A secret assessment conducted by the CIA determined that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was intended to help put Donald Trump in office, The Washington Post reported this evening, using anonymous sources.
The revelations undermine the position of President-elect Trump’s campaign, which has sought to downplay reports of foreign interference by citing a lack of evidence. They also mark a stark escalation in hostility between the US and Russia. It appears to be unprecedented that a foreign government used espionage tactics in a US election cycle to try and influence the outcome of a race.
The US Intelligence Community — which is made up of 16 different government agencies — had already concluded that the Russian government was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, as well as the email hack of Clinton campaign chief John Podesta. The first batch of emails were released by WikiLeaks this past summer and showed DNC staffers conspiring with the Clinton campaign to deny Sen. Bernie Sanders the nomination, among other embarrassing details. The full contents of the emails went on to be a central issue in the run up to Election Day. In a report released in October, the agencies accused Russia of using the email hacks to interfere with the election, but didn’t say what the Russian government hoped to achieve.
Today’s secret CIA briefing revealed the agency’s conclusion that Russia intended to boost Trump’s chances, The Washington Post says. “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,” an anonymous senior US official told The Washington Post. The CIA and the Office of the Intelligence Community did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“Such activity is not new to Moscow,” according to the Intelligence Community’s October report. Russia has used similar strategies to sway public opinion in Europe and Eurasia. US officials are warning European governments that they too might be targeted by cyber attacks intended to influence elections, according to BuzzFeed News.
In at least two cases, intelligence officials say the warnings came too late, indicating that Russia may have already breached other nations’ communications. Yesterday, Al Jazeera reported that German intelligence has detected "increasingly aggressive cyber espionage" leading up to the 2017 election next February.
This comes the same day that the White House announced that it has opened an investigation into what it called a pattern of malicious cyber activity surrounding the most recent — and possibly earlier — election cycles, according to Reuters. President Obama expects to see the results of the review before the end of his term.