Russia intervened in election to help Donald Trump win, CIA has concluded

The Washington Post reports: The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, according to officials briefed on the matter.

Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, according to U.S. officials. Those officials described the individuals as actors known to the intelligence community and part of a wider Russian operation to boost Trump and hurt Clinton’s chances.

“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,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators. “That’s the consensus view.”

The Obama administration has been debating for months how to respond to the alleged Russian intrusions, with White House officials concerned about escalating tensions with Moscow and being accused of trying to boost Clinton’s campaign. [Continue reading…]

Aaron Blake writes: The report highlights and exacerbates the increasingly fraught situation in which congressional Republicans find themselves with regard to Russia and Trump. By acknowledging and digging into the increasing evidence that Russia helped — or at least attempted to help — tip the scales in Trump’s favor, they risk raising questions about whether Trump would have won without Russian intervention.

Trump, after all, won by a margin of about 80,000 votes cast across three states, winning each of the decisive states by less than one percentage point. So even a slight influence could have plausibly made the difference, though we’ll never be able to prove it one way or another.

While saying that Russia clearly tried to help Trump doesn’t inherently call into question the legitimacy of Trump’s win —earlier Friday, the White House made sure to emphasize that it’s not making that case — it’s not hard to connect the dots. And Trump and his party know it. [Continue reading…]

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Fearing abandonment by Trump, CIA-backed rebels in Syria mull alternatives

The Washington Post reports: Three years after the CIA began secretly shipping lethal aid to rebels fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, battlefield losses and fears that a Donald Trump administration will abandon them have left tens of thousands of opposition fighters weighing their alternatives.

Among the options, say U.S. officials, regional experts and the rebels themselves, are a closer alliance with better-armed al-Qaeda and other extremist groups, receipt of more sophisticated weaponry from Sunni states in the Persian Gulf region opposed to a U.S. pullback, and adoption of more traditional guerrilla tactics, including sniper and other small-scale attacks on both Syrian and Russian targets.

Just over a year ago, the opposition held significant territory inside Syria. Since then, in the absence of effective international pushback, Russian and Syrian airstrikes have relentlessly bombarded their positions and the civilians alongside them. On the ground, Syrian government troops — bolstered by Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and Shiite militia forces from Iraq — have retaken much of that ground.

From a slow and disorganized start, the opposition “accomplished many of the goals the U.S. hoped for,” including their development into a credible fighting force that showed signs of pressuring Assad into negotiations, had Russia not begun bombing and Iran stepped up its presence on the ground, said one of several U.S. officials who discussed the situation on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The United States estimates that there are 50,000 or more fighters it calls “moderate opposition,” concentrated in the northwest province of Idlib, in Aleppo and in smaller pockets throughout western and southern Syria, and that they are not likely to give up.

“They’ve been fighting for years, and they’ve managed to survive,” the U.S. official said. “Their opposition to Assad is not going to fade away.” [Continue reading…]

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Just one Trump transition aide dealing with CIA and 16 other agencies in the intelligence community

Reuters reports: Only one member of President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team is dealing with the CIA and the 16 other offices and agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community, four U.S. officials said Wednesday.

Geoffrey Kahn, a former House intelligence committee staffer, is the only person named so far to Trump’s intelligence community “landing team,” they said. As a result, said one senior career intelligence officer, briefing books prepared by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the National Security Agency, the National Counterterrorism Center, and 13 other agencies and organizations are “waiting for someone to read them.” “It seems like an odd time to put issues like cyber security and international terrorism on the back burner,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Previous administrations, the official said, were quicker to staff their intelligence teams, in part because they considered intelligence issues critical to setting foreign policy, defense and budget priorities.

The intelligence community has some 200,000 employees and contractors and an annual budget of more than $70 billion. It collects and analyzes information on a vast array of subjects, from national security threats such as terrorism and climate change to global conflicts and the foreign, defense and trade policies of foreign governments.

Kahn has been in periodic contact with the CIA, said two of the officials, adding that they did not know if he had been in touch with the other intelligence agencies. [Continue reading…]

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Trump gives Petraeus a pass

Politico reports: Donald Trump said Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server for classified State Department emails made her unfit for high office. But that isn’t stopping him from considering David Petraeus, who pleaded guilty to knowingly leaking secret government files — and lying to the feds about it — for secretary of state.

Trump’s hourlong meeting Monday with Petraeus, a retired general and former CIA director, to discuss the Cabinet position is the latest in the president-elect’s outreach to retired military leaders who have clashed with President Barack Obama on foreign policy and national security.

But it also calls into question the sincerity of Trump’s stance on the importance of safeguarding the nation’s secrets, according to former government officials and intelligence experts — a stance that was driven home with campaign trail chants of “Lock her up.”

