- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 5, 2017

A self-taught computer hacker convicted of compromising the emails of one of Hillary Clinton’s closest advisers said the White House’s allegations of a Russian-led cyber campaign aimed at the recent U.S. presidential race are overblown.

Marcel Lehel Lazar, a Romanian national better known by the alias “Guccifer,” doubts the Obama administration’s claims with respect to Russia’s widely believed meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Fox News reported Wednesday.

Lazar, 44, pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court last April to charges related to a hacking campaign that allowed him to penetrate the personal email accounts of longtime Clinton confidant Sidney Blumenthal and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, among others.

Before he completes a 52-month prison sentence in the United States, however, Lazar is rounding out a 7-year jail stint in Romania as a result of a prior hacking campaign. Writing to Fox News from behind bars there, he claimed lingering sensitivities stemming from the Cold War have caused the Obama administration to exaggerate Russia’s role.

“Americans are crazy about the Russian thing and that Russians are invading the United States,” he wrote, according to Fox.

“It’s crazy … it’s this hysteria you know?” he said.

The U.S. intelligence community has confidently stated that hackers tied to the Russian government managed to compromised various Democratic Party facets prior to last year’s general election, including Democratic National Committee computers and the personal email account of Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign manager, John Podesta.

Hackers then exfiltrated sensitive information that was then published online through websites like WikiLeaks during the 2016 White House race. 

Cybersecurity experts who analyzed the DNC and Podesta leaks said that Russian hackers were able to infiltrate the Clinton chairman’s Gmail account after gaining access to his password through a tactic known as spear-phishing: The perpetrators sent Mr. Podesta a malicious email masqueraded as a legitimate security warning from Google and successfully tricked him into coughing up his credentials, according to researchers from SecureWorks.

Americans must “be aware of the threat posed by spear-phishing,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified Thursday on Capitol Hill at an unrelated hearing, acknowledging that the effective technique is a “common tactic that’s used yet today.”

Years earlier, Lazar personally gained unauthorized access to another Clinton insider by using an arguably cruder tactic. Admitting his crimes afterwards to FBI agents, Lazar said he managed to infiltrate Mr. Blumenthal’s email account in approximately 20 minutes by correctly figuring out the answer to a “security question” intended to have otherwise prevented unauthorized access to the account.

Lazar previously admitted to spear-phishing some of his targets as well, and boasted to the FBI of having fooled around 15 out of 100 victims into downloading malicious attachments through specially crafted emails.

While the names of Lazar’s American victims are redacted in U.S. court filings, previous reporting has indicated he infiltrated the email account of Dorothy Bush Koch, the sister of former president George W. Bush, in addition to the accounts of Mr. Blumenthal, Mr. Powell and others, before providing their stolen emails to members of the press.

Correspondence stolen from Mr. Blumenthal’s email and leaked to the media in 2013 revealed that he had sent emails to a previously unknown, nongovernmental account administrated by Mrs. Clinton while she was secretary of state. The revelation helped spur a lengthy federal investigation that caused complications for Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign prior to ultimately losing the White House race to Donald Trump last November.

Lazar previously claimed to have hacked Mrs. Clinton’s private email server during the course of the escapades, but a subsequent FBI investigation determined otherwise. Writing to Fox News last month, the hacker claimed that the FBI made that determination because he couldn’t explicitly prove otherwise.

“The agents said, ‘Okay. Can you prove without doubt that you hacked the Hillary Clinton server. Can you prove this without any shadow of doubt?’ And I said, ‘I cannot,’ ” he told Fox.

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