The FBI reportedly failed to inform "scores" of US government officials that Russian hackers were attempting to infiltrate their personal emails despite having evidence of the hacking campaign for at least a year. According to an investigation by The Associated Press, just two out of nearly 80 American officials interviewed said that they learned of the hacking attempts from the bureau.
Over a span of two months, the AP reached out to people targeted by Fancy Bear, a Russian government-linked cyberespionage group, as per a list provided by cybersecurity firm SecureWorks. The media outlet identified more than 500 US-based people or groups that were targeted and reached out to more than 190 of them.
While many targeted individuals were long-retired, about a quarter still held government positions and had security clearances. Some said the FBI reached out to them after their emails were published in the trove of emails that were published online during the election campaign.
In some cases, a few senior policymakers only found out that they were targeted after the AP told them.
"It's absolutely not OK for them to use an excuse that there's too much data," Charles Sowell, who previously worked as a senior administrator of the Director of National Intelligence, said. "Would that hold water if there were a serial killer investigation, and people were calling in tips left and right, and they were holding up their hands and saying, 'It's too much'? That's ridiculous."
Three sources told the AP that the FBI knew details of Fancy Bear's attempts to break into officials' personal Gmail accounts for more than a year.
"It's a matter of triaging to the best of our ability the volume of the targets who are out there," one source said.
According to the AP's investigation, 131 out of 312 US military and government figures who were targeted by Fancy Bear clicked on the malicious links that were sent to them. It is not clear how many people targeted may have inadvertently divulged their credentials or information to the hackers.
"The FBI routinely notifies individuals and organizations of potential threat information," the FBI said in a statement to the AP.
Fancy Bear is widely believed to have orchestrated the cyberattacks against the Democratic National Party during the 2016 presidential election. US intelligence agencies concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a complex influence campaign which included cyberattacks, leaks, a disinformation campaign and more to swing the election in Trump's favour.
US congressional committees are currently investigating Russian interference in the election and possible ties between Trump's campaign and Moscow.
The Kremlin has denied the allegations while Trump has denounced the ongoing probes as a "witch hunt" and a "phony Democrat excuse for losing the election."