Bush family emails hacked; ‘can happen to anyone,’ experts say


HOUSTON — Members of the Bush family, including both former presidents, have apparently been hacked, and the Secret Service is investigating.

The revelation came after Bush family photos and excerpts of email exchanges were posted online Thursday by the Smoking Gun, which attributed them to a hacker known as “Guccifer.” Guccifer claimed on the website to be a veteran hacker already being sought by “the feds” for hacking hundreds of accounts.

“This is just another chapter in the game,” he wrote.

The website reported that at least six email accounts had been hacked, including the AOL account of Dorothy Bush Koch, sister of George W. Bush, as well as former first lady Barbara Bush’s brother and the elder Bush’s sister-in-law.

The hacked emails, sent between 2009 and 2012, apparently contained security codes and a list of family addresses, emails and cellphone numbers.

The leaked photos included intimate moments: a snapshot of George H.W. Bush that appeared to have been taken during his recent stay at a Houston hospital, a shot of George W. Bush posing with a cardboard cutout of himself wearing a beret, and paintings by the younger Bush of himself showering and in a bathtub.

According to the leaked emails, the elder Bush’s hospitalization prompted his son and other relatives to discuss funeral arrangements.

The Smoking Gun reported that, “The former president’s chief of staff wrote his children to inform them that ‘your dad’s funeral team is having an emergency meeting at 10 a.m. just to go through all the details.’ The Bush aide, Jean Becker, noted that this information ‘fell under the broadening category of things NOT TO TELL YOUR MOTHER.’ ”

The Smoking Gun also reported that George W. Bush wrote he was “thinking about eulogy” and “solicited stories that best illustrated their father’s sweet nature, favorite jokes, and acts of kindness. ‘Hopefully I’m jumping the gun,’ noted Bush.”

Secret Service spokesman George Oglivie told the Los Angeles Times that the agency was investigating, but would not confirm that Bush family emails had been hacked.

Jim McGrath, a Bush family spokesman in Houston, told the Los Angeles Times, “There’s a criminal investigation and that’s the extent of my knowledge. I know they’re looking into who might have done this.”

A spokeswoman for the FBI in Houston, where the elder Bush lives, referred questions to the Secret Service, refusing to confirm whether they are investigating a cyber security breach.

The Guccifer controversy is only the latest political hacking scandal.

Last year, a group of hackers known as the D33D Company hacked and released a list of user names and passwords for more than 450,000 email accounts, including more than 25,000 AOL accounts. It was not immediately clear whether the Bush family’s AOL accounts were among these.

In 2010, a college student in Tennessee, David Kernell, was convicted on federal charges of hacking then-vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s private email account weeks before the 2008 presidential election.

“Hacking has become a serious problem,” said U.S. Rep. Randy Weber, a Republican from the Houston area. “Unfortunately, there are those who mean ill will to decent, honest, hardworking Americans. My heart goes out to the Bush family over this invasion of their privacy. One of the things we first learned in Congress is that there are millions of attempts each year to hack into the federal government’s computers.”

Dr. Bhavani Thuraisingham, executive director of the Cyber Security Research and Education Center at the University of Texas at Dallas, said the attack shows how pervasive hacking has become.

“It is a lot easier. It’s getting so dangerous these days,” she said, particularly noting malware that can allow hackers to access personal information remotely. “By the time you find a problem, it’s already changed and attacked your email. … Anti-virus software cannot keep up with the changes. We have to be one step ahead of the hackers, and the hackers are also getting very smart.”

“It can happen to anyone, it’s not just the Bush family. This is all cyberspace — they are as vulnerable as you and me,” Thuraisingham told the Los Angeles Times. “They’re just a bigger target.”