ODNI Statement on Declassified Intelligence Community Assessment of Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections

The United States government has accused the Russian government of interfering in the 2016 United States elections.[1][2][3] The US intelligence community has stated that "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 Hillary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency."[4] Further, the US intelligence community stated "Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump." It further stated that these assessments were made with "high confidence."[5] The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), representing 17 intelligence agencies, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) jointly stated that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and leaked its documents to WikiLeaks.[6][7][8] In early January 2017, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper testified before a Senate committee that Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign went beyond hacking, and included disinformation and the dissemination of fake news often promoted on social media.[9] The Russian government continually denied it had any involvement.[10] Wikileaks founder Julian Assange said that Russia was not involved in the leaks.[10][11][12]

U.S. intelligence agencies said that Russian President Vladimir Putin "personally directed" the operation.[13][14] Russia disputed Putin's involvement.[14] CIA Director John Brennan, FBI Director James Comey and DNI James R. Clapper agreed on the "scope, nature and intent" of Russia's alleged interference to assist Trump.[15][16][17] Cybersecurity firms, including CrowdStrike, Fidelis Cybersecurity, Mandiant and ThreatConnect stated that the cyberattacks were committed by Russian intelligence groups Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear.[18][19] In October 2016, President Barack Obama used the red phone line to directly contact Putin and warn him from cyber attacks.[20]

Obama ordered a report on foreign interventions in elections.[21][22][23] U.S. senators called for a bipartisan investigation.[24][25] President-elect Donald Trump initially rejected the report, saying that Democrats were reacting to their election loss,[26][27] and attacked the intelligence agencies in a transition team statement.[28][29] Senate Majority Leader Republican Mitch McConnell expressed confidence in U.S. intelligence and supported a bipartisan investigation,[30][31] as did the Senate Intelligence Committee.[32] In December 2016, President Obama promised retaliation against Russia[33][34] and on December 29 the U.S. expelled 35 suspected Russian spies, shut down two Russian compounds,[clarification needed] and broadened existing sanctions on Russian entities and individuals.[35]


See also: Russia–United States relations § Obama's tenure (2009–2017)

Hostility between Putin and Clinton

See also: 2011–13 Russian protests § Reactions

Russians protest against Putin's re-election in 2012. Putin accused Secretary of State Clinton of inciting 2011–13 Russian protests.[36]

Russian President Vladimir Putin repeatedly accused Hillary Clinton, who served as U.S. Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013, of interfering in Russia’s internal affairs,[37] and Clinton accused Putin of having a personal grudge against her.[38] Michael McFaul, who was U.S. ambassador to Russia, said that "[Putin] was very upset [with Clinton] and continued to be for the rest of the time that I was in government. One could speculate that this is his moment for payback."[39] NBC News reported: "Several former Obama administration officials said that when Clinton was secretary of state, she was by far the most aggressive and outspoken U.S. official when it came to countering Putin's efforts to consolidate his power domestically, and to expand his sphere of influence in the region and beyond. And when she left government, they say, Clinton became even more combative".[40]

According to Russian security expert and investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov, one of the reasons Russia might try to sway the US presidential election is perceived antipathy between Clinton and the Russian government. Soldatov stated that according to Russia, the US is "trying to interfere in our internal affairs so why not try to do the same thing to them?"[41]

Democratic National Committee email leak

See also: Democratic National Committee cyber attacks and 2016 Democratic National Committee email leak

On July 22, 2016, WikiLeaks released approximately 20,000 emails sent from or received by Democratic National Committee (DNC) personnel,[42] On October 7, 2016, WikiLeaks started releasing series of emails and documents sent from or received by Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta.[43]

Counter-Disinformation Team scrapped pre-election

The International Business Times reported that the United States Department of State planned to use a unit formed with the intention of combating disinformation from the Russian government, and that it was disbanded in September 2015 after department heads missed the scope of propaganda before the 2016 U.S. election.[44] The unit had been in development for 8 months prior to being scrapped.[44] Titled the Counter-Disinformation Team, it would have been a reboot of the Active Measures Working Group set up by the Reagan Administration.[45][46] It was created under the Bureau of International Information Programs.[45][46] Work began in 2014, with the intention of countering propaganda from Russian sources such as TV network RT (formerly called Russia Today).[45][46] A beta website was ready, and staff were hired by the U.S. State Department for the unit prior to its cancellation.[45][46] U.S. Intelligence officials explained to former National Security Agency analyst and counterintelligence officer John R. Schindler that the Obama Administration decided to cancel the unit, as they were afraid of antagonizing Russia.[45][46] A State Department representative told the International Business Times after being contacted regarding the closure of the unit, that the U.S. was disturbed by propaganda from Russia, and the strongest defense was sincere communication.[44] U.S. Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Richard Stengel was point person for the unit before it was canceled.[45][46] Stengel previously wrote about disinformation by RT.[47] After U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called RT a Kremlin propaganda arm,[48] RT insisted that the State Department respond.[47][49] Stengel wrote that RT had engaged in a disinformation campaign.[47][49]

