National Security

5 key findings from the intelligence report on Russia


The Intelligence Community on Friday published its hotly anticipated report documenting its probe into Russian interference in the U.S. election. 

The crux: Intelligence officials have assessed that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a sweeping, multifaceted campaign geared at helping Donald Trump attain the White House.

{mosads}The fallout was swift, with Democrats claiming the document proves that the Kremlin was able to damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign — perhaps fatally — and Republicans insisting that there was no impact on the final vote count in November.

The report is unlikely to resolve the roiling controversy surrounding the IC’s assessment. A declassified version of a more granular document provided to President Obama and some lawmakers, it is primarily made up of already public information and provides no “smoking gun” or detailed technical evidence. 

Here are some key findings from the report:  

Russia wanted to help Trump win

What began as an influence campaign to undermine trust in the U.S. election results became an explicit attempt to help Trump, officials found. 

“Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary [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,” the report reads. 

“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 unfavorably to him.” 

There is some level of minor disagreement among intelligence agencies as to the strength of its judgment that Russia intended to help Trump. 

The CIA and FBI have high confidence in the judgment, while the National Security Agency has moderate confidence, the report acknowledges.  

Putin, top officials were behind the operation

The order to conduct the campaign came from the highest echelons of the Kremlin, the report concludes. 

“We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election,” officials wrote.   

According to the document, Putin most likely wanted to discredit Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, because “he has publicly blamed her since 2011 for inciting mass protests against his regime in late 2011 and early 2012, and because he holds a grudge for comments he almost certainly saw as disparaging him.” 

But the former KGB agent saw Trump, on the other hand, as having “Russia-friendly positions on Syria and Ukraine” and approved of his stated policy to work with Russia. 

Moscow also reportedly saw the election of Trump as “a way to achieve an international counterterrorism coalition” against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Russia had sustained access to the DNC’s system 

The report found that Russian hackers maintained access to the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) systems for nearly a year from July 2015 to June 2016.

That largely tracks with previous reporting. According to an exhaustive New York Times investigation published in December, the FBI first attempted to notify the DNC of the intrusion in September 2015 — two months after the Russians are believed to have gained access.

The Times found that the FBI tried several times in the following months to warn the DNC about the intrusion, and in November alerted a tech staffer there that information from the headquarters was being transmitted to Russia in what appeared to be a state-sponsored attack.

The report also states that Russia’s operation to interfere with the election began in March 2016, and hackers had stolen mass troves of emails from Democratic officials by May, which is when WikiLeaks first began publishing the DNC messages.

While Russian hackers never tampered with vote tallying systems, they did breach multiple aspects of state and local electoral boards, the report said. Russian intelligence has been studying the U.S. election process and technology since 2014.

Russian intel had a web of ways to make the documents public 

The Russian operation used a variety of outlets to leak the documents that they stole to undermine Clinton and the Democratic Party. 

“We assess with high confidence that the [Russian intelligence agency] GRU used the Guccifer 2.0 persona,, and WikiLeaks to release US victim data obtained in cyber operations publicly and in exclusives to media outlets,” the report reads.

Julian Assange, the head of WikiLeaks, has denied that his organization’s documents originated from Russian sources.  

“Moscow most likely chose WikiLeaks because of its self-proclaimed reputation for authenticity,” the report says. 

Guccifer 2.0, a hacker or group of hackers that also released Democratic documents, claimed in communications with various journalists to not be from Russia. 

In an interview with Vice, the individual claimed to be from Romania, but could not converse in Romanian. 

“Guccifer 2.0, who claimed to be an independent Romanian hacker, made multiple contradictory statements and false claims about his likely Russian identity throughout the election,” reads the report. “Press reporting suggests more than one person claiming to be Guccifer 2.0 interacted with journalists.”  

Propaganda machine went after Clinton 

The Kremlin used its powerful propaganda machine — including domestic media companies and publications like RT and Sputnik that target overseas audiences — to delegitimize the Clinton campaign. 

They pushed out English-language videos like one headlined “Clinton and ISIS Funded with the Same Money” and promoted the idea that WikiLeaks was in possession of an email that would “put Clinton in Prison.”

“In August, Kremlin-linked political analysts suggested avenging negative Western reports on Putin by airing segments devoted to Secretary Clinton’s alleged health problems,” said the report, which describes Clinton’s health as a focal point of Russia’s efforts.  

The Kremlin also leveraged an army of social media “trolls,” allowing it to amplify the reach of negative stories and fake news about Clinton. Such online users also amplified the role of WikiLeaks in the election.

If Clinton had won, Russian bloggers and trolls were ready to work to undermine her election, including a prepared hashtag: #DemocracyRIP. 

Tags Donald Trump Hillary Clinton
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