Trump misrepresents intelligence findings on Russian interference in U.S. election

The New York Times reports: President Trump said on Thursday that only “three or four” of the United States’ 17 intelligence agencies had concluded that Russia interfered in the presidential election — a statement that while technically accurate, is misleading and suggests widespread dissent among American intelligence agencies when none has emerged.

The “three or four” agencies referred to by Mr. Trump are the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the F.B.I. and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, all of which determined that Russia interfered in the election. Their work was compiled into a report, and a declassified version was released on Jan. 6 by the director of national intelligence. It said that all four agencies had “high confidence” that Russian spies had tried to interfere in the election on the orders of President Vladimir V. Putin.

The reason the views of only those four intelligence agencies, not all 17, were included in the assessment is simple: They were the ones tracking and analyzing the Russian campaign. The rest were doing other work.

The intelligence community is a sprawling enterprise that includes military officers who track enemy troop movements, accountants who analyze the finances of Islamist militants and engineers who design spy satellites. There are soldiers, sailors and Marines; tens of thousands of civilian government employees and tens of thousands of private contractors.

Asked about Russia’s election meddling during a news conference on Thursday in Poland, Mr. Trump repeated his familiar refrain that “it could” have been Russia or other countries that interfered in the election, and then appeared to suggest that there was hardly an intelligence community consensus on the matter.

“Let me just start off by saying I heard it was 17 agencies,” he said when asked about the intelligence assessment.

“I said, ‘Boy, that’s a lot.’ Do we even have that many intelligence agencies, right? Let’s check it. And we did some very heavy research,” Mr. Trump continued. “It turned out to be three or four — it wasn’t 17 — and many of your compatriots had to change their reporting, and they had to apologize, and they had to correct.”

Mr. Trump was also correct about inaccurate news reports. Some, including an article in The New York Times, incorrectly reported that all 17 American intelligence agencies had endorsed the assessment.

But there is no evidence that significant uncertainty or dissent exists across the intelligence community, simply because not all 17 were involved in the assessment of Russian interference. [Continue reading…]

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Why Trump doth protest too much

It’s easy to dismiss a lot of Trump’s behavior — especially his Twitter rants — as expressions of petulance from a man who never developed the emotional maturity of an adult.

But it’s become clear that nothing triggers him more predictably than the story that won’t go away — his campaign’s ties to Russia.

Why protest so much if there’s truly nothing there? Why scramble desperately for distractions if a simple resolution would come from a full airing of all the facts?

Trump behaves not like a man with nothing to fear, but on the contrary as one terrified of what will sooner or later be revealed.

Perhaps former NSA intelligence analyst John Schindler knows why:

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The ‘Deep State’ is a myth. No secret entrenched bureaucracy is plotting to overthrow Trump

John R. Schindler writes: It would be terrible for the United States if the Trump administration convinces citizens that any sort of derin devlet [Deep State] in Turkish fashion exists in our country. Since it certainly does not. In the first place, American spies exhibit no political unity. There are Republicans, there are Democrats, there are Independents. Nearly every political viewpoint under the sun is represented in the IC, and while generalizations can be made — e.g. FBI agents are mostly conservatives while CIA analysts are largely liberals — they are so broad, and so marred by exceptions, as to be almost useless.

When spies in Washington leak to the media, they do so not out of any ideology, much less overt partisanship, but to protect bureaucratic turf and to settle personal scores. Mark Felt, the senior FBI official whose leaks to The Washington Post as the infamous Deep Throat made Watergate a national scandal, spilled the beans on the Nixon White House for entirely personal reasons. President Nixon repeatedly refused to appoint Felt — who was no liberal — the Bureau’s director, the top post that the bitter leaker felt he deserved. Exposing the Watergate scandal was Felt’s careerist vendetta.

Today, the Intelligence Community is deeply unhappy with President Trump. They dislike his repeated public insults and impugning of their professional integrity — something no president has ever done before. Many spies distrust the commander-in-chief, which is why some of our secret agencies are withholding highly classified intelligence from a White House they think is penetrated by Russian intelligence.

