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Regarding the Sanders Data Breach


Although it happened a few days ago and has already reached a sort of resolution, the data breach publicized late last week in which staffers for Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders accessed confidential voter data for Hillary Clinton’s campaign has suffered from some dishonest, erroneous, and just plain bad reporting.

The best source I’ve found that gives a solid rundown is from Bloomberg:

The database logs created by NGP VAN show that four accounts associated with the Sanders team took advantage of the Wednesday morning breach. Staffers conducted searches that would be especially advantageous to the campaign, including lists of its likeliest supporters in 10 early voting states, including Iowa and New Hampshire. Campaigns rent access to a master file of DNC voter information from the party, and update the files with their own data culled from field work and other investments. After one Sanders account gained access to the Clinton data, the audits show, that user began sharing permissions with other Sanders users. The staffers who secured access to the Clinton data included Uretsky and his deputy, Russell Drapkin. The two other usernames that viewed Clinton information were “talani" and "csmith_bernie," created by Uretsky's account after the breach began. The logs show that the Vermont senator’s team created at least 24 lists during the 40-minute breach, which started at 10:40 a.m., and saved those lists to their personal folders. The Sanders searches included New Hampshire lists related to likely voters, "HFA Turnout 60-100" and "HFA Support 50-100," that were conducted and saved by Uretsky. Drapkin's account searched for and saved lists including less likely Clinton voters, "HFA Support <30" in Iowa, and "HFA Turnout 30-70"' in New Hampshire.

This is the most relevant set of details in terms of motives and what actually occurred. Almost immediately after the story become public–and quickly went national–a narrative developed of the DNC viciously crushing the Sanders campaign, ostensibly as a favor to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Stories like this one:

As chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Debbie Wasserman Schultz has spent the last 8 months using her position to put a lid on Bernie Sanders’ momentum. And after what was arguably the biggest week of the Sanders campaign, she may have finally succeeded. Late Thursday night, the DNC took the drastic step of [cutting off the Sanders campaign’s access]( to its comprehensive 50-state voter file that lists voter patterns and preferences, effectively shutting down the campaign’s voter outreach operations just over a month before the critical Iowa caucus and a little over 50 days before the New Hampshire primary. The punishment came about as the result of a 30-minute glitch in NGP VAN — the vendor that handles the DNC’s voter data — in which internal models for each Democratic presidential campaign were briefly available to other competing campaigns while NGP VAN was applying a patch to the software. Michael Briggs, a communications aide for the Sanders campaign, said this isn’t the first time they’ve reported security bugs in the DNC’s voter file.

And this one, from Robert Reich:

Progressives are justifiably outraged at what appears to be a power play by the Democratic establishment. Over just the past couple of hours, more than 50,000 DFA members have signed on to stand with Bernie Sanders against it. [Every moment that the Sanders campaign is blocked from using its own voter file data hurts his campaign deeply. We need to build momentum NOW: Will you share Democracy for America's petition telling the DNC to restore Bernie's access to the voter file on Facebook now?]( It seems like the DNC is doing all it can to blunt the momentum of Bernie's campaign -- just 24 hours after it received major endorsements from DFA and the Communication Workers of America. First, the DNC refused to schedule an appropriate number of debates -- and hid the ones they did schedule by setting them up near holidays or on weekend nights. Now, in a huge overreaction to a situation involving a security glitch by a data vendor, the DNC has completely removed the Sanders campaign's access to its very own voter file data -- and they won't say when or if they will give it back. Not having access to this data for the upcoming primary process in 2016 would seriously cripple the Sanders campaign. This is unacceptable.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Sanders (and Reich, for that matter!), and it’s hardly a secret that DNC chair Wasserman Schultz is doing what she can to secure a Clinton victory in the primaries. Unfortunately, so much reporting took on the character of the DNC going out of their way to hurt the Sanders campaign over an innocent mistake that it is easy to believe that’s what really happened, when in fact Sanders staffers knowingly and deliberately tried to gather valuable strategic information on the opposition in key primary states. I have no suspicions at all that Sanders himself was involved–it’s not his style, and he doesn’t fight dirty. But evidently some of his staffers, even as high up as his national data director, are willing to do whatever it takes to secure a win.

In any event, access was swiftly restored with no permanent harm done to the campaign on that front. Sanders himself unequivocally apologized during Saturday night’s debate, and Clinton appeared to accept.

Taking the pulse of his supporters on Reddit, however, it’s clear they’ve bought into the narrative that Sanders was treated unfairly–even set up–by a “corrupt” DNC, in order to destroy his campaign. The truth of the matter is considerably more nuanced, but Sanders seemed sincere in his apology, rather than resentful of the DNC for responding so swiftly and harshly. His fans could learn a thing or two about graciousness and conciliation from Sanders himself.

Photo by DonkeyHotey