CIA: Rus­sia in­ter­vened

Se­cret as­sess­ment re­ports coun­try worked to help Trump win

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Ellen Nakashima, Adam Entous and Greg Miller

The CIA has con­cluded in a se­cret as­sess­ment that Rus­sia in­ter­vened in the 2016 elec­tion to help Don­ald Trump win the pres­i­dency, rather than just to undermine con­fi­dence in the U.S. elec­toral sys­tem, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials briefed on the mat­ter.

In­tel­li­gence agen­cies have iden­ti­fied in­di­vid­u­als with con­nec­tions to the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment who pro­vided Wik­iLeaks with thou­sands of hacked e-mails from the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee and oth­ers, in­clud­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton’s cam­paign chair­man, ac­cord­ing to U.S. of­fi­cials. Those of­fi­cials de­scribed the in­di­vid­u­als as ac­tors known to the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity and part of a wider Rus­sian op­er­a­tion to boost Trump and hurt Clin­ton.

“It is the as­sess­ment of the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity that Rus­sia’s goal here was to fa­vor one can­di­date over the other, to help Trump get elected,” said a se­nior U.S. of­fi­cial briefed on an in­tel­li­gence pre­sen­ta­tion made to U.S. sen­a­tors. “That’s the con­sen­sus view.”

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s 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.

In Septem­ber, dur­ing a se­cret brief­ing for con­gres­sional lead­ers, Se­nate Repub­li­can Leader Mitch McCon­nell of Ken­tucky voiced doubts about the ve­rac­ity of the in­tel­li­gence, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials present.

The Trump tran­si­tion team did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

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.

The CIA pre­sen­ta­tion to sen­a­tors about Rus­sia’s in­ten­tions fell short of a for­mal U.S. as­sess­ment pro­duced by all 17 in­tel­li­gence agen­cies. A se­nior U.S. of­fi­cial said there were mi­nor dis­agree­ments among in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials about the agency’s as­sess­ment, in part be­cause some ques­tions re­main unan­swered.

For ex­am­ple, in­tel­li­gence agen­cies do not have spe­cific in­tel­li­gence show­ing of­fi­cials in the Krem­lin “di­rect­ing” the iden­ti­fied in­di­vid­u­als to pass the Demo­cratic e-mails to Wik­iLeaks, a sec­ond se­nior U.S. of­fi­cial said. Those ac­tors, ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial, were “one step” re­moved from the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment, rather than gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees. Moscow has in the past used mid­dle­men to par­tic­i­pate in sen­si­tive in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tions so it has plau­si­ble de­ni­a­bil­ity.

Ju­lian As­sange, the founder of Wik­iLeaks, has said in a tele­vi­sion in­ter­view that the “Rus­sian gov­ern­ment is not the source.”

The White House and CIA of­fi­cials de­clined to com­ment.

On Fri­day, the White House said 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,” Lisa Monaco, Obama’s coun­tert­er­ror­ism and home­land se­cu­rity ad­viser, told reporters at a break­fast hosted by The Chris­tian Sci­ence Mon­i­tor.

Obama wants the re­port be­fore he leaves of­fice Jan. 20, Monaco said. Dur­ing her re­marks, Monaco didn’t ad­dress the lat­est CIA as­sess­ment, which hadn’t been pre­vi­ously dis­closed.

Seven Demo­cratic sen­a­tors last week asked Obama to de­clas­sify de­tails about the in­tru­sions and why of­fi­cials be­lieve that the Krem­lin was be­hind the op­er­a­tion. Of­fi­cials said Fri­day that the sen­a­tors specif­i­cally were ask­ing the White House to re­lease por­tions of the CIA’s pre­sen­ta­tion.

This week, top Demo­cratic law­mak­ers in the House also sent a let­ter to Obama, ask­ing for brief­ings on Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the elec­tion.

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

In pre­vi­ous as­sess­ments, the CIA and other in­tel­li­gence agen­cies told the White House and con­gres­sional lead­ers that they be­lieved Moscow’s aim was to undermine con­fi­dence in the U.S. elec­toral sys­tem. The as­sess­ments stopped short of say­ing the goal was to help elect Trump.

On Oct. 7, the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity of­fi­cially ac­cused Moscow of seek­ing to in­ter­fere in the elec­tion through the hack­ing of “po­lit­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions.” Al­though the state­ment never spec­i­fied which party, it was clear that of­fi­cials were re­fer­ring to cy­ber­in­tru­sions into the com­put­ers of the DNC and other Demo­cratic groups and in­di­vid­u­als.

Some key Repub­li­can law­mak­ers have con­tin­ued to ques­tion the qual­ity of ev­i­dence sup­port­ing Rus­sian in­volve­ment. “I’ll be the first one to come out and point at Rus­sia if there’s clear ev­i­dence, but there is no clear ev­i­dence — even now,” said Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., chair­man of the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee and a mem­ber of the Trump tran­si­tion team. “There’s a lot of in­nu­endo, lots of cir­cum­stan­tial ev­i­dence, that’s it.”

Al­though Rus­sia has long con­ducted cy­ber­spy­ing on U.S. agen­cies, com­pa­nies and or­ga­ni­za­tions, 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, 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 U.S., with its vast and vul­ner­a­ble dig­i­tal in­fra­struc­ture.

By mid-Septem­ber, White House of­fi­cials had 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.

Obama dis­patched Monaco, FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey and Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Jeh John­son to make the pitch for a “show of sol­i­dar­ity and bi­par­ti­san unity” against Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the elec­tion, ac­cord­ing to a se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial.

Specif­i­cally, the White House wanted con­gres­sional lead­ers to sign off on a bi­par­ti­san state­ment urg­ing state and lo­cal of­fi­cials to take fed­eral help in pro­tect­ing their vot­ing-reg­is­tra­tion and bal­lot­ing machines from Rus­sian cy­ber­in­tru­sions.

Al­though U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies were skep­ti­cal that hack­ers would be able to ma­nip­u­late the elec­tion re­sults in a sys­tem­atic way, the White House feared Rus­sia would at­tempt to do so.

In a se­cure room in the Capi­tol used for brief­ings in­volv­ing classified in­for­ma­tion, ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials broadly laid out the ev­i­dence U.S. spy agen­cies had col­lected, show­ing Rus­sia’s role in cy­ber­in­tru­sions in at least two states and in hack­ing the e-mails of the Demo­cratic or­ga­ni­za­tions and in­di­vid­u­als.

And they made a case for a united, bi­par­ti­san front in re­sponse to what one of­fi­cial de­scribed as “the threat posed by un­prece­dented med­dling by a for­eign power in our elec­tion process.”

The Demo­cratic lead­ers in the room unan­i­mously agreed to take the threat se­ri­ously. Repub­li­cans, how­ever, were di­vided, with at least two GOP law­mak­ers re­luc­tant to ac­cede to the re­quests. 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. His of­fice did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

Af­ter the elec­tion, Trump chose McCon­nell’s wife, Elaine Chao, as his nom­i­nee for trans­porta­tion sec­re­tary.

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