Russian trolls

Andrew Weisburd and Foreign Policy Research Institute fellow and senior fellow at the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University, Clint Watts,[50] wrote for The Daily Beast in August 2016 that Russian propaganda fabricated articles were popularized by social media.[51] They wrote that disinformation spread from government-controlled outlets, RT and Sputnik to pro-Russian accounts on Twitter.[51] Citing research by Adrian Chen, they compared Russian tactics during the 2016 U.S. election to Soviet Union Cold War strategies.[51] They referenced the 1992 United States Information Agency report to the U.S. Congress, which warned about Russian propaganda called active measures.[51] They wrote active measures were made easier with social media.[51] Institute of International Relations Prague senior fellow and scholar on Russian intelligence, Mark Galeotti, agreed the Kremlin operations were a form of active measures.[52] The Guardian wrote in November 2016 the most strident Internet promoters of Trump were paid Russian propagandists, estimating several thousand trolls involved.[53]

In a followup article, together with colleague J. M. Berger, Weisburd and Watts said they had monitored 7,000 pro-Trump social media accounts over a two-and-a-half year period,[54] and found that such accounts denigrated critics of Russian activities in Syria and propagated falsehoods about Clinton's health.[55] Watts said the propaganda targeted the alt-right movement, the right wing, and fascist groups.[50]

On November 24, 2016, The Washington Post echoed Watts' findings that Russian propaganda exacerbated criticism of Clinton and support for Trump, via social media, Internet trolls, botnets, and websites denigrating Clinton.[56] Watts stated that Russia's goal was to "erode faith in the U.S. government".[56] The Post cited similarity with online propaganda methods previously researched by the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University and the RAND Corporation.[56]

Cybersecurity analysis

Cybersecurity experts and firms, including CrowdStrike,[57] Fidelis Cybersecurity, Mandiant, SecureWorks and ThreatConnect,[58] stated the leak of emails in the 2016 U.S. elections was part of a series of cyberattacks on the DNC committed by two Russian intelligence groups, called Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear.[18][19][59][60][61][excessive citations] The groups are also known respectively as APT28 and APT29.[62][Note 1] The SecureWorks threat analysis also identified other actors working in connection with APT28 to be Sofacy, Sednit and Pawn Storm. These actors are labeled by SecureWorks as Threat Group-4127 (TG-4127).[64] ThreatConnect also concluded that the DC Leaks project shows the hallmarks of Russian intelligence, matching the attack pattern of the GRU hacker group Fancy Bear.[65][66][67][68][69][excessive citations] Ars Technica IT editor Sean Gallagher wrote that there was no smoking gun for Russian hacking of the DNC, but that evidence pointed towards Russia.[70] SecureWorks analysis states the actor group is operating from Russia on behalf of the Russian government with moderate confidence level, defined as "credibly sourced and plausible but not of sufficient quality or corroborated sufficiently to warrant a higher level of confidence".[71] Cybersecurity analyst Jeffrey Carr wrote: "It is both foolish and baseless to claim, as CrowdStrike does, that X-Agent is used solely by the Russian government when the source code is there for anyone to find and use at will."[72]

U.S. intelligence analysis

Director of National Intelligence, Homeland Security and CIA

October 2016 joint statement

Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper said after the 2011–13 Russian protests, Putin's confidence in his viability as a politician was damaged, and Putin responded with the propaganda operation.[73] Former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer Patrick Skinner explained the goal was to spread uncertainty.[74] In July 2016, consensus grew within the CIA that Russia hacked the DNC.[75]

Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper

In a joint statement on October 7, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a statement on Russian influence on the 2016 U.S. presidential election.[6][7][8] The statement expressed confidence Russia interfered in the election by stealing emails from politicians and U.S. groups and publicizing the information.[76] By December 2, 2016, intelligence sources told CNN the U.S. Intelligence Community gained confidence Russia's efforts were aimed at helping Trump win the election.[77]

December 2016 CIA report

On December 9, the CIA told U.S. legislators the U.S. Intelligence Community concluded Russia conducted operations during the 2016 U.S. election to assist Donald Trump in winning the presidency.[78][79][80] Multiple U.S intelligence agencies concluded people with direct ties to the Kremlin gave WikiLeaks hacked emails from the DNC and sources such as John Podesta, campaign chairman for Hillary Clinton.[78][81] These intelligence organizations concluded Russia hacked the RNC as well as the DNC—and chose not to leak information obtained from the RNC.[21] This was based on evidence obtained before the election.[82] A senior U.S. official said this was the consensus of multiple intelligence agencies.[83] The CIA said the foreign intelligence agents were Russian operatives previously known to the U.S.[78] The CIA told U.S. Senators it was strongly apparent Russia's intentions were to help Trump.[79]

