike’s claim that Russians were indeed behind the hack, and that Gluccifer 2.0 was a decoy.
Over the weeks and months that followed, WikiLeaks and DCLeaks.com continuously released batches of hacked material. Media focus on the constant flow of new juicy classified emails harmed Clinton’s reputation, led to the resignation of key members of her campaign team, including Chairwomen of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and likely influenced voters.
Officials believe hackers also attempted to break into Republican National Committee (RNC) emails, but with less fervor. WikiLeaks did not publish RNC emails and those released by DCLeaks got much less attention than the DNC files.
Trump – during his campaign – publically encouraged Russia to hack Hilary’s emails, which his staff later played off as a joke. The business-man-turned-politician now adamantly dismisses the evidence supporting the Russian hack, saying, “I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?” Putin and Russian officials also deny involvement.
Recently, both the CIA and FBI concluded that Russia was behind the hack with the intention of swinging the election toward Trump.
A White House official involved in the investigation stated, “Putin believed he [Trump] would be much friendlier to Russia, especially on the matter of economic sanctions” and therefore backed the candidate.
Obama is currently investigating the hack and has ordered a report on “lessons learned” by January 20th, his last day in office.
Trump Has Suspicious Affinity for and Connections with Russia
The Donald has repeatedly praised Putin for his authoritarian leadership style and said that he intends to mend U.S.-Russian relations.
“Putin has big plans for Russia. He wants to edge out its neighbors so that Russia can dominate oil supplies to all of Europe,” said Don. “I respect Putin and Russians but cannot believe our leader [Obama] allows them to get away with so much…Hats off to the Russians.”
In a 2013 tweet, America’s President-elect asked whether Putin would become his “new best friend?”
Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow – if so, will he become my new best friend?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 19, 2013
Trump later gloated in false claims that Putin called him a “genius and [said] he is going to be the leader of the party and he’s going to be the leader of the world or something.”
Despite his uncanny affection for Putin, Trump denies having any business relations with the Kremlin.
“I don’t deal there. I have no businesses there. I have no loans from Russia,” blustered Trump in the second Presidential debate.
Trump may not have any businesses in Russia but records show that the serial liar has received financing from Russian satellite companies for several investments including the Trump Soho project.
In 2008, Trumps son clearly stated that the family business is connected with Russia.
“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” said little Donald, “we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
The internet troll’s presidential campaign manager, Paul Manafort, has been involved with numerous Russian affairs and advised the Russian puppet president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovich, who was booted in 2014.
Was the Russain Hack Connected with Big Oil Interests?
The sequence of events leading up to the 2016 Presidential election creates a disturbing narrative. Did Russia team up with The Donald and ExxonMobil to hack the U.S. elections in favor of Trump to relieve sanctions, move forward with the $500 billion oil deal, get rich and destroy our climate? We may never know. But as Joe Romm, Founding Editor of Climate Progress, wrote, “The aligning interests between Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia’s choice for U.S. president (Donald Trump), and Big Oil represents the gravest threat to humanity (and democracy) since the rise of the Axis powers in the 1930s.”