The Russia angle is most troubling to the IC. Behind closed doors, plenty of American intelligence experts believe that President Trump is the pawn of the Kremlin, wittingly or not, and assess that it’s only a matter of time before unseemly Moscow ties are exposed and the White House enters unsurvivable political crisis. [Continue reading…]

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Republicans are failing to protect the nation

Evan McMullin, a former CIA officer and chief policy director of the House Republican Conference from January 2015 until August 2016, when he left to run as an independent candidate in the presidential election, writes: President Trump’s disturbing Russian connections present an acute danger to American national security. According to reports this week, Mr. Trump’s team maintained frequent contact with Russian officials, including senior intelligence officers, during the campaign. This led to concerns about possible collusion with one of America’s principal strategic adversaries as it tried to influence the election in Mr. Trump’s favor. On Monday, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, was forced to resign after details of his communications with the Russian ambassador emerged.

Republican leaders in Congress now bear the most responsibility for holding the president accountable and protecting the nation. They can’t say they didn’t see the Russian interference coming. They knew all along.

Early in 2015, senior Republican congressional leaders visited Ukraine and returned full of praise for its fight for independence in spite of Russia’s efforts to destabilize the country and annex some of its regions. And in June, coincidentally just before Mr. Trump announced his campaign for the Republican nomination, they met with Ukraine’s prime minister in Washington — one of many meetings I attended as a senior aide to the House Republican Conference.

As the presidential race wore on, some of those leaders began to see parallels between Russia’s disinformation operations in Ukraine and Europe and its activities in the United States. They were alarmed by the Kremlin-backed cable network RT America, which was running stories intended, they judged, to undermine Americans’ trust in democratic institutions and promote Mr. Trump’s candidacy. Deeply unsettled, the leaders discussed these concerns privately on several occasions I witnessed. [Continue reading…]

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Trump wants another billionaire to join his gilded inner circle

Reuters reports: Stephen Feinberg, the chief executive of private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management [CBS.UL] who backed U.S. President Donald Trump’s election campaign, is being considered to lead a review of the vast U.S. intelligence operation and whether it can be restructured, current and former officials told Reuters.

While cautioning that the appointment was not final, the U.S. officials said Feinberg, if named to the role, would look for ways to streamline 17 separate agencies, a roughly $70 billion annual budget and tens of thousands of employees.

Trump’s advisers have expressed particular interest in reforming the role of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to coordinate the work of U.S. spy agencies.

The White House declined comment on Feinberg’s potential role. Cerberus declined to comment.

Cerberus said last week that Feinberg was in talks to join Trump’s administration in a senior role, without specifying what that role could be. The firm told its investors that it had a succession plan in place that would result in minimal changes to management and operations.

Potential conflicts of interest would also have to be resolved before Feinberg could join the administration. In a letter to investors last week, Cerberus said clearing that hurdle would require Feinberg to provide “voluminous information” and disclosures to the Office of Government Ethics.

Feinberg, 56, who donated to Trump’s 2016 election campaign and served as an economic adviser to him, has no prior experience in government. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Mr. Feinberg, who has close ties to Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, declined to comment on his possible position. The White House, which is still working out the details of the intelligence review, also would not comment.

Bringing Mr. Feinberg into the administration to conduct the review is seen as a way of injecting a Trump loyalist into a world the White House views with suspicion. But top intelligence officials fear that Mr. Feinberg is being groomed for a high position in one of the intelligence agencies.

Mr. Bannon and Mr. Kushner, according to current and former intelligence officials and Republican lawmakers, had at one point considered Mr. Feinberg for either director of national intelligence or chief of the Central Intelligence Agency’s clandestine service, a role that is normally reserved for career intelligence officers, not friends of the president. Mr. Feinberg’s only experience with national security matters is his firm’s stakes in a private security company and two gun makers.

On an array of issues — including the Iran nuclear deal, the utility of NATO, and how best to combat Islamist militancy — much of the information and analysis produced by American intelligence agencies contradicts the policy positions of the new administration. The divide is starkest when it comes to Russia and President Vladimir V. Putin, whom Mr. Trump has repeatedly praised while dismissing American intelligence assessments that Moscow sought to promote his own candidacy. [Continue reading…]

In 2012, Matt Taibbi characterized the business class to which Feinberg belongs, in this way: The new owners of American industry are the polar opposites of the Milton Hersheys and Andrew Carnegies who built this country, commercial titans who longed to leave visible legacies of their accomplishments, erecting hospitals and schools and libraries, sometimes leaving behind thriving towns that bore their names.