Vladimir Putin involvement

American intelligence officials have said Vladimir Putin personally controlled the alleged covert operation.[13][84][14][85][86][excessive citations]

NBC News reported two senior federal employees said post-election intelligence led officials to believe Vladimir Putin personally controlled the operation.[13][87][88][excessive citations] They said Putin's motives started as a feud against Hillary Clinton, and grew into a desire to foment global distrust of the U.S.[13][87][88] They said the operation needed approval by top Russian officials, as Putin maintained absolute control.[13][87][88] Officials made similar statements to CBS and ABC News.[84][14][89] According to U.S. foreign and intelligence officials, the operation began with low-level Russian military, as an effort to penetrate computers belonging to Democratic and Republican politicians, and Putin became personally involved after Russia accessed the DNC.[14] Two senior officials told CNN the scale of the operation required support from the Russian government's top authority.[85] U.S. officials said that under Putin's direction, the goals evolved from criticizing American democracy to attacking Clinton.[86] U.S. officials further said that Putin's aims shifted to help elect Trump during 2016, as he felt the candidate would favor Russia with regards to U.S. financial sanctions.[86] A U.S. intelligence official said to Reuters that due to Putin's prior experience as an operative for the KGB, he maintained tighter control over Russian intelligence operations.[86]

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes appeared on MSNBC on December 15, 2016 and agreed with this assessment, saying operations of this magnitude required Putin's consent.[86][90] White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest noted in a December 15 press conference that the U.S. Intelligence Community reached similar conclusions, and he quoted from the October 2016 joint-letter by the Director of National Intelligence and Department of Homeland Security, saying the operation required top-level Russian government approval.[90]

Federal Bureau of Investigation

Seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation

In June 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) notified the Illinois Republican Party in June that some of its email accounts may have been hacked.[91] On October 31, 2016, The New York Times stated that the FBI had been examining possible connections between Trump and Russia, but did not find a connection.[92] At the time FBI officials thought Russia was motivated to create chaos generally and not specifically elect Trump.[92] An unnamed official disputed the RNC servers were hacked, and stated that Russian attempts to access the RNC server were unsuccessful.[21] In a December 11, 2016 interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, RNC chair Reince Priebus stated they communicated with the FBI when they learned about hacking of the DNC, and after a review it was determined their servers were secure.[93] During a House Intelligence Committee hearing, the FBI said they were unclear as to motive.[94]

On December 16, 2016, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency John O. Brennan stated the FBI and Director of National Intelligence supported the CIA's conclusion that the Russian government interfered in the U.S. elections in 2016 with the motive of assisting Donald Trump in securing the White House, and attacking U.S. democratic values.[15][16][17] Brennan sent a letter to his staff saying he held a meeting with Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation James Comey and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, and that all were in agreement about these conclusions.[15][16][17] Brennan's letter stated: "Earlier this week, I met separately with (Director) FBI James Comey and DNI Jim Clapper, and there is strong consensus among us on the scope, nature, and intent of Russian interference in our presidential election."[15][16][17] Brennan said the FBI, CIA, and DNI all acknowledged the importance of working together to complete the president's order to investigate.[15]

December 2016 Joint Analysis Report

On December 29, 2016 the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a Joint Analysis Report titled "GRIZZLY STEPPE – Russian Malicious Cyber Activity".[63] It gave new technical details regarding methods used by Russian intelligence services for affecting the U.S. election, government, political organizations and private sector.[95][96]

The report included malware samples and other technical details as evidence that the Russian government had hacked the Democratic National Committee.[97] Alongside the report, DHS "released an extensive list of Internet Protocol addresses, computer files, malware code and other 'signatures' that it said the Russian hackers have used."[95]

An article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung discussed the difficulty of proof in matters of cybersecurity. Multiple security experts told the paper that evidence provided by the Joint Analysis Report was weak, and did not provide proof of Russian culpability. One analyst told the Süddeutsche Zeitung that US intelligence services could be keeping some information secret to protect their sources and analysis methods. It also notes that the comments of some providers of cybersecurity services may be overstated due to self-promotion.[98] An article in Ars Technica cited some cybersecurity commentators who expressed concerns about the report.[99] ZDNet noted that the PHP malware included in the JAR is "an out-of-date, web-shell hacking tool," which—according to Rob Graham, CEO of Errata Security—is "used by hundreds if not thousands of hackers, mostly associated with Russia, but also throughout the rest of the world."[100] Other experts cited by Fortune called the Grizzly Steppe report “poorly done” and “fatally flawed,”.[101]

Kevin Poulsen, writing for The Daily Beast, stated that while there is a "ton of" solid evidence of Russia's interference, the incompleteness of the report encouraged "Trump-friendly conspiracy theorists" – despite years of cybersecurity industry research that invalidates their claims.[102] According to The Daily Beast, the report "was widely criticized by cybersecurity experts for being little more than a hodge-podge of random Internet Protocol addresses and code names for hacker gangs suspected of having ties to Moscow."[103]

