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US releases declassified report on Russian hacking

Russia's President Putin holds video link up to start gas supply to Crimea Photo by Alexei Druzhinin\TASS via Getty Images

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has released its public report on Russian hacking operations in the United States.

The report, a declassified version of a classified report ordered by President Obama, details attempts by Russia to interfere with the 2016 presidential election, and concludes cyber-operations from the country were directly ordered by President Putin to harm Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

“We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election,” according to the report, titled “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections.” “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.”

This week, in a hearing in front of lawmakers, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper previewed some parts of the report, saying Russia had relied on a “multifaceted” program to influence opinion in the US, and the report outlines some of those efforts officially for the first time.

“The Kremlin’s campaign aimed at the US election featured disclosures of data obtained through Russian cyber operations; intrusions into US state and local electoral boards; and overt propaganda,” according to the report.

The report states that Russian intelligence services made cyber attacks against “both major US political parties,” and specifically mentions the successful hack of the Democratic National Committee. (“Russia collected on some Republican-affiliated targets but did not conduct a comparable disclosure campaign,” it reads.) The report also publicly names Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks.com, two sources of stolen information released to the public, as Russian operatives working on behalf of the country’s military intelligence unit, the GRU. Officials from the organization were recently the target of US sanctions. WikiLeaks is also cited as a recipient of stolen information.

The intelligence report cites outlets like RT, as well as quasi-government paid trolls, as sources of pro-Trump, anti-Clinton propaganda online. The report also notes that the US has determined Russia “accessed elements of multiple state or local electoral boards,” though no vote-tallying processes were tampered with.

The FBI and CIA have “high confidence” the election tampering was ordered to help then-candidate Trump, according to the report. NSA has “moderate confidence” in that assessment. All three agencies put high confidence in Russia’s responsibility, and that the operations were meant to damage Clinton’s chances.

Despite those assessments, however, the report includes scant information on how the government tied the operations to Russian intelligence. The report cites “sensitive sources or methods” that would be damaged through public release, and claims the classified report contains more information. “Thus, while the conclusions in the report are all reflected in the classified assessment, the declassified report does not and cannot include the full supporting information, including specific intelligence and sources and methods,” according to the report.

That may not be enough for some critics, who have been publicly calling on the intelligence community to release more information explaining how it linked hacking operations to Russia.

Trump has attempted to cast doubt on the intelligence community’s attribution of Russia, although after an intelligence briefing on the hack today, he seemed to soften his tone slightly, saying in a statement that “Russia, China, other countries, outside groups, and people” are hacking the US, but claiming (unknowably) that “there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election.”

The report concludes that, after its successes in 2016, Russia will likely continue with similar tactics. “We assess Moscow will apply lessons learned from its Putin-ordered campaign aimed at the US presidential election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against US allies and their election processes,” the report reads.