Highlights: Newsweek's Special Election Project

The computer systems of both the Obama and McCain campaigns were victims of a sophisticated cyberattack by an unknown "foreign entity," prompting a federal investigation, NEWSWEEK reports today.

 At the Obama headquarters in midsummer, technology experts detected what they initially thought was a computer virus—a case of "phishing," a form of hacking often employed to steal passwords or credit-card numbers. But by the next day, both the FBI and the Secret Service came to the campaign with an ominous warning: "You have a problem way bigger than what you understand," an agent told Obama's team. "You have been compromised, and a serious amount of files have been loaded off your system." The following day, Obama campaign chief David Plouffe heard from White House chief of staff Josh Bolten, to the same effect: "You have a real problem ... and you have to deal with it." The Feds told Obama's aides in late August that the McCain campaign's computer system had been similarly compromised. A top McCain official confirmed to NEWSWEEK that the campaign's computer system had been hacked and that the FBI had become involved.

 Officials at the FBI and the White House told the Obama campaign that they believed a foreign entity or organization sought to gather information on the evolution of both camps' policy positions—information that might be useful in negotiations with a future administration. The Feds assured the Obama team that it had not been hacked by its political opponents. (Obama technical experts later speculated that the hackers were Russian or Chinese.) A security firm retained by the Obama campaign took steps to secure its computer system and end the intrusion. White House and FBI officials had no comment earlier this week.

 NEWSWEEK has also learned that Palin's shopping spree at high-end department stores was more extensive than previously reported. While publicly supporting Palin, McCain's top advisers privately fumed at what they regarded as her outrageous profligacy. One senior aide said that Nicolle Wallace had told Palin to buy three suits for the convention and hire a stylist. But instead, the vice presidential nominee began buying for herself and her family—clothes and accessories from top stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. According to two knowledgeable sources, a vast majority of the clothes were bought by a wealthy donor, who was shocked when he got the bill. Palin also used low-level staffers to buy some of the clothes on their credit cards. The McCain campaign found out last week when the aides sought reimbursement. One aide estimated that she spent "tens of thousands" more than the reported $150,000, and that $20,000 to $40,000 went to buy clothes for her husband. Some articles of clothing have apparently been lost. An angry aide characterized the shopping spree as "Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast," and said the truth will eventually come out when the Republican Party audits its books.

A Palin aide said: "Governor Palin was not directing staffers to put anything on their personal credit cards, and anything that staffers put on their credit cards has been reimbursed, like an expense. Nasty and false accusations following a defeat say more about the person who made them than they do about Governor Palin."

McCain himself rarely spoke to Palin during the campaign, and aides kept him in the dark about the details of her spending on clothes because they were sure he would be offended. Palin asked to speak along with McCain at his Arizona concession speech Tuesday night, but campaign strategist Steve Schmidt vetoed the request.

The disclosures are among many revealed in "How He Did It, 2008," the latest installment in NEWSWEEK's Special Election Project, which was first published in 1984. As in the previous editions, "How He Did It, 2008" is an inside, behind-the-scenes account of the presidential election produced by a special team of reporters working for more than a year on an embargoed basis and detached from the weekly magazine and Newsweek.com. Everything the project team learns is kept confidential until the day after the polls close.

 Among the other revelations from the special project:

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