Alfa Bank is a major Russian bank whose computer server activity is being investigated by the FBI
The bank has sent a legal letter to one of the computer scientists who exposed the activity
Alfa Bank has stepped up its fight against computer scientists who suggested the major Russian bank was in communication with the Trump Organization in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The bank has sent a letter to one of those computer scientists, L. Jean Camp of Indiana University, warning of potential legal action.
“Alfa Bank is exploring all available options to protect itself from malicious or tortious interference,” it said. “Those options include litigation.”
In recent months, Camp posted the bank’s leaked computer logs on her personal website. She has repeatedly said “this computer traffic should be investigated” by American law enforcement.
In its letter, the bank noted that she “disclosed certain computer data regarding Alfa Bank… and encouraged inquiries into supposed links to the Trump Organization.”
“Your activities continue to this day to promote an unwarranted investigation into Alfa Bank’s ‘communication’ with the Trump Organization,” the letter warned.
The letter from Alfa Bank’s law firm makes a forceful “request” that Camp “preserve all records” of her private correspondence about this issue. The bank is seeking copies of her emails with fellow computer scientists and journalists who reported on this topic. The letter does not name the media outlets that reported on Alfa Bank, but they include CNN, The New York Times and Slate.
CNN recently revealed that the potential link between Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization continues to be investigated by the FBI’s counterintelligence team, according to sources close to that investigation.
Last year, Camp was part of a small group of computer scientists who analyzed computer logs. Those records show that Alfa Bank looked up the internet address of a Trump Organization email server 2,820 times – more lookups than the Trump server received from any other source during a four-month period.
It’s unclear what was behind the activity. There are no signs that the computer servers actually communicated. But to Camp and others, it pointed to an intent to communicate at a time when the relationship between Russia and Trump aides was being scrutinized.
FBI Director James Comey confirmed this week that the bureau is investigating whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin last year, just as the Russian government was interfering with the American presidential election.
The leaked computer logs were obtained by someone who goes by the name of “Tea Leaves.” The logs were shared with a small band of computer scientists.
In its letter to Camp, Alfa Bank indicated that it is intensifying its search for the person who leaked these records. The bank demanded that she keep a copy of all her “communications between you and the anonymous cyber researcher identified… as ‘Tea Leaves.’”
Camp posted the letter to her public blog. She declined to comment to CNN. Camp has hired two attorneys known for defending hackers and advocating for electronic privacy. One is Marcia Hofmann, a former lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The other is Stanford Law School professor Mark Lemley. They declined to comment.
Alfa Bank has told CNN it suspects someone is trying to harm the bank’s reputation.
In a statement to CNN on Tuesday, the bank said: “We are trying to get to the bottom of the fabricated story that Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization have a link. The two do not and have never had such a connection. Professor Camp, like Alfa Bank, might be a victim of this deception as well. We are simply trying to find out the facts.”
Other computer scientists who have spoken publicly about this matter have not received letters from the bank, they told CNN.
Alfa Bank’s legal letter cites the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The bank could use that law to seek monetary damages from Tea Leaves, but not scientists like Camp who merely studied the data, explained New York technology attorney Jarno Vanto.