On Monday night, Slate’s Franklin Foer published a story that’s been circulating through the dark web and various newsrooms since summertime, an enormous, eyebrow-raising claim that Donald Trump uses a secret server to communicate with Russia. That claim resulted in an explosive night of Twitter confusion and misinformation.
The gist of the Slate article is dramatic — incredible, even: Cybersecurity researchers found that the Trump Organization used a secret box configured to communicate exclusively with Alfa Bank, Russia’s largest privately-held commercial bank. This is a story that any reporter in our election cycle would drool over, and drool Foer did:
The researchers quickly dismissed their initial fear that the logs represented a malware attack. The communication wasn’t the work of bots. The irregular pattern of server look-ups actually resembled the pattern of human conversation — conversations that began during office hours in New York and continued during office hours in Moscow. It dawned on the researchers that this wasn’t an attack, but a sustained relationship between a server registered to the Trump Organization and two servers registered to an entity called Alfa Bank.
These claims are based entirely on “DNS logs,” digital records of when one server looks up how to contact another across the internet. The logs, first gathered by an anonymous researcher going by the moniker “Tea Leaves” (an irony that should be lost on no one) and shared with a small group of academics, were provided to The Intercept and a handful of other news organizations. The New York Times, the Washington Post, Reuters, the Daily Beast, and Vice all examined these materials to at least some extent and did not publish the claims.