Trump, Putin and the hidden history of how Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election

Newsweek reports: While there was widespread agreement among Western European and American intelligence agencies about the Russian effort — it was the British who first alerted the United States to its scope — there remain subtle disagreements regarding its intent. Over many weeks of debate, American intelligence agencies concluded that the campaign, which they believe was authorized by Putin, was intended to help Trump become president. Some Western European intelligence instead believe the Kremlin’s efforts were motivated not to support Trump, but to hurt Clinton, the Democratic nominee. Some of these overseas agencies also believe the effort was not set in motion by Putin but, once underway, received his support. During Clinton’s time as secretary of state, Putin publicly accused her of interfering in Moscow’s affairs. For example, her statement that Russian parliamentary elections in December 2011 were “neither free nor fair” infuriated him.

The hacking campaign, according to this analysis, was designed to split the Democratic Party so that as president, Clinton would have to spend enormous amounts of time dealing with domestic discord driven by Republicans and progressives tricked into believing that the Democratic National Committee had rigged her nomination. For example, as part of the campaign, Russian hackers obtained emails from the DNC that were then sliced into small bits and put out on the internet through participants in the propaganda effort. In many of these instances, the real documents were misrepresented. For example, WikiLeaks released a number of May 2016 emails on the eve of the Democratic convention that made it appear as if the DNC was solely pulling for Clinton; in many online postings, the date was removed so readers would have no idea unless they searched for the original document that was written at a time when Sanders could not possibly have won the nomination.

Either way, some Western European intelligence agencies have concluded, Putin’s larger goal is to damage NATO so the allied nations would be less likely to interfere either in Russia’s domestic affairs and less capable of responding to the Kremlin’s military campaigns or cyberattacks on neighboring nations.

The American and Western European intelligence agencies do, however, agree on how the campaign worked: Hackers pilfered information from a variety of organizations both inside and outside Western governments; they distributed it to individuals who feed it into what a source told a European intelligence expert was a “pipeline.” This so-called pipeline involved multiple steps before the hacked information was disclosed by a large group of propagandists around the world on social media — in comments sections of websites and other locations online. For example, that source reported that documents in the United States intended to disrupt the American election are distributed through WikiLeaks. However, there are so many layers of individuals between the hackers and that organization there is a strong possibility that WikiLeaks does not know with certainty the ultimate source of these records.

The Russian penetration in the United States is far more extensive than has been revealed publicly, although most of it has been targeted either at government departments or nongovernment organizations connected to the Democratic Party. Russian hackers penetrated the White House, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the State Department. They also struck at organizations with looser ties to the Democratic party, including think tanks such as the Brookings Institution, where some of Clinton’s longtime friends and colleagues work, as well as some organizations connected to the Republican National Committee. [Continue reading…]

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