“The very consideration of Petraeus for a senior position reveals that the Trump campaign’s rhetoric regarding Hillary Clinton was totally bogus,” said Steven Aftergood, a specialist on government classification at the Federation of American Scientists. “Candidate Trump was generating hysteria over Clinton’s handling or mishandling of classified information that he likely never believed or took seriously himself.

“Petraeus admitted lying to the FBI, which distinguished his case from Clinton’s and made his case a good deal worse,” Aftergood added. “I think once again President-elect Trump is revealed as a rather hypocritical figure.” [Continue reading…]

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Vladimir Putin’s expendable asset: Edward Snowden

Andrew Mitrovica writes: Surely, Snowden knows that the Doomsday clock is inching towards 12 o’clock not only for an insecure world, but for himself as well.

He knows that Trump’s pick for CIA chief, veteran congressman and rabid NSA cheerleader, Mike Pompeo, wants the “traitor” shipped back to the US quickly, tried perfunctorily, and executed swiftly.

“[Snowden] should be brought back from Russia and given due process, and I think the proper outcome would be that he would be given a death sentence,” Pompeo told a television host in February.

Apparently, the congressman’s Wild West-like notion of “due process” is meting out a “death sentence” to Snowden after what will certainly amount to a token show trial.

Of course, in February, the earth’s geopolitical axis was such that Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama weren’t sharing a shot of vodka or horseback rides in the rustic Russian countryside.

Snowden is expendable. If he’s part of the price Putin might be obliged to pay to win more than just Trump’s admiration.

In this frosty context, reminiscent of the Cold War, Snowden, the former NSA spook, was a welcomed, if not useful, asset to the Russian leader, who was a KGB spy himself in the bygone, but not forgotten, Soviet era.

While alarming, Pompeo’s predictable, politically charged rhetoric could be dismissed at the time as, well, predictable, politically charged rhetoric.

Eight months later, the geopolitical axis shifted unexpectedly and breathtakingly. Trump’s once inconceivable victory will reverberate – to borrow Donald Rumsfeld’s cockeyed vocabulary – in unknown and known ways.

Still, Snowden must know that the budding bromance between Trump and Putin – nurtured before, during and after an election that possibly saw Russia’s security services tilting the scales in the “Manhattan Mussolini’s” favour – will likely mean that Pompeo’s vengeful hopes could be realised sooner rather than later.

Snowden must also know that the Trump-Putin bromance is the natural consequence of the ties that bind: money and mutual authoritarian pathologies.

The pending rapprochement between these two temperamentally unalike, but otherwise like-minded figures – if it comes – will have other direct and perhaps immediate consequences for Snowden.

First, Snowden’s value to Putin as a real or symbolic slap to America’s haughty face will have run its profitable course. [Continue reading…]

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When doctors first do harm

M. Gregg Bloche writes: President-elect Donald J. Trump on Tuesday expressed reservations about the use of torture. But he did not disavow the practice, or his promise to bring it back. And if he does, C.I.A. doctors may be America’s last defense against a return to savagery. But they’ll need to break sharply with what they did the last time around.

Buried in a trove of documents released last summer is the revelation that C.I.A. physicians played a central role in designing the agency’s post-Sept. 11 torture program. The documents, declassified in response to an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit, show in chilling detail how C.I.A. medicine lost its moral moorings. It’s long been known that doctors attended torture as monitors. What’s new is their role as its engineers.

The documents include previously redacted language from a directive by the C.I.A.’s Office of Medical Services telling physicians at clandestine interrogation sites to flout medical ethics by lying to detainees and collaborating in abuse. This language also reveals that doctors helped to design a waterboarding method more brutal than what even lawyers for the George W. Bush administration allowed. [Continue reading…]

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Mike Pompeo, Trump’s pick for CIA director, could take the agency back to its darkest days

Vox reports: President-elect Donald Trump has tapped Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas to head the Central Intelligence Agency, putting a hawkish lawmaker who favors brutally interrogating detainees and expanding the American prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in charge of America’s premier spy agency.

Pompeo may be an unfamiliar name to many Americans, but he is well-known — and apparently generally well-respected — among intelligence professionals and well-liked by his colleagues on Capitol Hill.

The 52-year-old third-term Congress member serves on the House Intelligence Committee and played a prominent role the House Select Committee on Benghazi, which investigated Hillary Clinton for her role in the deaths of four Americans at the hands of Islamist terrorists in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012.

Pompeo was particularly harsh on Clinton during the hearings, and in a report afterward accused her of having “put politics ahead of people” and “focusing more on spin and media narrative before an election than securing American lives under attack by terrorists.”

As a member of Congress with experience working closely with — and at times strongly defending — the intelligence community, Pompeo’s nomination as CIA chief could bode well for the future relationship between the CIA and Congress, which has deteriorated in recent years over the CIA’s detainee program and feuds with its nominal overseers on Capitol Hill.