January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment

On January 6, 2017, after briefing the president, the president-elect, and members of the Senate and House, US intelligence agencies released a de-classified version[104] of the report on Russian activities. The report asserted that Russia had carried out a massive cyber operation on orders by Russian President Putin with the goal to sabotage the 2016 US elections. The agencies concluded that Putin and the Russian government tried to help Trump win the election by discrediting Hillary Clinton and portraying her negatively relative to Trump, and that Russia had conducted a multipronged cyber campaign consisting of hacking and the extensive use of social media and trolls, as well as open propaganda on Russian-controlled news platforms.[105] A large part of the report was dedicated to criticizing Russian TV channel RT America, which it described as a "messaging tool" for the Kremlin.[106]

On January 10, 2017, FBI Director James Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee that FBI "did not develop any evidence that the Trump campaign or the current RNC was successfully hacked."[107] He added that Russia succeeded in "... collecting some information from Republican-affiliated targets but did not leak it to the public ...".[107]

Investigation into financial flows

On January 18, 2017, McClatchy reported that an investigation into "how money may have moved from the Kremlin to covertly help Trump win" had been conducted over several months by six federal agencies: the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, the Justice Department, the FCEN and representatives of the DNI.[108][109] The New York Times confirmed this investigation into Carter Page, Paul Manafort and Roger Stone on January 19, 2017; the eve of the presidential inauguration.[110]

Dossier about alleged Russian connections

Main article: Donald Trump–Russia dossier

On October 31, 2016, a week before the election, David Corn of Mother Jones magazine, reported that an unnamed former intelligence officer had produced a report (later referred to as a dossier) based on Russian sources and had turned it over to the FBI.[111] Corn said the main points in the unverified report were that Moscow had tried to cultivate Donald Trump for years; that it possessed compromising or potentially embarrassing material about him that could possibly be used to blackmail him; and that there had been a flow of information between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin,[112] which also involved multiple in-person meetings between Russian government officials and individuals working for Trump.[113][114] It said the Kremlin's goal had been to encourage splits and divisions in the Western alliance.[111]

On January 10, 2017, CNN reported that classified documents presented to Obama and Trump the previous week included allegations that Russian operatives possess "compromising personal and financial information" about Trump. CNN stated that it would not publish specific details on the memos because they had not yet "independently corroborated the specific allegations."[115][116] Following CNN's report,[117] BuzzFeed then published a 35-page dossier that it said was the basis of the briefing. It included unverified claims that Russian operatives had worked with the Trump campaign to help him get elected. It also alleged that Russia had collected "embarrassing material" involving Trump that could be used to blackmail him.[118][119][116][120][excessive citations] Trump denounced the unverified claims as false, saying that it was "disgraceful" for U.S. intelligence agencies to report them.[121][117]

Government response

U.S. Senate

U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Republican Senator John McCain and Senate Minority Leader Democrat Chuck Schumer planned a bipartisan investigation.
McCain, Graham, Schumer, Reed Joint Statement on Reports That Russia Interfered with the 2016 Election

Members of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee traveled to Ukraine and Poland in 2016 and learned about supposed Russian operations to influence their elections.[122] U.S. Senator Angus King said tactics used by Russia during the 2016 U.S. election were analogous to those used against other countries.[122] King said the problem frustrated both political parties.[123] On November 30, 2016, seven members of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee asked President Obama to declassify and publicize more information on Russia's role in the U.S. election.[122][124] Representatives in the U.S. Congress took action to monitor the national security of the United States by advancing legislation to monitor propaganda.[125][126] On November 30, 2016, legislators approved a measure within the National Defense Authorization Act to ask the U.S. State Department act against propaganda with an inter-agency panel.[125][126] The initiative was developed through a bipartisan bill, the Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act, written by U.S. Senators Republican Rob Portman and Democrat Chris Murphy.[125] U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee member Ron Wyden said frustration over covert Russian propaganda was bipartisan.[125]

Republican U.S. Senators stated they planned to hold hearings and investigate alleged Russian influence on the 2016 U.S. elections.[127] By doing so they went against the preference of incoming Republican President-elect Trump, who downplayed Russian interference.[127] U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain and U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr planned investigations of Russian cyberwarfare.[127] U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker planned a 2017 investigation.[127] Senator Lindsey Graham indicated he would conduct an investigation in the 115th Congress.[127] On December 11, 2016, top-ranking bipartisan members of the U.S. Senate issued a joint statement together on December 11, 2016 responding to the intelligence assessments Russia influenced the election.[24][25] The two Republican signers were Senators Graham and McCain, both members of the Armed Services Committee; the two Democratic signers were incoming Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Senator Jack Reed, the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee.[128][129][130] They said Russian interference was deeply troubling and a bipartisan concern.[131]

