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Russia helped Trump win, says CIA; Obama orders review

Washington: The CIA has concluded that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help President-elect Donald Trump win the White House, and not just to undermine confidence in the US electoral system. The report prompted the Obama administration to review the Russian hacking, the Washington Post reported.

Citing US officials briefed on the matter, the Post said on Friday that intelligence agencies had identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, to WikiLeaks.

The officials described the individuals as people known to the intelligence community who were part of a wider Russian operation to boost Trump and reduce Clinton’s chances of winning the election.

“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,” the paper quoted a senior US official who briefed on an intelligence presentation made to US senators. “That’s the consensus view.”

The Obama administration has been debating for months how to respond to the alleged Russian intrusions, with White House officials concerned about escalating tensions with Moscow and being accused of trying to boost Clinton’s campaign.

The Trump transition team dismissed the findings in a short statement issued Friday evening.

“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,’?” the statement read.

Trump has consistently dismissed the intelligence community’s findings about Russian hacking.

“I don’t believe they interfered” in the election, he told Time magazine this week. The hacking, he said, “could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.”

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, the paper reported.

On Friday, the White House said President Obama had ordered a “full review” of Russian hacking during the election campaign, as pressure from Congress has grown for greater public understanding of exactly what Moscow did to influence the electoral process.

“We may have crossed into a new threshold, and it is incumbent upon us to take stock of that, to review, to conduct some after-action, to understand what has happened and to impart some lessons learned,” Obama’s counterterrorism and homeland security adviser, Lisa Monaco, told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

Obama wants the report before he leaves office January 20, Monaco said. The review will be led by James Clapper, the outgoing director of national intelligence, officials said.

During her remarks, Monaco didn’t address the latest CIA assessment, which hasn’t been previously disclosed.

US intelligence agencies have been cautious for months in characterising Russia’s motivations, reflecting the United States’ long-standing struggle to collect reliable intelligence on President Vladi­mir Putin and those closest to him.

Though Russia has long conducted cyberspying on US agencies, companies and organisations, this presidential campaign marks the first time Moscow has attempted through cyber-means to interfere in, if not actively influence, the outcome of an election, the officials said.

The reluctance of the Obama White House to respond to the alleged Russian intrusions before election day upset Democrats on the Hill as well as members of the Clinton campaign.

Within the administration, top officials from different agencies sparred over whether and how to respond. White House officials were concerned that covert retaliatory measures might risk an escalation in which Russia, with sophisticated cyber-capabilities, might have less to lose than the United States, with its vast and vulnerable digital infrastructure.

The White House’s reluctance to take that risk left Washington weighing more limited measures, including the “naming and shaming” approach of publicly blaming Moscow.

By mid-September, the White House decided it was time to take that step, but they worried that doing so unilaterally and without bipartisan congressional backing just weeks before the election would make Obama vulnerable to charges that he was using intelligence for political purposes.

Instead, officials devised a plan to seek bipartisan support from top lawmakers and set up a secret meeting with the Gang of 12 – a group that includes House and Senate leaders, as well as the chairmen and ranking members of both chambers’ committees on intelligence and homeland security.

Though US intelligence agencies were sceptical that hackers would be able to manipulate the election results in a systematic way, the White House feared that Russia would attempt to do so, sowing doubt about the fundamental mechanisms of democracy and potentially forcing a more dangerous confrontation between Washington and Moscow.

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.

–IANS