U.S. Intel Report Says Putin Led ‘Cyber-Enabled Disclosure Operation’ to Help Elect Trump, Discredit Clinton

Broad-based GRU intelligence campaign employed cyber attacks and data leaks to WikiLeaks, DCLeaks, and Guccifer 2.0

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The CIA, FBI, and National Security Agency concluded in a report made public Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin directed a covert intelligence campaign to boost the election of Donald Trump while seeking to discredit Hillary Clinton.

The 23-page unclassified report is part of a longer secret study into a wide-ranging cyber and disinformation campaign similar to the activities during the Cold War of the Soviet KGB intelligence service.

"We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election," the report said.

"Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency."

The combined cyber and intelligence operation "reflected the Kremlin's recognition of the worldwide effects that mass disclosures of U.S. government and other private data—such as those conducted by WikiLeaks and others—have achieved in recent years, and their understanding of the value of orchestrating such disclosures to maximize the impact of compromising information," the report said.

The report warned that Russia will continue "cyber-enabled disclosure operations" to achieve foreign policy goals with relative ease and without causing significant damage to Russian interests.

"We assess Russian intelligence services will continue to develop capabilities to provide Putin with options to use against the United States, judging from past practice and current efforts," the report said.

The report noted that immediately after the Nov. 8 election, Russia launched an email spearphishing campaign targeting U.S. government employees and Americans at think tanks and non-governmental organizations involved in national security, defense, and foreign policy.

"This campaign could provide material for future influence efforts as well as foreign intelligence collection on the incoming administration's goals and plans," the report said.

The report is based in part on top-secret NSA electronic intercepts and analysis of Russian spy tradecraft and other aspects of the operation by CIA and FBI intelligence analysts.

The report also states specifically that the three agencies "did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election."

President-elect Trump, who was briefed on the top-secret report on Friday, stated on Twitter that he left the briefing convinced that Russian covert action had no impact on the election.

"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," Trump said.

He noted that Russian attempts to hack the Republican National Committee were unsuccessful as a result of better cyber security than used by the DNC.

The declassified report is titled "Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections" and will likely fuel the political debate among some Democrats who have sought to discredit Trump's election victory.

According to the report, Russia and Putin sought to influence the presidential election in a bid to "undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order."

However, the effort in 2016 began with major cyber intrusions in the summer and "demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations."

Regarding Trump, the agencies concluded that Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for Trump, a judgment the three agencies gauged with "high confidence."

U.S. officials familiar with the classified version of the report said intelligence indicated Russian officials celebrated Trump's stunning Nov. 8 election upset, Reuters reported.

The influence program involved "discrediting" Clinton through leaking information obtained from hacks against the DNC and political figures like John Podesta, Clinton's campaign manager.

The report also said the Russians "aspired" to boost Trump's election prospects by discrediting and contrasting Clinton unfavorably with Trump. In that judgment, the CIA and FBI voiced high confidence, but the NSA said it had only moderate confidence.

The operation evolved over the course of the election campaign and intensified when it appeared Clinton was likely to win. The report said at that point the Russians' influence campaign sought to focus on undermining her future presidency.

"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,'" the report said.

The main conduits for Russian intelligence, specifically the GRU military intelligence service, were hackers using the online persona Guccifer 2.0 and the website DCLeaks.com. Another main conduit for hacked "victim data" was the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks that the report says cooperated closely with Russia's main propaganda outlet, RT, formerly Russian Television.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told Fox News this week that Russia was not the source of the information published by the website. Assange did not reveal who the source was that provided the leaked information.

The report provides details on WikiLeaks close ties to RT.

Additionally, Russian hackers broke into multiple state and local election boards, but did not penetrate systems involved in vote tallying.

The entire influence campaign was orchestrated by senior Kremlin officials and disseminated to Russia's state-run "propaganda machine," a combination of both traditional media outlets and social media, including St. Petersburg group Internet Research Agency, to operate a troll network. The operation is funded by a Putin ally with ties to Russian intelligence.

The report concluded that Moscow will use the lessons of the campaign in future influence operations worldwide, including U.S. allies and their elections.