The men of the private equity generation want no such thing. “We try to hide religiously,” explained Steven [sic] Feinberg, the CEO of a takeover firm called Cerberus Capital Management that recently drove one of its targets into bankruptcy after saddling it with $2.3 billion in debt. “If anyone at Cerberus has his picture in the paper and a picture of his apartment, we will do more than fire that person,” Feinberg told shareholders in 2007. “We will kill him. The jail sentence will be worth it.” [Continue reading…]

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The bureaucracy, the press, the judiciary, and the public are fighting back against Trump with some success

Peter Beinart writes: Nothing Donald Trump has done since becoming President is particularly surprising. The attacks on judges and the press, the clash of civilizations worldview, the ignorance of public policy, the blurring of government service and private gain, the endless lying, the incompetence, the chaos — all were vividly foreshadowed during the campaign. The Republican-led Congress’ refusal to challenge Trump was foreseeable too. The number of Republicans willing to oppose Trump’s agenda pretty much equals the number who refused to endorse him once he became the GOP nominee.

Less predictable has been the response of other elements of the American political system: The bureaucracy, the press, the judiciary and the public. Here, the news is good. So far, they’re not only pushing back, they’re having some success.

The latest example is the resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Flynn’s resignation is a welcome development both because he held crudely bigoted views of Muslims and because he was unable to competently manage the foreign policy process. But that’s not why he lost his job. He lost his job because of an independent bureaucracy and a vigorous press.

CNN’s Brian Stelter has reconstructed the chain of events. On January 12, a “senior U.S. government official” told Washington Post columnist David Ignatius that, “Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials as well as other measures in retaliation for the [Russian] hacking” of the presidential election. Three days later, CBS’ John Dickerson asked Vice President Mike Pence about the call, and Pence insisted that Flynn had not discussed “anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.”

But the Washington Post followed up, citing “nine current and former officials” who claimed that Flynn had discussed exactly that. The New York Times reported that there was a transcript of the call. Eventually, it became impossible to deny that Flynn had lied, and caused Pence to lie. If the Trump administration had been able to deny reality, as it so often does, Flynn would likely still have his job. But good reporters, aided by government sources, made that impossible. As the Columbia Journalism Review notes, “it wasn’t the lying that got him [Flynn] fired; it’s that his lying leaked to the press.” [Continue reading…]

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How Donald Trump became a national security threat

John Schindler writes: For the first time, an American president is causing our allies and partners to wonder if Washington can still be trusted.

As I’ve explained, Trump’s aggressive comments about American spies — mocking them and comparing them to Nazis on Twitter, for example — have generated unprecedented enmity in our Intelligence Community. Going to war with the IC is a bad idea for any new administration, particularly given the new commander-in-chief’s rumored links to Vladimir Putin, which are keeping American spies up at night.

It’s not just Washington that’s worried. Throughout the Western spy alliance, intelligence agencies are pondering the previously unthinkable: Is the American president compromised? On several occasions over the decades, the IC had to reduce spy-links, usually only temporarily, to various partners when a new government contained too many cabinet ministers with Moscow linkages. Now the shoe is on the other foot, and it’s the American government that seems to have a Kremlin problem.

Just how alarming things are was revealed by a recent report in The Times of London that British intelligence has asked the IC for reassurances that the new administration — which has several officials with Kremlin ties that aren’t exactly hidden — won’t compromise British spies operating clandestinely inside Russia. When America’s oldest and most intimate intelligence partner is worried that the White House can’t be trusted with secrets, we’re in uncharted and dangerous waters.