In a response to Trump's disregard for the U.S. intelligence assessments on Russia, Republican Senator John McCain said: "The facts are there."[132] Senator McCain called for a special select committee of the U.S. Senate to investigate Russian meddling in the election.[133] Republican Senator and Intelligence Committee member James Lankford agreed looking into Russian influence on the elections should be cooperative between parties.[134] According to McCain, Russia's meddling in the election was an "act of war."[135] Republican Senator Susan Collins said a bipartisan investigation should improve proactive cyber defence.[136] Outgoing Senate Democratic Caucus leader Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said the FBI covered up information about Russian interference in a bid to swing the election for Trump. Reid accused FBI Director James Comey of partisanship, and called for his resignation.[137]

On December 12, 2016, Senate Majority Leader Republican Mitch McConnell disagreed with Trump and expressed confidence in U.S. intelligence.[30] McConnell added that investigation of Russia's actions "should not be a partisan issue" and said that it "defies belief" that some members of the Republican Party would not want such an investigation.[31] McConnell announced the Senate intelligence panel would conduct an investigation into Russian interference.[138]

Joint Statement on Committee Inquiry into Russian Intelligence Activities

In a joint bipartisan letter issued on December 18, Senators McCain, Graham, Schumer, and Reed urged McConnell to create a new, select committee to undertake a "comprehensive investigation of Russian interference" and develop "comprehensive recommendations and, as necessary, new legislation to modernize our nation’s laws, governmental organization, and related practices to meet this challenge."[139] McConnell, by contrast, has thus far held that the Senate Intelligence Committee is "more than capable of conducting a complete review" and that creating a select committee was unnecessary.[139]

In a December 14, 2016 interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN, Senator Lindsey Graham said Russians hacked into his Senate campaign email.[140][141] Graham said the FBI contacted his campaign in August 2016 to notify them of the breach in security which occurred in June to his campaign vendor.[140][141] On December 15, 2016, Senator Graham stated in order for Trump's nominee for United States Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, to earn his confirmation vote, Tillerson would need to acknowledge his belief Russia interfered in the 2016 elections.[142] On December 16, 2016, U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr said he supported the U.S. intelligence community conclusions.[16] Burr stated intelligence employees working for the U.S. are diverse and hold varied political views.[16] The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee issued a release emphasizing they earnestly took into consideration the fact that both the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders were in agreement a bipartisan investigation should take place.[32]

U.S. House of Representatives

U.S. Representative Adam Schiff, Ranking Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, commented on Putin's aims, and said U.S. intelligence agencies were concerned with Russian propaganda.[73] Speaking about disinformation that appeared in Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Poland, Schiff said there was an increase of the same behavior in the U.S.[73] Schiff concluded Russian propaganda operations would continue against the U.S. after the election.[73] He put forth a recommendation for a combined House and Senate investigation similar to the Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities before and after the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001.[143]

Republican U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said external interference in U.S. elections was intolerable.[144] Ryan said an investigation should be conducted by U.S. House Intelligence Committee chairman Representative Devin Nunes, and stated interference from Russia was troubling due to Putin's activities against the U.S.[145] On December 12, 2016, Nunes emphasized that at the time he had only viewed circumstantial evidence Russia intended to assist Trump win.[146] On December 14, Nunes requested a formal briefing gain more information about assertions officials had revealed to the media; the DNI refused, citing the ongoing review ordered by President Obama.[147]

Obama administration

President Obama ordered the United States Intelligence Community to investigate Russian attempts to influence the election and report back by January 2017.[148]

U.S. President Obama and Vladimir Putin had a discussion about computer security issues in September 2016, which took place over the course of an hour and a half.[33] During the discussion, which took place as a side segment during the then-ongoing G20 summit in China, Obama made his views known on cyber security matters between the U.S. and Russia.[33] Obama said Russian hacking stopped after his warning to Putin.[149] One month after that discussion the email leaks from the DNC cyber attack had not ceased, and President Obama decided to contact Putin via the Moscow–Washington hotline, commonly known as the "red phone", on October 31, 2016.[20] Obama emphasized the gravity of the situation by telling Putin: "International law, including the law for armed conflict, applies to actions in cyberspace. We will hold Russia to those standards."[20]

On December 9, 2016, Obama ordered the U.S. Intelligence Community to investigate Russian interference in the election and report before he leaves office on January 20, 2017.[22][23] U.S. Homeland Security Advisor and chief counterterrorism advisor to the president Lisa Monaco announced the study, and said foreign intrusion into a U.S. election was unprecedented and would necessitate investigation by subsequent administrations.[148] The intelligence analysis would cover malicious cyberwarfare occurring between the 2008 and 2016 elections.[150][151] A senior administration official told CNN the White House was confident Russia interfered in the election.[152] The official said the ordered by President Obama would be a lessons learned report, with options including sanctions and covert cyber response against Russia.[152]

