Intelligence Report: Government's Key Findings on Russian Hacking Efforts

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U.S. Defense Undersecretary for Intelligence Marcel Lettre, from left, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and National Security Agency Director U.S. Navy Admiral Michael Rogers testify before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on foreign cyber threats on January 5. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Russian government officials mounted an unprecedented public information campaign involving state-funded media, third parties and paid social media users to help discredit Hillary Clinton and promote Donald Trump, according to a declassified intelligence report released Friday.

The report, which represents the assessments of the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency (NSA), follows Congressional testimony this week from senior intelligence officials on Russian efforts to influence the election. The report is "identical to the highly classified assessment," but omits "full supporting information, including specific intelligence on key elements of the influence campaign," according to the document.

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The assessments show that the Russian campaign was wider than initially publicly known and was a multifaceted campaign that lasted more than a year. Key findings include:

Putin's Culpability, Motives

The report claims that the hacking campaign originated with Russian President Vladimir Putin. "We assess with high confidence that (Putin) ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election, the consistent goals of which were to undermine public faith in the U.S. 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. When it appeared to Moscow that Secretary Clinton was likely to win the election, the Russian influence campaign then focused on undermining her expected presidency."

Russia's motives in promoting Trump included its "longstanding desire to undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order, the promotion of which Putin and other senior Russian leaders view as a threat to Russia and Putin's regime." Furthermore, the document states Putin viewed the Panama Papers and Olympic doping scandals as "U.S.-directed efforts to defame Russia." Russia preferred Trump also because Putin holds Clinton responsible for "inciting mass protests against his regime in late 2011 and early 2012, and because he holds a grudge for comments he almost certainly saw as disparaging him."

The FBI, CIA and NSA all agree with the judgment that Russia's interest was in helping Trump and harming Clinton, but the NSA only has "moderate confidence" in that assessment while the CIA and FBI maintain "high confidence." The declassified report explains that a "high confidence" judgment indicates a conclusion based on "high-quality information from multiple sources," while a "moderate confidence" judgment "generally means that the information is credibly sourced and plausible but not of sufficient quality or corroborated sufficiently to warrant a higher level of confidence."

Multifaceted Campaign, Methods

Russia used a variety of resources to mount its disinformation campaign, which are "designed to be deniable because they use a mix of agents of influence, cutouts, front organizations and false-flag operations," the document states. 

The report contends that Russian intelligence, not third-party proxies, breached the email accounts of Democratic Party officials, generating a steady stream of leaks throughout the election season. Russian intelligence was behind the Guccifer 2.0 persona, which purported to be an independent Romanian hacker, and directly "relayed material it acquired from the DNC and senior Democratic officials to Wikileaks."

However, the leaked documents that Wikileaks and the DCLeaks.com outlet published weren't enough. Russia also leaned heavily on its state-run media, internationally focused outlets such as RT and Sputnik and a "network of quasi-government trolls" to further its campaign. The document contains a lengthy annex on RT's efforts, its "latest facet of its broader and longer-standing anti-U.S. messaging likely aimed at undermining viewers' trust in U.S. democratic procedures and undercutting U.S. criticism of Russia's political system."

A New Normal

The Russian influence campaign was a significant departure from past espionage operations and its success will only embolden Kremlin officials to mount similar efforts to other elections around the world, the report states.

"Russia's effort to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election represented a significant escalation in directness, level of activity and scope of effort compared to previous operations aimed at U.S. elections," the report states. "We assess Moscow will apply lessons learned from its campaign...to future influence efforts in the United States and worldwide, including against U.S. allies and their election processes."

Declassified Intelligence Report on Russian Hacking by Nicholas Loffredo on Scribd