US intelligence agencies believe Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered “an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election”, according to an unclassified report released on Friday.
The goals were “to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency,” the report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence concludes.
“We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”
The report combines conclusions from investigations of the FBI, the CIA and the NSA.
“We have high confidence in these judgments,” the report notes.
The analysis states that the campaign to influence the US election outcome was multifaceted and one of the boldest yet by Russia.
It represented “a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations aimed at US elections.”
Without mentioning the name of former NSA-contractor turned leaker Edward Snowden, the report makes an oblique reference to the effects of the disclosures have had on the reputation and legitimacy of the US government.
“We assess the 2016 influence campaign reflected the Kremlin’s recognition of the worldwide effects that mass disclosures of US Government and other private data—such as those conducted by WikiLeaks and others—have achieved in recent years, and their understanding of the value of orchestrating such disclosures to maximise the impact of compromising information.”
The release of the unclassified report comes one day after the role of Russia’s role in the election of Donald Trump was the subject of a Senate hearing, an event in which senior Republicans urged a tough line on Russia over efforts to sway US political outcomes.
Trump has repeatedly faced – and dismissed – questions about his relationship with Russia and Vladimir Putin. During his last press conference, Trump mockingly asked Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails.
On Friday Trump continued to try to downplay accusations that he colluded with a foreign power to support his campaign for the White House. He dismissed concerns about the effect of Russia’s hacking of the Democrats emails and subsequent dissemination of the emails as a political “witch hunt.” He also said Russian hacking had no influence on the outcome of the 2016 election.
Trump has made better relations a rare point of consistency in a campaign that has wilfully lied to and confused the American public as an apparent part of a media strategy to gain support from voters.
Trump has used Twitter to criticise the conclusions of US intelligence agencies, an unprecedented behaviour from an incoming American president.
Republicans, who maintained their majority in Congress on the coat tails of Trump’s win, are left in an awkward position by the role Russia played in the election. In recent months, President Barack Obama has been criticised for not taking the threat of Russia seriously.
Now that Republicans are in power, with a Republican soon in the White House, the GOP will be responsible for investigating Russian influence operations. Moreover, Trump’s frequent denials suggest he has nothing to lose by a thorough investigation.
Even before the US election, Russian influence and social media operations were well known through Europe.
“Russia, like its Soviet predecessor, has a history of conducting covert influence campaigns focused on US presidential elections,” the report states, warning that the success of Russia in 2016 will likely embolden it.
“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.”
Germany, for example, going into elections this year, has sounded increasing concern about the effect of social media-empowered misinformation on its politics.
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