The cost of breakdowns in the Western spy alliance won’t be theoretical. If intelligence sharing wanes, the world gets more dangerous and jihadist attacks will increase, perhaps quite quickly. When spy-partners aren’t confident their shared secrets can be protected, they will become reticent to talk to us. As Mike Hayden, the former director of both NSA and CIA explained, “How many foreign intelligence agencies might say, ‘I’m not sure giving this information to the Americans will do any good anyway. So why should we share it in the first place?’ If they come to the conclusion that the decision-makers don’t pay attention to the intelligence and the Intelligence Community is not respected, then why take the risk?” [Continue reading…]

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Obama opens NSA’s vast trove of warrantless data to entire Intelligence Community, just in time for Trump

The Intercept reports: With only days until Donald Trump takes office, the Obama administration on Thursday announced new rules that will let the NSA share vast amounts of private data gathered without warrant, court orders or congressional authorization with 16 other agencies, including the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the Department of Homeland Security.

The new rules allow employees doing intelligence work for those agencies to sift through raw data collected under a broad, Reagan-era executive order that gives the NSA virtually unlimited authority to intercept communications abroad. Previously, NSA analysts would filter out information they deemed irrelevant and mask the names of innocent Americans before passing it along.

The change was in the works long before there was any expectation that someone like Trump might become president. The last-minute adoption of the procedures is one of many examples of the Obama administration making new executive powers established by the Bush administration permanent, on the assumption that the executive branch could be trusted to police itself. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. intel sources warn Israel against sharing secrets with Trump administration

Ynet reports: Donald Trump’s upcoming inauguration as the next president of the United States is causing Israeli intelligence officials to lose sleep as well. Discussions held in closed forums recently raised fears of a leakage of Israeli intelligence top-classified information, clandestine modus oprandi and sources, which have been exposed to the American intelligence community over the past 15 years, to Russia – and from there to Iran.

The cause of concern are the suspicions of unreported ties between the president-elect or his associates and the Kremlin, whose agents are also associated with intelligence officials in Tehran.

These fears, which began upon Trump’s election, grew stronger following a meeting held recently between Israeli and American intelligence officials (the date of the meeting is not mentioned to protect the sources of the report). During the meeting, according to the Israelis who participated in it, their American colleagues voiced despair over Trump’s election, as he often lashes out at the American intelligence community. The American officials also told the Israelis that the National Security Agency (NSA) had “highly credible information” that Russia’s intelligence agencies, the FSB and GRU, were responsible for hacking the Democratic Party (DNC) servers during the elections and leaking sensitive information to WikiLeaks, which hurt Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The American officials further added that they believed Russia President Vladimir Putin had “leverages of pressure” over Trump – but did not elaborate. They were apparently referring to what was published Wednesday about embarrassing information collected by the Russian intelligence in a bid to blackmail the president-elect.

The Americans implied that their Israeli colleagues should “be careful” as of January 20, Trump’s inauguration date, when transferring intelligence information to the White House and to the National Security Council (NSC), which is subject to the president. According to the Israelis who were present in the meeting, the Americans recommended that until it is made clear that Trump is not inappropriately connected to Russia and is not being extorted – Israel should avoid revealing sensitive sources to administration officials for fear the information would reach the Iranians. [Continue reading…]

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Why Trump was briefed on his vulnerability to getting blackmailed

The Daily Beast reports: “For the moment, the most significant story is not the allegations themselves, but the fact they were briefed to the president and president-elect,” Susan Hennessey, a former National Security Agency official, told The Daily Beast. “The intelligence community does not take mere innuendo to the president, so it means that intelligence professionals and law enforcement are at least taking the claims seriously. But that is absolutely not the same as these allegations being verified. There are very specific facts in the document which law enforcement should be able to prove or disprove. So the smart course is not to dismiss this as fake news or assume it is not credible, but to wait for more information to emerge.”

The document is mostly composed of memos prepared by a former British intelligence operative who was hired to do research on Trump, first by his Republican opponents and then by Democrats. USA Today reports that his work on Trump had traveled so widely in Washington that America’s top spies felt a summary of the information needed to be presented to Obama, Trump, and to the eight senators and congressmen who oversee the intelligence community.

“I can picture how difficult a decision this must have been,” former CIA Director Michael Hayden told The Wall Street Journal of the decision to inform Trump. “But if we had this data, others may have had this data too. And regardless of truth or falsity, I can see why they thought the president-elect should know.” [Continue reading…]

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In a clash between the intelligence community and the White House, the president has the advantage

Gideon Rachman writes: The clash between the president-elect and America’s powerful “intelligence community” has led many wiseacres to suggest that Mr Trump is making a dangerous error. It is said they could easily destabilise the new president. The idea that the spooks are more powerful than the president himself sounds worldly. But it is almost certainly wrong. If there is a struggle between the White House and the intelligence agencies, Mr Trump is clearly in the more powerful position.