On December 12, 2016, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was critical of Trump's rejection of the idea that Russia used cyber-attacks to influence the election.[153] Earnest contrasted Trump's comments on Twitter with the October 2016 conclusions of the U.S. Intelligence community.[153] At a subsequent White House press conference on December 15, Earnest said Trump and the public were aware prior to the 2016 election of Russian interference efforts, calling these undisputed facts.[90] United States Secretary of State John Kerry spoke on December 15, 2016, about President Obama's decision to approve the October 2016 joint statement by the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.[86] Kerry stated the president's decision was deliberative and relied upon information cautiously weighed by the intelligence agencies.[86] He said the president felt a need to warn the U.S. public and did.[86]

Obama was interviewed about the Russian covert operation on December 15, 2016 in an interview with National Public Radio journalist Steve Inskeep for the next day's Morning Edition program.[33] Obama said the U.S. government would respond in overt and covert methods.[33] The president said the government would be better able to speak to motive behind the Russian operation after the intelligence report he ordered was completed.[33] Obama emphasized Russian efforts caused more harm to Clinton than Trump during the campaign.[33] At a press conference the following day, President Obama highlighted his September 2016 admonition to Putin to cease engaging in cyberwarfare against the U.S.[34] Obama explained the U.S. did not publicly reciprocate against Russia's actions due to a fear such choices would appear partisan.[34] He said the U.S. would respond in order to send an unambiguous symbol to the world there were harsh consequences for such interference.[34] President Obama minimized conflict between his administration and the Trump transition, stressing cyber warfare against the U.S. should be a bipartisan issue.[154]

Sanctions imposed on Russia

See also: International sanctions during the Ukrainian crisis

Executive Order 13694
Executive Order 13694

On December 29, 2016, the U.S. government announced a series of punitive measures against Russia that were said to be "the biggest retaliatory move against Russian espionage since the Cold War" and "the strongest American response yet to a state-sponsored cyberattack".[155][156] Namely, the Obama administration imposed sanctions on four top officials of the GRU and declared persona non grata 35 Russian diplomats suspected of spying:[157][Note 2] they were ordered to leave the country within 72 hours. Further sanctions against Russia were announced, both overt and covert.[97][159][160] A White House statement said that "Russia's cyberactivities were intended to influence the election, erode faith in US democratic institutions, sow doubt about the integrity of our electoral process, and undermine confidence in the institutions of the US government."[161] President Obama said "these actions follow repeated private and public warnings that we have issued to the Russian government, and are a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm US interests in violation of established international norms of behavior."[162]

On December 30, two waterfront compounds used by families of Russian embassy personnel were shut down on orders of the US government, citing spying activities: one in Upper Brookville, New York, on Long Island, and the other in Centreville, Maryland, on the Eastern Shore.[156][163][164] They had served as luxury retreats for various Russian diplomats over several decades.[165]

Russian response to sanctions

Russian president Vladimir Putin released a statement that his country would not "stoop to the level of the so-called ‘catfight'" and expel US diplomats due to "unfriendly actions by the outgoing US administration", and invited 35 American diplomats in Moscow and their families to New Year's and Christmas celebrations at the Kremlin.[166] He further stated that while Russia reserved the right to respond at a future time, "further steps towards the restoration of Russian-American relations will be built on the basis of the policy which the administration of President D. Trump will carry out".

Commentary and reactions

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton said Vladimir Putin held a grudge against her due to her criticism of the 2011 Russian legislative election.[32]

Hillary Clinton appeared on December 15, 2016 at the Plaza Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, New York City and gave a gratitude speech to her campaign donors in which she reflected on Putin's motivations for the covert operation.[167] She partially attributed her loss in the 2016 election to Russian meddling organized by Putin.[168] Clinton said Putin had a personal grudge against her, and linked his feelings to her criticism of the 2011 Russian legislative election and that he felt she was responsible for fomenting the 2011–13 Russian protests.[32] She drew a specific connection from her 2011 assertions as U.S. Secretary of State in 2011 that Putin rigged the elections that year, to his actions in the 2016 U.S. elections.[167] Clinton said that by personally attacking her through meddling in the election Putin additionally took a strike at the American democratic system.[168] She said the cyber warfare was a larger issue than herself personally, and called them an attempt to attack the national security of the United States.[32] Clinton noted she was unsuccessful in sufficiently publicizing to the media the cyber attacks against her campaign in the months leading up to the election.[167] She voiced her support for a proposal put forth by U.S. Senators from both parties, to set up an investigative panel to look into the matter akin to the 9/11 Commission.[167]

Republican National Committee

The RNC said there was no intrusion into its servers, while acknowledging email accounts of individual Republicans (including Colin Powell) were breached. Over 200 emails from Colin Powell were posted on the website DC Leaks.[21][169] Chief of staff-designate for Trump and outgoing RNC Chairman Reince Priebus appeared on Meet the Press on December 11, 2016, and discounted the CIA conclusions.[76] Priebus said the FBI had investigated and found that RNC servers had not been hacked.[93] When asked by Chuck Todd whether Russia interfered in the election, Priebus stated there had been "no conclusive or specific report" demonstrating Russian involvement — a statement rated "False" by PolitiFact, who noted Priebus neglected conclusions from the Director of National Intelligence and Department of Homeland Security from October 2016.[76]

