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Russia probe: Putin hints at role of private hackers, Nigel Farage emerges as ‘person of interest’

Putin insisted the Russian government had nothing to do with hacking, also saying that he didn’t think hackers can influence elections anywhere in the world.

world Updated: Jun 01, 2017 22:24 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
President Vladimir Putin,Donald Trump,British politician Nigel Farage
Vladimir Putin speaks at a meeting with heads of international news agencies in St Petersburg.(AP)

After having denied any Russian interference in the 2016 US elections, President Vladimir Putin on Thursday hinted the involvement of “patriotic minded” private hackers from his country, but insisted his government had no role in it.

Putin’s admission about the possibility of the involvement of private hackers marks a significant shift from his earlier position of categorically denying any Russian role in the interference, and dismissing allegations of it as anti-Russia hysteria.

The Russian president said at a meeting with editors in St Petersburg that free-spirited hackers are like artists and they target whoever they like. “If they are patriotically minded, they start making their contributions — which are right, from their point of view — to the fight against those who say bad things about Russia,” he said.

But, one, he insisted the Russian government had nothing to do with the hacking — “we don’t engage in that at the state level” — and, two, he didn’t think hackers can influence elections anywhere in the world.

US intelligence has accused Russia of hacking computer networks of the Democratic National Committee and passing stolen data to WikiLeaks in an operation authorised by Putin to harm Hillary Clinton and help Trump win the race to the White House.

These and other related allegations are under multiple investigations in the United States — by the FBI, both chambers of Congress and the Pentagon — all of which are focussed on members of Trump’s campaign team, some of whom are now serving in the administration.

In a related move fraught with more trouble for the Donald Trump White House, US Senate officials have said former FBI chief James Comey will publicly testify next week on his conversations with the president about the Russia probe.

Meanwhile, The Guardian reported British politician Nigel Farage has emerged as a “person of interest” in the Russia probe for his links to people at the heart of it, such as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and some Trump campaign aides.

The Guardian was told by a source: “One of the things the intelligence investigators have been looking at is points of contact and persons involved … If you triangulate Russia, WikiLeaks, Assange and Trump associates, the person who comes up with the most hits is Nigel Farage. He’s right in the middle of these relationships. He turns up over and over again. There’s a lot of attention being paid to him.”

Farage is not accused of any wrongdoing and is not target or a suspect, the publication said, but as a person of interest he might be in possession of information or evidence to shed more light on the investigation.

First Published: Jun 01, 2017 20:56 IST