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Rachel Maddow Looks Into The Mystery Of The Alfa Bank Server

A team of computer scientists sifted through records of unusual Web traffic in search of answers.
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Franklin Foer wrote about the Alfa Bank server story two years ago. It was a fascinating piece, and promptly ridiculed by the In Crowd.

Now, Dexter Filkins advances the story in the New Yorker, and you really should read it. It's fascinating. (For one thing, we learn how the New York Times' Dean Baquet screwed up again.)

Maddow had him on as a guest last night.

"The title of the piece is "Was There A Connection Between A Russian Bank And The Trump Campaign?", a new 7,000-word exploration of the Alfa Bank server mystery in terms of Alfa Bank's apparent computer administrations or with the Trump organization durl campaign," Maddow said.

"It's written by the New Yorker's Dexter Filkins. Quote, 'Alfa Bank's computers were looking at the address of the Trump Server nearly every day. There were dozens of lookups on some days and far fewer than others. But the total was notable. Alfa looked up the Trump organization more 2,000 times. 'It was like watching an airplane fly by,' Max, a computer scientist, said. 'And we thought, why is a Russian bank communicating with a server that belongs to the Trump organization and at such a rate?'

"I read that story on October 31st, 2016, and I was super intrigued by it," Filkins said.

"And I thought, like you, you could see a little bit, but not a lot. and then it went away. I mean, the story just kind of vanished and nobody picked it up. And it just -- I was kind of haunted by that story. and then what happened was after the election, a couple of Democratic senators got the computer, got to the computer scientist and then brought him together with an investigator who was mentioned in my piece, Dan Jones, and said, 'Can you guys get some computer scientists together and take some time and look at this again and see if you can reach any conclusions?' And they did, and ultimately that came to me. So I got to take a look at some of those -- I got to talk to the scientists who looked at the data. They wrote up a report. I have the report. So i was able to kind of -- it took a long time, but i was able to kind of do a deep dive into this very vexing question."


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"One of the things I found very helpful, we are blessed as a country to have journalists as talented as you and Franklin Foer writing about this because it's a difficult storytelling ability around a story like, this is very important because it's hard to get at the core of it unless you're great with words," Maddow said.

"That said, for me, the ah-ha moment in your reporting was some of the stuff about the New York Times and what they chose to publish and not publish before the election, but also what you explained about what this might have been. You go through a lot of the scenarios about some of the innocuous explanations for what this could have been."

"What the computer scientists that I talked to said was, this isn't the way you would do this. This isn't very sophisticated. We think this was an ad hoc system, something they used before and thought you know what? Let's just communicate that way. This is just a theory. and so they tried to imagine what was actually happening, because it wasn't any of the things you just mentioned. It wasn't spam. It wasn't malware. It wasn't e-mail. So what was it?

"They thought for instance maybe it was something called foldering, when you type a draft and you don't send it, and then somebody else can sign on, read the draft, write another draft, you can read that," he said.

"So the e-mail never goes anywhere?" Maddow asked.

"It never goes, exactly. There is a DNS lookup, and it's logged and that's of course the records we had. I thought maybe that there is something -- there is something called web mail, that if you're on the same server, there wouldn't be an e-mail record of that, but they could actually be e-mailing each other."

Ah, but there's more:

And Benczkowski says he will not recuse himself from the Mueller investigation. Hmm...

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