But Pompeo’s extremely hawkish views on critical national security issues, such as his support for keeping open the US prison at Guantanamo Bay; his defense of brutal CIA interrogation practices like waterboarding and “rectal feeding”; and his overwhelming focus on the dire threat of “radical Islamic terrorism” — all positions closely aligned with those of President-elect Trump and his new national security adviser, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn — suggest he is not likely to be a particularly sobering or restraining force on the president-elect, particularly when it comes to controversial policies like torture and drone strikes.

Pompeo’s hawkish stance toward Russia, on the other hand, could be a major source of tension between him and the president-elect, who, along Flynn, seeks to develop closer ties with Russia, particularly in the fight against ISIS in Syria. [Continue reading…]

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Hacked emails reveal ties between Kremlin and Ukraine rebels

The Associated Press reports: A group of Ukrainian hackers has released thousands of emails from an account used by a senior Kremlin official that appear to show close financial and political ties between Moscow and separatist rebels in Eastern Ukraine.

The cache published by the Ukrainian group CyberHunta reveals contacts between President Vladimir Putin’s adviser Vladislav Surkov and the pro-Russia rebels fighting Ukrainian forces.

Ukraine’s National Security Service said Wednesday the emails were real, although they added the files may have been tampered with. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the published emails as a sham, saying Wednesday that Surkov doesn’t use email.

Russian journalist Svetlana Babaeva told The Associated Press emails from her in the cache were genuine. “I sent those emails,” Babaeva said, referring to three emails in the leak discussing arrangements for an off-the-record meeting between Surkov and editors at her publication.

Russian businessmen Evgeny Chichivarkin, who lives in London, said in a Facebook post Wednesday that emails attributed to him in the cache were genuine too. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: Sanctioned and thus banned from travel to the EU for his role in the Kremlin’s Ukraine policy, the 52-year-old Surkov nevertheless popped up at recent four-way negotiations in Berlin over Ukraine, sitting at the round table next to Putin, and just one seat across from Angela Merkel. It was a very visible signal of Surkov’s importance to the Kremlin’s controversial Ukraine policy.

Several sources have told the Guardian that Surkov has on occasion made secret trips to Donetsk, technically still part of Ukraine, to bring local separatist politicians into line and tell them what is expected of them if they are to continue to receive Russian funding and support. More regularly, emissaries from east Ukraine come to Moscow to meet with Surkov. [Continue reading…]

Chris Zappone writes: The timing of the hack and the target, Vladislav Surkov, suggest that this could be a form of retaliation for the purported Russian hacking of the US election.

The group, called Kiberkhunta (or Cyber Junta) posted 2000 emails from Surkov dating from between September 2013 and November 2014.

Coming against the backdrop of the Russian cyber campaign against the US during the current presidential election year, at least one analyst sees the possibility of a connection to those events.

“It is possible that we are seeing the first example of mutually assured doxing,” said Kenneth Geers, Kiev-based Senior Research Scientist at COMODO, referring to the practice of hacking and publishing private emails.

‘Mutually assured doxing’ is a play on the Cold War concept of Mutually Assured Destruction – the permanent nuclear stand-off between Russia and the US which dissuaded either side from starting a war.

“We should usually assume there is some political goal behind every leak,” he said.

Geers, who is also an ambassador for the NATO Cyber Centre, said the Surkov leak may hint at an emerging behavioural norm between nation states.

“We may see a doxing escalation ladder materialise: how far do you want me to go, all the way to the top?” said Geers.

“As painful as it is today, doxing serves a long-term historical role in reducing corruption.” [Continue reading…]

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German terrorism case highlights Europe’s security challenges

The New York Times reports: The warning came to the German security authorities in early September from “our best partners,” as they euphemistically refer to the American intelligence agencies: A terrorist assault might be in the works.

In the weeks that followed, the Germans identified a suspect, a refugee from Syria. They unearthed evidence that he had been casing a Berlin airport for an attack, and they recovered powerful explosives from his apartment, only to see him slip through their fingers. When they eventually captured him, the suspect promptly hanged himself in his jail cell.

The case was notable for its dramatic turns. But it also underscored two central challenges facing the Continent: getting a handle on the security risk related to the arrival of more than a million migrants last year, and addressing the continued reliance of European governments on intelligence from the United States to avert attacks.

Both issues have been plaguing Europe since the high-profile attacks in France and Belgium over the past two years. Governments have scrambled to counter the threat even as migrants, many with little or no documentation of their identity or country of origin, came over their borders in previously unheard-of numbers. The challenge has become more pressing in Germany in recent months after a spate of arrests and attacks, some linked to migrants.

