Following President Obama’s order for a full report on “cyber attacks and foreign intervention into the 2016 election,” multiple sources are telling multiple publications that Russia used hacking as a tool to benefit the election of Donald Trump and harm his opponent, Hillary Clinton. A flurry of information has led to accusations of partisanship harming national security.
Yesterday, the Washington Post published a report that claims “the CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency.” Mostly using anonymous sources with knowledge of intelligence briefings, the Post says that Russia hacked the RNC in addition to the DNC but did not leak its information on Republicans because it wanted to aid Trump’s campaign.
From the report:
Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, according to U.S. officials. Those officials described the individuals as actors known to the intelligence community and part of a wider Russian operation to boost Trump and hurt Clinton’s chances.
“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favour one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators. “That’s the consensus view.”
Also from the report:
The CIA shared its latest assessment with key senators in a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill last week, in which agency officials cited a growing body of intelligence from multiple sources. Agency briefers told the senators it was now “quite clear” that electing Trump was Russia’s goal, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
There has not been a consensus among the 17 intelligence agencies that Russia was directly involved in hacking or manipulating the U.S. election due to some unanswered questions. One example cited is that there is no evidence that anyone at the Kremlin was directly instructing anyone to get the DNC hacks to Wikileaks.
Another bombshell in the Washington Post’s report is that President Obama wanted to be more vocal about Russia’s manipulations but feared that he would be perceived as trying to tilt the election in Clinton’s favour. His solution was to bring together a secret meeting with House and Senate leaders to discuss “a bipartisan statement urging state and local officials to take federal help in protecting their voting registration and balloting machines from Russian cyber-intrusions.”
From the Post:
The Democratic leaders in the room unanimously agreed on the need to take the threat seriously. Republicans, however, were divided, with at least two GOP lawmakers reluctant to accede to the White House requests.
According to several officials, McConnell raised doubts about the underlying intelligence and made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics.
Some of the Republicans in the briefing also seemed opposed to the idea of going public with such explosive allegations in the final stages of an election, a move that they argued would only rattle public confidence and play into Moscow’s hands.
Following the election, McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, was named by Trump as his nominee for transportation secretary.
Since last night’s report, more sources have chimed in and spoken with other outlets. “We now have high confidence that they [the Russians] hacked the D.N.C. and the R.N.C., and conspicuously released no documents [about the Republicans]” a senior administration official told the New York Times.
“That was a major clue to their intent,” another official to Reuters. “If all they wanted to do was discredit our political system, why publicise the failings of just one party, especially when you have a target like Trump?”
In general, this is what we have, many officials speaking anonymously about “clues to Russia’s intent.” While we don’t have a direct connection to the Russian government, the Times has a vague explanation as to who the intelligence community believes was behind the various hacks during the election:
Intelligence officials and private cybersecurity companies believe that the Democratic National Committee was hacked by two different Russian cyberunits. One, called “Cozy Bear” or “A.P.T. 29” by some Western security experts, is believed to have spent months inside the D.N.C. computer network, as well as other government and political institutions, but never made public any of the documents it took. (A.P.T. stands for “Advanced Persistent Threat,” which usually describes a sophisticated state-sponsored cyberintruder.)
The other, the G.R.U.-controlled unit known as “Fancy Bear,” or “A.P.T. 28,” is believed to have created two outlets on the internet, Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks, to make Democratic documents public. Many of the documents were also provided to WikiLeaks, which released them over many weeks before the Nov. 8 election.
For his part, Assange said that the “Russian government is not the source,” during an interview with English-language, state-controlled media outlet Russia Today in November.
Without more details or evidence, it’s hard to accept definitive assertions that Moscow directed cyber attacks, attempted to manipulate the election or if they had a preferred candidate. Even if they did, an official tells Reuters that “the intelligence analysts’ conclusion about Russia’s motives does not mean the intelligence community believes that Moscow’s efforts altered or significantly affected the outcome of the election.”
Some have speculated that Putin simply wants to sow discord and undermine confidence and trust in our elections or political processes. If that’s the case he’s certainly winning.
Every decision Trump makes will be questioned. People will ask themselves, inside and outside the United States, if Putin or someone else more clever than Trump is manipulating his decision-making. Americans will question whether the man who lost the popular vote by historic margins is a legitimate president. If Trump continues to hold a stake in his global business empire, everyone will be asking how his every move is enriching him. Likewise, foreign diplomats will ask themselves how they can enrich Trump to gain influence. Oh, and there’s still the whole electoral college backlash and disputed recount efforts to get through before an inauguration.
And the current administration seems to fear accusations of partisanship so much that they withhold important intelligence about cyber attacks coming from foreign governments. That’s enough to make you think there’s a need for greater transparency and it’s certainly enough to make it clear that we are not properly addressing cybersecurity.
For now, it’s just more partisan politics. The Trump transition team released a statement that completely dismisses the intelligence. It reads, “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.’” Haha, touché. Never trust the CIA! And maybe, never trust anything.
The only hope for any further clarity on this matter is that the Obama administration declassifies what they know. But if the administration’s actions so far are any indication, they’ll just ask us to trust them. [Washington Post, The New York Times, Reuters]