News and Commentary

IC Report: Putin Ordered U.S. Election Interference. They Wanted Trump.

The much-anticipated report from the U.S. intelligence community regarding Russia’s meddling in the U.S. presidential campaign was released on Friday, and it states clearly that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the influence campaign and was seeking to enhance the chances of Donald Trump to win the presidency.

The report acknowledges that its authors make no judgment as to how successful Russia was in influencing the election, but that its efforts to help elect Trump were clear.

The report states:

We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election. The US Intelligence Community is charged with monitoring and assessing the intentions, capabilities, and actions of foreign actors; it does not analyze US political processes or US public opinion.

It continues by asserting that past Russian efforts pale next to its actions in 2016:

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.

Then, to brass tacks:

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.

The report asserts that information discovered since the election only solidified the conclusions the report ultimately made:

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 to release US victim data

Russian intelligence obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple US state or local electoral boards. DHS assesses that the types of systems Russian actors targeted or compromised were not involved in vote tallying.

Trump released a statement on Friday after meeting with intelligence officials in which he appeared to skirt the issue of Russian interference, only admitting that many countries attempt to wage cyber-warfare against the U.S. while stating that any efforts to influence the election failed:

House Speaker Paul Ryan admitted that Russia had attempted to interfere in the electoral process, but echoed Trump that it had no effect:

In the first presidential debate with Hillary Clinton, Trump had offered his opinion as to who could have been responsible for the hacking into the Democratic National Committee, saying, “I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK? You don’t know who broke in to DNC.”

Now it appears we know.