Donald Trump

Trump's transition team dismissed the CIA conclusions

Prior to his presidential run, Donald Trump made statements to Fox News in 2014 in which he agreed with an assessment by FBI director James Comey about hacking against the US by Russia and China.[170] Trump was played a clip of Comey from 60 Minutes discussing the dangers of cyber attacks.[170] Trump stated he agreed with the problem of cyber threats posed by China, and went on to emphasize there was a similar problem towards the US posed by Russia: "No, I think he's 100% right, it's a big problem, and we have that problem also with Russia. You saw that over the weekend. Russia's doing the same thing."[170]

In September 2016, during the first presidential debate, Trump said he doubted whether anyone knew who hacked the DNC, and disputed Russian interference.[171] During the second debate, Trump said there might not have been hacking at all, and questioned why accountability was placed on Russia.[172] After the election, Trump rejected the CIA analysis.[26][27] Trump's transition team drew attention to prior errors emanating the CIA,[28][29] namely stating: "These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction."[21] The intelligence analysts involved in monitoring Russian activities are most likely different from those who assessed that Iraq had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.[173] Responding to The Washington Post, Trump dismissed reports of Russia's interference, calling them "ridiculous"; he placed blame on Democrats upset over election results for publicizing these reports.[174] Trump cited Julian Assange's statement that "a 14-year-old kid could have hacked Podesta."[175]

After Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats and announced further sanctions on Russia, Trump commended Putin for refraining from retaliatory measures against the United States until the Trump administration would lay out its policy towards Russia.[176]

Trump press conference on January 11, 2017

On January 6, 2017, after meeting with members of U.S. intelligence agencies, Trump released a statement saying:

"While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines."

In the same statement, he vowed to form a national cybersecurity task force to prepare an anti-hacking plan within 90 days of taking office.[177]

Referring to the Office of Personnel Management data breach in 2015, Trump told The New York Times: "China, relatively recently, hacked 20 million government names. How come nobody even talks about that? This is a political witch hunt."[178]

Two days later, Reince Priebus reported that Trump began to acknowledge that "entities in Russia" were involved in the DNC leaks.[179] On January 11, 2017, Trump finally admitted that Russia was probably the source of the leaks, although he also said it could have been another country.[180]


In July 2016, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said he had not seen evidence emails leaked from the DNC were traceable to Russia.[12] In November 2016, Assange said Russia was not the source of John Podesta's hacked emails published by Wikileaks.[11] On January 3, 2017, he said that a "14-year-old kid could have hacked Podesta’s emails.[181]

On January 6, 2017, Reuters reported on a secret briefing given to Barack Obama by U.S. intelligence agencies on January 5, and scheduled to be shown to Trump a few days later. According to this assessment, the CIA had identified specific Russian officials who provided hacked e-mails to WikiLeaks in an effort to influence the presidential election. The hacked material sometimes followed "a circuitous route" from Russia's military intelligence services (GRU) to WikiLeaks, thus enabling WikiLeaks to claim that the Russian government was not the source of the material published on its website.[182]

Russian government

File:Sergey Lavrov, official photo 06.jpg
Foreign Minister of Russia Sergei Lavrov said Russia did not interfere in the U.S. election.[183]

The Russian government repeatedly denied any involvement in the US presidential election. Already in June 2016, in a statement to Reuters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov "completely ruled out"[10] any connection of Russian government bodies to the DNC hacks that had been blamed on Russia.[184] When a new intelligence report surfaced in December 2016, Sergei Lavrov, Foreign Minister of Russia, rejected the accusations again,[183] calling them "silly".[86] When ABC News wrote that Russian President Vladimir Putin was directly involved in the covert operation,[14] Peskov called this report "amusing rubbish that has no basis in fact".[185] On December 16, 2016, Peskov called on the U.S. government to cease discussion of the topic unless they provide evidence to back up their assertions.[186] According to The New Yorker, while "Russian officials on all levels have denied the hacking allegations," a pro-Kremlin MP justified them as a possible counterpunch to US "meddling" in foreign elections via color revolutions.[187]

At the Valdai forum in October 2016, Vladimir Putin denounced American "hysteria" over accusations of Russian interference.[188] During his December 23 press conference, Putin deflected questions on the issue by accusing the US Democratic Party of scapegoating Russia after losing the presidential election, saying they should "know how to lose with dignity." He also remarked that the Republicans won control of the House and Senate in state elections and wondered if Russia was deemed responsible for this as well.[189]

Electoral College

On December 10, ten electors, headed by Christine Pelosi, wrote an open letter to the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper demanding an intelligence briefing on investigations into foreign intervention in the presidential election.[190][191] Fifty-eight additional electors subsequently added their names to the letter,[191] bringing the total to 68 electors from 17 different states.[192] The Clinton campaign supported the call for a classified briefing for electors, with John Podesta saying: "Electors have a solemn responsibility under the Constitution and we support their efforts to have their questions addressed."[193]

