Secret service, fbi invesigating claim that mitt romney's tax returns were stolen (2)


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Secret service, fbi invesigating claim that mitt romney's tax returns were stolen (2)

  1. 1. Secret Service, FBI invesigating claim that Mitt Romneys tax returns were... Secret Service, FBI invesigating claim that Mitt Romneys tax returns were stolen Published: Friday, September 07, 2012, 7:30 AM The Associated Press By WASHINGTON — Assuming its not a hoax, the purported theft of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romneys tax returns has all the trappings of a high-tech whodunit: a politically themed burglary, a $1 million demand in hard-to-trace Internet currency, password-protected data and a threat to reveal everything in three more weeks. But can it be believed? The Secret Service and FBI were investigating the case Thursday after someone claimed to have burglarized a PricewaterhouseCoopers accounting John OBoyle/The Star-Ledger office in Franklin, Tenn., and stole two decades Mitt Romney, worth an estimated $250 million, could be facing a theft situation as the FBI and Secret Service investigate a claim. worth of Romneys tax returns. The claimed theft, made in an anonymous letter sent to the accounting firm and political offices in Tennessee, has surfaced a critical moment during the 2012 presidential campaign amid the Republican and Democratic conventions. The ransom target in the case — Romneys tax returns — was carefully selected: Romney, worth an estimated $250 million, has steadfastly declined to make public more than one years tax returns so far, and Democrats have sought to portray him as so wealthy he is out of touch with middle class voters. Authorities are studying computer thumb drives that were delivered with an unusual demand: a $1 million payment in "Bitcoin" Internet currency. The letter said the tax returns delivered on the thumb drives were encrypted, and more copies would be sent to "all major news media outlets." It promised to reveal the password to unlock the tax returns on Sept. 28 if payment is not made. PricewaterhouseCoopers has said there was no evidence that anything was stolen. The alleged culprit suggested an insider helped in the burglary and theft from the firms network file servers, knowingly or unwittingly: "We are sure that once you figure out where the security breach was, some people will probably get fired, but that is not our concern," the letter said. The plot in this mystery has enough holes that it could be an elaborate hoax. But it comes at a critical moment during1 of 3 10/27/2012 4:59 PM
  2. 2. Secret Service, FBI invesigating claim that Mitt Romneys tax returns were... the 2012 presidential campaign. In its broadest outlines, the case might be compared to Watergate, the 1972 political break-in that led to President Richard Nixons resignation. But unlike Watergate, which started with the arrest of bungling burglars traced to Republicans, the Tennessee case is a baffling mystery so far, without any clear suspects. There is no evidence Democrats were involved. STAY CONNECTED "I looked at the letter and thought, Who on earth thinks were 24/7 Download our free gullible enough to fall for this?" said Peter Burr, chairman of the mobile and tablet apps to keep up with the Williamson County Democratic Party, which received one of the latest New Jersey news, thumb drives and a copy of the extortion letter last week. He sports and entertainment. kept the letter and data device, growing curious about them as days passed. He rightly feared the thumb drive might be infected with a computer virus. "I had reached the point of seriously considering putting it in an old computer we have here in the office where we werent worried if the hard drive got trashed or not," Burr said. "But by then we had received recommendations from our attorneys and word from the Secret Service. So we didnt look at it." It was unclear even among experts whether the purported theft might be a hoax. The alleged culprit so far has provided no evidence that Romneys tax returns actually were stolen, such as a scan of a partial page from one of the documents. But for seasoned and committed hackers such a theft was described as entirely plausible, especially for someone who could gain physical access to a companys keyboards. "So far, theres just zero proof. Its like every bad Hollywood plot, which makes me think this is fishy," said Marc Maiffret, chief technology officer for BeyondTrust Software Inc. of Carlsbad, Calif. "But any competent hacker, any good penetration-tester, if they wanted to get Mitt Romneys tax returns, it wouldnt be that hard to do. These breaches are absolutely possible. If you can sit at the computer it would take two minutes to bypass the log-in information." "The only time youre going to hold something over someones head is if theyre trying to keep stuff secret," Maiffret said. A former FBI cyber-crime expert, Michael J. Gibbons, said the unusual ransom demand sounded similar to popular email fraud scams. "This sounds more like a Nigerian letter scam than an organized hacking attempt," said Gibbons, former chief of FBI computer crimes investigations and now a managing director at Alvarez & Marsal in Washington. "It doesnt pass the smell test." There was no sign a thumb drive had been delivered to the Associated Press. A spokeswoman for the New York Times, Eileen Murphy, said the newspaper had not received one, either. The Wall Street Journal declined to comment. Politicians previously have found themselves targets in burglaries, thefts and hacking. Candidates and political parties2 of 3 10/27/2012 4:59 PM
  3. 3. Secret Service, FBI invesigating claim that Mitt Romneys tax returns were... have reported dozens of break-ins across the U.S. In 2007, for example, Barack Obamas Iowa field office reported a burglary that netted two laptop computers and campaign literature. The next year, a University of Tennessee student was arrested for hacking into Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palins personal email account. He was later convicted of obstruction of justice and unauthorized access to a computer. He served an 11-month prison sentence. The demand in the latest case for $1 million in Bitcoin currency would complicate efforts to trace any payments over the Internet, but U.S. authorities have successfully uncovered such trails in other cases. "Its definitely harder than normal to uncover someones financial identity," Maiffret said. "But our government, we find a lot of bad guys in the world in cyber-crime and terrorism cases by following the money trails." Gibbons agreed: "Its an ineffective cloak of anonymity," he said. Even if the latest case were a hoax, hackers have been alerted to intense public interest in Romneys personal finances. "Youve got every hacker in the world thinking, Wouldnt that be awesome to do?" Maiffret said. "I have a feeling this is going to be a hoax, but youre going to have copycats who are going to try to do this." While the extortionists demand for $1 million appears to preclude political motivations, a prosecutor in the original Watergate burglary said motives arent always apparent. "In the Watergate case, it wasnt clear at the outset what the motivation was," said Earl J. Silbert, a former U.S attorney in the case. "Even today there are differences of opinion over what was behind it." Related coverage: • Mitt Romney accepts Republican nomination with a declaration: America needs jobs, lots of jobs • Mitt Romney says hes paid adequate taxes but wont release records3 of 3 10/27/2012 4:59 PM