The campaign to influence the election represented a "significant escalation" compared to past Russian influence operations in terms of directness, level of activity, and scope of effort over past election meddling.

Russian deep cover "illegal" intelligence operatives expelled from the United States in 2010 revealed Moscow's bid to influence the 2008 election.

Also, during the 1970s, the Soviet KGB "recruited a Democratic Party activist who reported information about then-presidential hopeful Jimmy Carter’s campaign and foreign policy plans," the report said.

Putin's motive for the campaign was part ideological and part revenge for what the Russian leader believes is U.S. backing for mass democratic protests against his regime in 2011 and 2012. Putin also "holds a grudge for comments he almost certainly saw as disparaging him," the report said.

Putin in June avoided directly praising Trump as part of the campaign in order to avoid having the campaign backfire in the United States.

Still, Putin during the presidential campaign voiced preference for Trump because he believes the president-elect is more willing to work with Russia and because he perceived Trump would adopt policies more favorable to Russia related to Syria and Ukraine.

By contrast, Putin criticized Clinton for her "aggressive rhetoric," the report said.

Moscow also believed Trump as president would assist Moscow's plan to build an international coalition against the Islamic State terror group.

"Putin has had many positive experiences working with western political leaders whose business interests made them more disposed to deal with Russia, such as former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder," the report said.

Russian diplomats also were employed in publicly denouncing the U.S. electoral process and were ready to question the results if Clinton had been elected.

On social media, pro-Kremlin bloggers also had prepared a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #DemocracyRIP on election night.

The disinformation and influence operation was based on "years of investment" by the Russians and based on experiences used in influencing former Soviet states that Moscow is seeking to control in what is termed the "near abroad."

"By their nature, Russian influence campaigns are multifaceted and designed to be deniable because they use a mix of agents of influence, cutouts, front organizations, and false-flag operations," the report said.

An example was the takeover of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 that used a combination of military forces and information warfare operations.

In the presidential campaign operations, leaks from cyber attacks, intrusions into state and local election networks, and overt propaganda were used. Russian intelligence agencies "both informed and enabled the influence campaign," the report said.

In addition to the DNC and Podesta's email, the Russians targeted the primary election campaigns, think tanks, and lobbying groups likely to be involved in shaping future policies.

For the DNC, Russian intelligence gained access from July 2015 until at least June 2016, with the GRU launching aggressive attacks beginning in March 2016.

"By May, the GRU had exfiltrated large volumes of data from the DNC," the report said.

The information was provided to Guccifer 2.0 who claimed to be a Romanian hacker who the report says was likely Russian and probably more than one person.

DCLeaks.com began spreading GRU hacked data in June.

Contrary to Assange's claims this week, the report said: "We assess with high confidence that the GRU relayed material it acquired from the DNC and senior Democratic officials to WikiLeaks."

"Moscow most likely chose WikiLeaks because of its self-proclaimed reputation for authenticity," the report said. "Disclosures through WikiLeaks did not contain any evident forgeries."

The report noted that in September Putin denied state-level involvement in the Russian campaign to hack the election and stated publicly that it was more important to focus on the leaked data than the source of the leaks.

On Russian ties to WikiLeaks, the report said the Kremlin's main international propaganda outlet, RT, "actively collaborated with WikiLeaks."

"RT’s editor-in-chief visited WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in August 2013, where they discussed renewing his broadcast contract with RT," the report said.

RT also had an exclusive partnership with WikiLeaks that involved access to secret information. Additionally, RT provided sympathetic coverage of Assange and "provides him a platform to denounce the United States," the report said.

Sputnik, an online outlet, along with a network of social media trolls are also part of the Moscow propaganda machine.

According to the report, Russian media viewed Trump's election victory as validating Putin's advocacy of global populist movements and an example of Western liberalism's "collapse."

Negative Russian propaganda coverage of Clinton included highlighting her bout with pneumonia in August.

An RT interview with Assange in August also suggested that Clinton and the Islamic State were funded by the same money. Additional reporting by RT focused on the Clinton Foundation and how all of the foundation's funds went to the Clintons.

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