It wasn’t a strategic operation,” says Andrei Soldatov, a Russian journalist with deep sources in the security services, who writes about the Kremlin’s use of cybertechnology. “Given what everyone on the inside has told me,” he says, hacking the U.S. political system “was a very emotional, tactical decision. People were very upset about the Panama Papers.”
In the spring of 2016, an international consortium of journalists began publishing revelations from a vast trove of documents belonging to a Panamanian law firm that specialized in helping its wealthy foreign clients move money, some of it ill-gotten, out of their home countries and away from the prying eyes of tax collectors. (The firm has denied any wrongdoing.) The documents revealed that Putin’s old friend Sergei Roldugin, a cellist and the godfather to Putin’s elder daughter, had his name on funds worth some $2 billion. It was an implausible fortune for a little-known musician, and the journalists showed that these funds were likely a piggy bank for Putin’s inner circle. Roldugin has denied any wrongdoing, but the Kremlin was furious about the revelation. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, whose wife was also implicated, angrily ascribed the reporting to “many former State Department and CIA employees” and to an effort to “destabilize” Russia ahead of its September 2016 parliamentary elections.
The argument was cynical, but it revealed a certain logic: The financial privacy of Russia’s leaders was on par with the sovereignty of Russia’s elections. “The Panama Papers were a personal slight to Putin,” says John Sipher, a former deputy of the CIA’s Russia desk. “They think we did it.” Putin’s inner circle, Soldatov says, felt “they had to respond somehow.” According to Soldatov’s reporting, on April 8, 2016, Putin convened an urgent meeting of his national-security council; all but two of the eight people there were veterans of the KGB. Given the secrecy and timing of this meeting, Soldatov believes it was then that Putin gave the signal to retaliate.
The original aim was to embarrass and damage Hillary Clinton, to sow dissension, and to show that American democracy is just as corrupt as Russia’s, if not worse. “No one believed in Trump, not even a little bit,” Soldatov says. “It was a series of tactical operations. At each moment, the people who were doing this were filled with excitement over how well it was going, and that success pushed them to go even further.”Way more at the longread link.