Neustar exec fingered in Trump’s Russian “collusion” probe | Domain Incite
A senior former Neustar executive has been outed as a participant in 2016 research that sought to establish nefarious links between then US presidential candidate Donald Trump and the Russian government.
According to a US federal indictment last month, former Neustar senior VP and head of security Rodney Joffe and others used DNS query data collected by the company to help create a “narrative” that Trump’s people had been covertly communicating with Kremlin-connected Alfa Bank.
The indictment claims that they did so despite privately expressing skepticism that the data was conclusive in establishing such ties.
Joffe did this work while under the impression he would be offered a top cybersecurity job in Hilary Clinton’s administration, had she won the 2016 general election, the indictment claims.
Joffe has not been accused of any illegality or wrongdoing — he’s not even named in the indictment — and his lawyer has told the New York Times that the indictment gives an “incomplete and misleading” version of events.
The indictment was returned by a federal grand jury on September 16 against Washington DC lawyer Michael Sussmann, as a result of Special Counsel John Durham’s investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia “collusion” probe, which ultimately found insufficient evidence of illegality by the former president.
Sussman is charged with lying to the FBI when, in September 2016, he showed up with a bunch of evidence suggesting a connection between Trump and Alfa Bank and claimed to not be working on behalf of any particular client.
In fact, the indictment alleges, he was working on behalf of the Clinton campaign and Joffe, both of whom had retained his services. Lying to the FBI is a crime in the US.
The indictment refers to Joffe as “Technology Executive 1”, but his identity has been confirmed by the NYT and others.
Sussman’s evidence in part comprised DNS data supplied by Joffe and analyzed by himself and other researchers, showing traffic between the domain mail1.trump-email.com and the Russian bank.
At the time, Neustar was a leading provider of domain registry services, but also a significant player in DNS resolution services, giving it access to huge amounts of data about domain queries.
“Tech Executive-1 [Joffe] used his access at multiple organizations to gather and mine public and non-public Internet data regarding Trump and his associates, with the goal of creating a ‘narrative’ regarding the candidate’s ties to Russia,” the indictment claims.
According to the indictment, Joffe had been offered a job in the Clinton administration. He allegedly wrote, shortly after the November 2016 election: “I was tentatively offered the top [cybersecurity] job by the Democrats when it looked like they’d win. I definitely would not take the job under Trump.”
The researchers — which also included employees of the Georgia Institute of Technology, Fusion GPS, and Zetalytics, according to the NYT — sought to create a case for a connection between Trump and the Russian government while privately expressing doubts that their conclusions would stand up to third-party scrutiny, the indictment claims.
The suspicions were briefed to the media by Sussman and the Clinton campaign, the indictment says, and widely reported prior to the election.
When the FBI investigated the alleged links, it concluded the suspicious traffic was benign and caused by the activities of a third-party marketing firm, according to reports.
As I said, it is not alleged that Joffe broke the law, and his people say the indictment is, as you might expect from an indictment, one-sided.
Still, it’s a very interesting, and possibly worrying, insight into how companies like Neustar and their employees are able to leverage DNS resolution data for their own private purposes.
The full indictment, which uses pseudonyms for most of the people said to be involved in the research, can be read here (pdf). The New York Times story, which reveals many of these identities, can be read here (paywall).
While Neustar’s registry business was acquired last year by GoDaddy, it appears that Joffe did not make the move and instead stayed with Neustar. His LinkedIn profile showed he “retired” at some point in the last few weeks, after 15 years with the company.