On December 16, the briefing request was denied.[194]

Intelligence community

Current members

The CIA assessment, and Trump's dismissal of it, created an immediate and unprecedented rupture between the president-elect and the intelligence community.[195][196][197] On December 11, 2016, U.S. intelligence officials responded to Trump's denunciation of its findings in a written statement, and expressed dismay Trump disputed their conclusions as politically motivated or inaccurate. They wrote that intelligence officials were motivated to defend U.S. national security.[195] On the same day, The Guardian reported that members of the intelligence community feared reprisals from Donald Trump once he takes office. Questioned by The Guardian, two serving intelligence officers said they had not heard such concerns internally, one of them "noted that civil-service laws prevented Trump from launching a purge", while unnamed former officers stated that "retaliation by Trump [was] all but a certainty".[198]

Former members

Former CIA director Michael Morell said foreign interference in U.S. elections was an existential threat and called it the "political equivalent" of the September 11 attacks.[199] In a Washington Post op-ed, former NSA director and CIA director Michael V. Hayden wrote that Trump's attack on the Intelligence Community's findings diminished the chances that the incoming administration would use intelligence for logical policy-making decisions.[200] Former CIA spokesman George E. Little condemned Trump for dismissing the CIA assessment, saying that the president-elect's atypical response was disgraceful and denigrated the courage of those who serve in the CIA at risk to their own lives.[201] Another former CIA spokesman, Bill Harlow, said that the dispute between Trump and the CIA was a hideous development and unheard of to occur publicly.[196]

Independent presidential candidate and former CIA intelligence officer Evan McMullin criticized the Republican leadership for failing to respond adequately to Russia's meddling in the election process, "for fear of hurting Trump's chances".[202] McMullin said Republican politicians were aware that publicly revealed information about Russia's interference was likely the tip of the iceberg relative to the actual threat.[202] He said that, considering his experience as a former intelligence officer, he was distressed by the CIA revelations.[202]

William Binney, a former high-ranking official in the NSA, expressed doubt about reports of Russian involvement in the DNC leaks. In Harper's Magazine, he told Andrew Cockburn, "Saying it does not make it true [...] They have to provide proof....So let’s see the evidence."[203] Writing in the Baltimore Sun, William Binney and Ray McGovern criticized the report published by the FBI and DHS on December 29, commenting that it "fell embarrassingly short" of the goal of proving Russian hacking.[204] Binney and McGovern proposed that the DNC emails were leaked by an insider, rather than hacked and exfiltrated by an outside group.[204] They also wrote that given James Clapper's involvement in building the WMD case against Iraq, skepticism about his claims of Russian hacking was warranted.[204]

Former Pentagon analyst Pierre Sprey compared the public reactions of U.S. intelligence officials to Cold War-era "threat inflation," the "art" of playing up the threat posed by the Soviet Union in order to justify larger defense budgets.[203] Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter called the CIA's assessment "flawed on several levels", stating that "there is no direct evidence linking Russia to the hacks," and that the attribution to Russia rests on unverified assumptions made by German intelligence in a previous hacking case.[205]

Media commentary

Military historian Max Boot, writing in USA Today, stated that while "the intelligence community has made mistakes in the past", in this "case, it is obvious the spies have such a high degree of proof — including, one suspects, electronic intercepts of conversations and human intelligence reports to go along with forensic investigation of the hacked computers — that there is no disputing their bottom line."[206]

Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen, a vocal critic of Putin, wrote that the unclassified ODNI report was "vague" and inconclusive as to whether Putin tried to help Donald Trump. She noted that Putin, in a June 2016 panel discussion, toned down his praise of Trump. Gessen conceded that the classified version of the report may make a stronger case, but called this a "charitable reading".[207]

Journalist Glenn Greenwald, writing for The Intercept on December 10, 2016, criticized the Washington Post and The New York Times, stating that their reports on Russian involvement in the presidential election relied on anonymous sources within the CIA and did not provide any evidence or proof.[208] Jeremy Scahill and John Schwarz, also writing for The Intercept, urged President Obama to declassify evidence of Russian hacking.[209]

Theodore R. Johnson, Eric & Wendy Schmidt Fellow at the non-partisan think tank New America, writes that Russia targeted voters' decision-making processes by doxxing DNC emails and other hacked documents and intentionally spreading, if not originating, fake news. By manipulating the information voters consumed, they may have sown "... enough doubt in the minds of undecided and tentatively committed voters ..." to influence the outcome of the election.[210]

See also


  1. ^ APT is an acronym for Advanced Persistent Threat.[63]
  2. ^ In 2001, the U.S. government expelled 51 Russian diplomats out of the country in retaliation for Moscow’s alleged recruitment of FBI special agent Robert Hanssen[158]


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Further reading