Cyber-attacks are now common. As a result, governments have developed defensive capabilities. Holland’s General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) is chiefly concerned with domestic political and security issues, but it does maintain a cyber-defense section. In 2014, this section of AIVD found a way to tap the communications and activities of one group of hackers linked to Russian intelligence. The group is nick-named “Cozy Bear.” The access allowed the Dutch a continuing view of “Cozy Bear” activities.
As a NATO member, AIVD would naturally share information with its allies, particularly the United States. American partners would include the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The cyber-attacks by “Cozy Bear” included ones against the State Department and the White House (begun in 2014), the Pentagon (2015), and the Democratic National Committee (2016).
At some point, AIVD provided the Americans with a document stolen from “Cozy Bear.” The document analyzed a purported e-mail exchange between Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL and then the Chair of the Democratic National Committee) and Leonard Benado, a vice president of the Open Society Institute. The document referred to the then-ongoing FBI investigation, begun in Summer 2015, into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server during her time as Secretary of State.
In the message being analyzed by the Russians, Schultz told Benado that Attorney General Loretta Lynch would make sure that no criminal charges would be filed against Clinton in the server investigation.
“Is it live or is it Memorex?” Is the Russian document real or is it disinformation? The Dutch kept the interception operation going because it provided valuable continuing intelligence. This supposed that the Russians would not become aware of the interception at some point. If they did become aware, then they would have a choice between closing the security breach or using it as a conduit to funnel false information to Western intelligence.
Wasserman Schultz and Benado have denied ever having had the e-mail exchange. Reportedly, American officials didn’t believe that Attorney General Lynch would interfere in the investigation. However, in late June 2016, it was reported that Lynch had met privately with former President Bill Clinton at the Phoenix airport.
FBI Director James Comey reportedly believed that the Russians would release the “document”—whether real or false—if Lynch played any role in clearing Clinton. So, in July 2016, he acted on his own initiative.
News of the document first became public in an April 2017 article in the New York Times. A May 2017 article in the Washington Post elaborated on the story. Now the Justice Department is probing the leaks to the Times and the Post. Was the Dutch operation still producing intelligence at that time or had it been closed down?
 Adam Goldman, “A Leak Inquiry May Put Focus Back on Comey,” NYT, 17 January 2020.