A Digression: The Russian Hacking Situation


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This blog post is a follow-up to a post made on this blog on December 13, 2016.

Top Intelligence agencies made available a declassified assessment of Russian hacking yesterday. This is the conclusion of a probe requested by President Obama. Donald Trump called the probe a “witch hunt.” The report summarizes the conclusions of the FBI, CIA, and NSA.

The report contains a number of interesting findings that debunk some of Donald Trump’s claims. Donald Trump said US intelligence agencies were unable to determine who was responsible for the hack. The report, however, places the blame squarely on the Russian government. The report also said Russia tried to influence the election in order to help Trump win the presidency. Trump previously rejected similar assessments given by all 17 intelligence agencies that said Russia stole, and shared emails from Democratic organizations. We know now that his rejection was unfounded. Trump also said he was going to provide countervailing evidence to the intelligence community’s findings on Tuesday or Wednesday of this week, but we have received nothing from him so far. Here are the reports key judgments:

Key Judgments

Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election 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 assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US 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 Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments.

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. All three agencies agree with this judgment. CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has moderate confidence.

 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 behavior since early November 2016, increases our confidence in our assessments of Russian motivations and goals.

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.” 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.

 Russia’s intelligence services conducted cyber operations against targets associated with the 2016 US presidential election, including targets associated with both major US political parties.

 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 US victim data.

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