“In a way, we have outsourced our counterterrorism to the United States,” said Guido Steinberg, a terrorism expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. “The Germans are not ready to build up their intelligence capabilities for political reasons, so this will continue.” [Continue reading…]

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CIA prepping for possible cyber attack against Russia

NBC News reports: The Obama administration is contemplating an unprecedented cyber covert action against Russia in retaliation for alleged Russian interference in the American presidential election, U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News.

Current and former officials with direct knowledge of the situation say the CIA has been asked to deliver options to the White House for a wide-ranging “clandestine” cyber operation designed to harass and “embarrass” the Kremlin leadership.

The sources did not elaborate on the exact measures the CIA was considering, but said the agency had already begun opening cyber doors, selecting targets and making other preparations for an operation. Former intelligence officers told NBC News that the agency had gathered reams of documents that could expose unsavory tactics by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Vice President Joe Biden told “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd on Friday that “we’re sending a message” to Putin and that “it will be at the time of our choosing, and under the circumstances that will have the greatest impact.”

When asked if the American public will know a message was sent, the vice president replied, “Hope not.”

Retired Admiral James Stavridis told NBC News’ Cynthia McFadden that the U.S. should attack Russia’s ability to censor its internal internet traffic and expose the financial dealings of Putin and his associates. [Continue reading…]

And what better way to expose such information than by providing it to Wikileaks. Julian Assange can then demonstrate that he’s not a puppet of Putin’s — or risk being outed if it turns out his organization chooses not to release such material.

Wouldn’t that turn Wikileaks into a puppet of the U.S. government? Kind of — except Assange’s position is that it’s not his job to pass judgment on the motives of his sources. His commitment is to protect his sources and publish secrets.

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How U.S. torture left legacy of damaged minds

The New York Times reports: Before the United States permitted a terrifying way of interrogating prisoners, government lawyers and intelligence officials assured themselves of one crucial outcome. They knew that the methods inflicted on terrorism suspects would be painful, shocking and far beyond what the country had ever accepted. But none of it, they concluded, would cause long lasting psychological harm.

Fifteen years later, it is clear they were wrong.

Today in Slovakia, Hussein al-Marfadi describes permanent headaches and disturbed sleep, plagued by memories of dogs inside a blackened jail. In Kazakhstan, Lutfi bin Ali is haunted by nightmares of suffocating at the bottom of a well. In Libya, the radio from a passing car spurs rage in Majid Mokhtar Sasy al-Maghrebi, reminding him of the C.I.A. prison where earsplitting music was just one assault to his senses.

And then there is the despair of men who say they are no longer themselves. “I am living this kind of depression,” said Younous Chekkouri, a Moroccan, who fears going outside because he sees faces in crowds as Guantánamo Bay guards. “I’m not normal anymore.”

After enduring agonizing treatment in secret C.I.A. prisons around the world or coercive practices at the military detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, dozens of detainees developed persistent mental health problems, according to previously undisclosed medical records, government documents and interviews with former prisoners and military and civilian doctors. Some emerged with the same symptoms as American prisoners of war who were brutalized decades earlier by some of the world’s cruelest regimes. [Continue reading…]

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Obama views Aleppo’s destruction as preferable to risky U.S. intervention

Josh Rogin writes: U.S. military strikes against the Assad regime will be back on the table Wednesday at the White House, when top national security officials in the Obama administration are set to discuss options for the way forward in Syria. But there’s little prospect President Obama will ultimately approve them.

Inside the national security agencies, meetings have been going on for weeks to consider new options to recommend to the president to address the ongoing crisis in Aleppo, where Syrian and Russian aircraft continue to perpetrate the deadliest bombing campaign the city has seen since the five-year-old civil war began. A meeting of the Principals Committee, which includes Cabinet-level officials, is scheduled for Wednesday. A meeting of the National Security Council, which could include the president, could come as early as this weekend.

Last Wednesday, at a Deputies Committee meeting at the White House, officials from the State Department, the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff discussed limited military strikes against the regime as a means of forcing Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to pay a cost for his violations of the cease-fire, disrupt his ability to continue committing war crimes against civilians in Aleppo, and raise the pressure on the regime to come back to the negotiating table in a serious way. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Secretary of State John Kerry criticized Russia on Tuesday for pointedly ignoring the Syrian government’s use of chlorine gas and barrel bombs against its own citizens, and he left little hope for an early resumption of talks with Russia about a cease-fire.

Speaking here before the opening of a conference on Afghanistan organized by the European Union, Mr. Kerry said that the United States would continue efforts to end the fighting in Syria through the United Nations, but that Washington had little hope of persuading Russia to give up its unqualified support of the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

The Obama administration announced on Monday that it was suspending bilateral talks with Russia on a cease-fire. [Continue reading…]

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