Washington: The US intelligence community in a new declassified file today accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering an “influence campaign” to help Donald Trump win the White House and denigrate his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in a bid to undermine public faith in the American democratic process.
US President-elect Donald Trump was quick to refute the conclusion, saying hacking did not impact the November 8 presidential polls outcome.
“We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election,” the Director of National Intelligence said in a report.
The 31-page report alleges that Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and harm her electability and potential presidency.
“We further assess Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgements,” the US intelligence community said in the which was submitted to outgoing US President Barack Obama on Thursday.
Obama had ordered a comprehensive probe into allegations of Russian hacking the Democratic party’s email system. A team of intelligence officials briefed Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence on the report in New York.
“While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organisations 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,” Trump said in a statement after the meeting.
“There were attempts to hack the Republican National Committee (RNC), but the RNC had strong hacking defences and the hackers were unsuccessful. I will appoint a team to give me a plan within 90 days of taking office. The methods, tools and tactics we use to keep America safe should not be a public discussion that will benefit those who seek to do us harm. Two weeks from today I will take the oath of office and America’s safety and security will be my number one priority,” Trump said, adding that there is a need to aggressively combat and stop cyberattacks.
Pence said Trump has made it very clear that the US is going to take aggressive action in the early days of the new administration to combat cyberattacks and protect the security of its citizens from this type of intrusion in the future.
The report alleged that Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential poll represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity and scope of effort compared to previous operations.
“We also assess Putin and the Russian government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavourably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgement. CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgement; NSA has moderate confidence,” the report said.
It said Moscow’s approach evolved over the course of the campaign based on Russia’s understanding of the electoral prospects of the two main candidates.
“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. Further information has come to light since election day that, when combined with Russian behaviour since early November 2016, increases our confidence in our assessments of Russian motivations and goals,” it alleged.
Moscow’s influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations such as cyber activity with overt efforts by Russian government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries and paid social media users or “trolls”, the report said.
“Russia, like its Soviet predecessor, has a history of conducting covert influence campaigns focused on US presidential elections that have used intelligence officers and agents and press placements to disparage candidates perceived as hostile to the Kremlin. We assess Moscow will apply lessons learned from its Putin-ordered campaign aimed at the US presidential election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against US allies and their election processes,” the report said.
House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce said this report confirms what is already know, Putin’s acts of aggression pose serious threats to vital US interests.
“The Obama administration’s response to Putin’s propaganda machine was weak and ineffective in Eastern Europe, and now we are paying the price here at home,” Royce said.
Describing the intelligence community report on Russian hacking as stunning, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wished that American people could have access to more details.
“The American people have a right to know what a foreign power did to disrupt our election, regardless of the election’s outcome. Putin’s assault on American democracy was political thuggery in support of Trump and there must be consequences,” Pelosi said.