  4. 4. Group claiming to have Romney tax records threatens to leak them - By Josh Levs , CNN updated 4:45 PM EDT, Thu September 6, 2012 What did voters think of Romney at RNC? (CNN) -- An anonymous group says it stole copies of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romneys tax records and will release them unless the company it stole them from pays $1 million. The Secret Service said it is investigating, and the company said there is no immediate sign that any such theft took place. "Using your office" in Franklin, Tennessee, the group tells PricewaterhouseCoopers in an online posting, "we were able to gain access to your network file servers and copy over the tax documents for one Willard M Romney and Ann D Romney." It threatens to send encrypted copies to "all major news outlets" and warns, "If the parties interested do not want the encrypted key released to the public to unlock these documents on September 28 of this year then payment will be necessary." If the money is not received, "the entire world will be allowed to view the documents with a publicly released key to unlock Romney and GOP under attack at DNC Worker: Romney wont create jobs everything," the group warns. The group demands $1 million worth of the online currency Bitcoins. It also says that people who want the documents released can send money as well, and whichever side sends $1 million first will win. Bitcoin is a digital currency not overseen by any government or bank. Various merchants accept the currency for goods and services. PricewaterhouseCoopers, which offers tax services as well as auditing and more, tweeted that it is "working with the Secret Service. At this time, there is no evidence of unauthorized access to our data." The anonymous postings say that flash drive copies of the stolen material have been sent to the company, as well as to the county Democratic and Republican offices, and that a scanned image of Romneys signature from the forms was included. Jean Barwick with the Williamson County, Tennessee, Republican Party told CNN that her office found the package -- a padded envelope -- on Friday outside the door to the party offices. The package "didnt seem credible," partly because it said "for learders" instead of "leaders," she said. Inside were a letter -- one that has been posted online -- and a flash drive.Page 1 of 3 27/10/2012 14:59 PM
  5. 5. "I didnt put that in any of our computers," and no one has looked at the contents, she said. "I put it in the drawer." She called state party officials, who were in Tampa, Florida, at the Republican National Convention at the time, she said. Her office later reported the package to local police, and the Secret Service picked it up Wednesday, she said. County Democratic Party Chairman Peter Burr also told CNN the package arrived last week, and the Secret Service came Wednesday to collect it. "We did not view it," Burr said. He added that he considered looking at it, and the party attorney "advised us not to." "We wouldnt have been interested to use it even if it was" real, he said. The package was dropped through the mail slot to the party office, Burr said. It had been hand-addressed with a blue highlighter. The state party advised the office to turn it over to the Secret Service, Burr said. He said he thinks it was a scam. In an online posting, the group said the alleged theft took place on August 25. The Franklin Police Department did not respond to any calls at the building containing the PricewaterhouseCoopers office in August and did not take a report from any tenants of the building during the month either, a police spokesman said Thursday. On Wednesday, it responded to the Republican Party office, and "due to the nature of the call, we contacted the Secret Service who met with our officers at the scene and assumed responsibility for the investigation," Lt. Charles Warner said. Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg directed questions to PricewaterhouseCoopers. Chris Atkins, a spokesman for the firm, said the company does not share information on how long it has done taxes for any client. Atkins added that he has no idea why the Franklin office would be named in the claims. The company has more than 80 offices around the country and theres nothing unique about the one in Franklin, he said. While the postings, on the website, refer to "a team" involved in the alleged break-in, one ends with a line stating that certain "considerations did not deter me from the path of duty" and a reference to "the will of my Heavenly Father." The postings go into detail about how the alleged theft was carried out. The group says it obtained "all available 1040 tax forms for Romney," including some from before 2010, but it does not say which years. Romney has released his 2010 and 2011 tax returns, and has said he will not release others. The issue has been a source of controversy on the campaign trail.Page 2 of 3 27/10/2012 14:59 PM
  6. 6. Pastebin allows users to paste text anonymously for a period of time. The company explains on its website that it was created to help programmers, and anything not related to that "which results in unusually high traffic will be flagged for investigation. Your paste may be deleted and your IP blocked. In particular, please do not paste email lists, password lists or personal information." The company did not immediately respond to an e-mail from CNN asking whether it plans to remove the posts. The site logs files of users Internet protocol addresses and service providers, along with some other information, the website explains. But the data is "not linked to any information that is personally identifiable." Many hackers take numerous steps to protect anonymity, making it difficult to track them down. Jeff Garzik, listed on the Bitcoin website as part of its development team, told CNN the "consensus among the Bitcoin chattering class appears to be that this is a hoax." He cited an online forum in which many users express that view. The currency is traceable, even if users go by pseudonyms, Garzik said. Every transaction is stored in a "block chain," which he compares to "a public ledger." "It seems unlikely that thieves would make so public a heist, with law enforcement so likely to watch the block chain and associated Bitcoin exchanges," he said.Page 3 of 3 27/10/2012 14:59 PM