- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 9, 2017

A cybersecurity professional hired by the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential election cycle and credited with discovering a major breach blamed on Russian state-sponsored hackers said he’s never been interviewed by federal investigators probing Moscow’s role in the race.

Robert Johnston, a former U.S. Marine Corps captain in the U.S. Cyber Command, was working for a private security firm called CrowdStrike when the DNC’s technicians contacted the company in April 2016 and asked for help investigating a cyberattack ultimately linked to Russian hackers.

The U.S. intelligence community has since blamed the Russia government with attacking the DNC and a slew of other targets during the course of attempting to meddle in the 2016 presidential race, and Moscow’s role is currently being investigated by authorities in the House, Senate and Department of Justice.

In his first public interview, Mr. Johnston told BuzzFeed News recently that he hasn’t discussed his findings with any of the federal investigators probing Russia’s role in last year’s election.

“Despite his central role, Johnston has never talked with investigators probing Russian interference, let alone with the media. But to people dealing with the crisis, ‘He was indispensable,’ as a source close to the DNC put it,” BuzzFeed reported Wednesday.

“Johnston has managed to maintain a low profile for the last year and half, even as Washington has obsessed over Trump and Russia,” the report noted. “He hasn’t been in hiding, he said. Over a steak and Scotch at a DC restaurant, he said he just hadn’t talked about it for a simple reason: No one asked him to.”

Mr. Johnston served in the U.S. Marine Corps and as a captain within the U.S. Cyber Command before joining CrowdStrike shortly before the DNC contacted the company in April 2016, BuzzFeed reported. His military cybersquadron notably responded to a 2015 cyberattack affecting the Joint Chiefs of Staff subsequently traced to a Russian state-sponsored hacking group known by names including APT 29, The Dukes and Cozy Bear, and a year later he linked that same group to a campaign against the DNC, the report said.

The DNC hackers had fully compromised the organization’s computer systems and had been collecting intelligence in the form of internal emails, Mr. Johnston determined. Those messages and other data was ultimately published online by the antisecrecy group WikiLeaks as well as an internet persona and website traced to Moscow known as “Guccifer 2.0” and D.C. Leaks, respectively, exposing the inner workings of the Democratic Party and its presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, near the end of her White House campaign.

The Senate Intelligence Committee — one of at least three congressional panels investigating Russia’s role in the race — has conducted more than 100 interviews with witnesses relevant to their probe, its leaders said last month.

Russia has repeatedly denied interfering in the U.S. race.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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