A much-anticipated unclassified report from the United States “intelligence community” contains no additional concrete proof that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ordered hacking to influence the U.S. presidential election. Crucially, however, it declares “Russian actors” did not target or compromise any systems “involved in vote tallying.”
The report [PDF] was drafted by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the National Security Agency (NSA). It ascribes motives and makes several assertions about “Moscow’s intentions regarding U.S. elections and Moscow’s use of cyber tools and media campaigns to influence U.S. public opinion.”
“We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for President-elect [Donald] Trump,” according to the report.
The report claims with “high confidence” the General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate or GRU, which is Russian military intelligence, used the “Guccifer 2.0 persona and DCLeaks.com to release U.S. victim data.”
Material was allegedly provided to media outlets in the form of “exclusives,” as well as to WikiLeaks. The state-sponsored media operation, RT, is also given an stunningly immense amount of attention in the report, even though it is unclear what percentage of Americans consume this news source regularly.
However, the report does not distinguish between the different sets of documents published. There were documents from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta that were published by WikiLeaks. Emails from the Democratic National Committee were also published by WikiLeaks. There was opposition research files on Trump compiled by the DNC that were posted by Guccifer 2.0 and not WikiLeaks.
The report uses “estimative language” when making claims. Both the FBI and CIA are highly confident in the assessment, which means the judgments rely upon “high-quality information from multiple sources.” But that does not necessarily mean the contents of the report are fact or written with complete certainty. “Such judgments might be wrong.”
While specific reasons are not listed in the report, the NSA does not have “high confidence” in the report. The agency is moderately confident, which means the assessment is credibly sourced. The assessment is “plausible but not of sufficient quality to warrant a higher level of confidence.”
It is possible Russian intelligence operatives attacked U.S. officials and institutions, including political organizations like the DNC. Hacked material was possibly passed on to WikiLeaks. What is less clear is whether any other hackers or individuals provided material to WikiLeaks.
The report does not conclusively demonstrate that all the documents dumped came from the same alleged information operation targeted against the U.S. presidential election.
During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on January 5, Director for National Intelligence James Clapper said the “U.S. intelligence community can’t gauge the impact [disclosures] had on the choices the electorate made.”
One of the few conclusions that can be drawn from the report is that U.S. intelligence agencies are terribly worried the U.S. is losing a propaganda war to Russia. While RT cannot match CNN when it comes to Facebook and Twitter, RT has a huge YouTube following. That deeply concerns the CIA, FBI, and NSA.
This report is as much an act of retaliation as it is a publication of the alleged truth of what happened. U.S. intelligence would clearly like nothing more than to see RT America, as well as RT, shut down or wholly discredited. Of course, the only problem is the U.S. has its own state-sponsored media operations and recognizes the values of making inroads into regions, where it can spread propaganda about the United States.
In the report, the CIA, FBI, and NSA hearken back to the days of the Cold War, noting that Russian intelligence agencies have a history of targeting U.S. elections for “foreign intelligence collection. It states Russian and Soviet intelligence services have “sought to collect insider information from U.S. political parties that could help Russian leaders understand a new U.S. administration’s plans and priorities.”
There is understandably no information about the ways in which the U.S. has countered or responded to these operations in the past. That is probably why there are very few specifics—to conceal sources and methods. And it is not necessarily being done to protect lives but to ensure that Russia is able to uncover as little information as possible about how the U.S. is conducting espionage against their government.
There is no evidence of Russia hacking the election. There is no Russian hacking of the election. There is plausible assessments that Russian operatives targeted institutions and individuals and were lucky enough to break through and obtain documents, which could be released to do damage.
A poll taken by YouGov/The Economist in December found 52 percent of Democrats thought it was “true” “Russia tampered with vote tallies in order to get Donald Trump elected President.” That is largely a result of the reckless manner in which U.S. media outlets reported on these allegations.
Since October, very few reports have contained warranted skepticism, and after this unclassified report, one can be certain there will be even less skepticism when publishing claims about what Russia did or did not do.
What is most incredible is how the allegations of Russian hacking make it possible for the Democratic Party to avoid the reality that Hillary Clinton ran a poor campaign against Trump.
The hubris of the Clinton campaign helped elect Trump president. The Clinton campaign wanted to run against Trump. They thought he would be an easy opponent to defeat.
There is no evidence that Putin’s alleged elevation of Trump had any meaningful impact on the Clinton’s campaign ability to challenge Trump. The campaign flat out underestimated Trump, and that is why he is the next President of the United States and not Hillary Clinton.