A declassified intelligence report blames Vladimir Putin and the Russian government for pre-election hacking in an effort to undermine Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump.
The report, ordered by President Obama and released on Friday, concludes that Putin and the Russian government "aspired to help President-elect Trump's election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgment. CIA and FBI have a high confidence in this judgment; NSA has moderate confidence."
Trump was briefed on the report on Friday afternoon. He had publicly questioned the veracity of the intelligence community's conclusions and even characterized it as a "political witch hunt." He also called for a congressional investigation into the leak of the report to NBC News before he had a chance to see it.
But after the meeting, he released a statement saying, "While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines. There were attempts to hack the Republican National Committee, but the RNC had strong hacking defenses and the hackers were unsuccessful."
The report concludes that Putin "ordered an influence campaign in 2016" aimed at the presidential election, and that the goals were to "undermine" the "faith in the democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency." It said that Putin had as "clear preference for President-elect Trump."
"Moscow's approach evolved over the course of the campaign based on Russia's understanding of the electoral prospects of the two main candidates," the report stated. "When it appeared to Moscow that Secretary Clinton was likely to win the election, the Russian influence campaign began to focus more on undermining her future presidency."
The report confirms information that has leaked in the media in recent weeks. Trump and some members of his team have raised doubts about the information -- Trump even cited the opinion of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. He has denied that Russia was the source of the hacked emails, including those from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, which WikiLeaks posted on its website throughout the month of October.
The intelligence report, though, says that Russia's messaging strategy was not just in the form of cyber activity, but "overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or 'trolls.'"
"We assess with high confidence that Russian military intelligence (General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate or GRU) used the Guccifer 2.0 persona and DCLeaks.com to release U.S. victim data obtained in cyber operations publicly and in exclusives to media outlets and relayed material to WikiLeaks," the report stated.
The intelligence agencies said that they "express with high confidence" that the Russians relayed material it acquired in the hacking to WikiLeaks. "Moscow most likely chose WikiLeaks because of its self-proclaimed reputation for authenticity," the report concluded.
It noted that Kremlin broadcast outlet RT had "actively collaborated with WikiLeaks," as they had established a partnership and RT's editor-in-chief visited Assange at the Ecuadoran embassy in London in August, 2013.jjj
Although Russian intelligence "obtained and maintained access" to multiple state and local electoral boards, the Department of Homeland Security concluded that the types of systems that were targeted were not involved in vote tallying.
The report says that Putin "most likely" wanted to discredit Clinton because he publicly blamed her since 2011 for inciting mass protests against his regime, "and because he holds a grudge for comments he almost certainly saw a disparaging him."
© 2023 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.