The legal, political and bureaucratic prohibitions placed on the intelligence agencies spying on Americans — let alone the president — are formidable. It is true that the spooks are powerful and well-resourced actors in the Washington system. But their main skill is gaining the ear of the president in struggles with other government agencies. When the president is the problem, it is less clear what the spies can do.

In any battle between the spies and the White House itself, the intelligence community’s only real resort is to brief or leak against the president. But there are no guarantees that this will be effective.

In 2004, CIA officials were widely accused of briefing against the administration of George W Bush, reflecting the agency’s discontent with the handling of the Iraq war. The Wall Street Journal even ran an editorial headlined “The CIA’s insurgency” and accusing “senior rungs of the agency” of “clearly trying to defeat President Bush and elect John Kerry”. But if regime change was indeed the intention, the CIA failed. Mr Bush was re-elected.

The whole controversy highlights a divergence in the international and domestic images of the US intelligence agencies. For the global left, the CIA has always been regarded as a sinister rightwing organisation supporting a reactionary world order. But in Washington the CIA is often regarded with suspicion by conservatives who believe it to have a liberal bias. The agency is, after all, full of people with advanced degrees and knowledge of foreign languages, who tend to raise tiresome factual objections to the right’s worldview. [Continue reading…]

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Trump voters mostly indifferent about Russian interference in U.S. election

The New York Times reports: “Sour grapes,” explained Bob Marino, 79, weighing in on the recent spycraft bombshell from the corner table of a local McDonald’s.

“Sour grapes,” agreed Roger Noel, 65, sitting next to him.

“Bunch of crybabies,” Reed Guidry, 64, offered from across the table.

The subject of conversation was the report released by United States intelligence chiefs on Friday informing President-elect Donald J. Trump of their unanimous conclusion that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia ordered an extensive, but covert, cyberoperation to help Mr. Trump win the election. The Russians had hacked and leaked emails, unleashed “trolls” on social media and used their “state-run propaganda machine” to spread stories harmful to Hillary Clinton.

In Washington, the report was viewed as extraordinary, both for its timing, raising sharp questions about the president-elect’s legitimacy on the verge of his taking office, and for its assertions, describing the operation as Russia’s boldest effort yet to meddle with American elections, to spread discontent and to “undermine the U.S.-led democratic order.”

But interviews with Trump supporters here in Louisiana, a state the president-elect won by 20 points, and in Indiana, a state he won by nearly the same margin, found opinions about the report that ranged from general indifference to outright derision.

“From the parts of the report I’ve seen,” said Rob Maness, a retired Air Force colonel who twice ran for Senate here as Tea Party favorite, “it seems silly.”

There are genuine concerns about Russia’s cyberoperations, he said, but the notion that they changed the outcome of the election was absurd. (The report made no determination on how they affected the election.)

Of the comments he had seen from fellow Trump supporters on Facebook and in emails, he added, “90 percent of them are like, ‘What’s the big deal?’”

The Russians may have very well gotten involved, several people said. They added that kind of interference should be combated. But many assumed that foreign actors had long tried to play favorites in American elections, and that the United States had done the same in other countries’ elections. Even if the Russians did do it — which some were more willing to concede than others — what difference did it make? People did not need the Russians to make up their minds about Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Trump’s election opponent. Blaming her loss on the Russians was, as one Trump supporter here said, “just being sore losers.” [Continue reading…]

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Putin’s man in the White House

Yesterday, Donald Trump tweeted:


Contrary to Trump’s claim that the DNC “would not allow the FBI to study or see its computer info,” Eric Walker, the DNC’s deputy communications director, told BuzzFeed News via email prior to Trump’s tweets: “the FBI never requested access to the DNC’s computer servers” [Walker’s italics].

Following an intelligence briefing today, Trump released a statement in which he said:

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.

That conclusion — “there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election” — is Trump’s and not the conclusion of the intelligence agencies.

Yesterday, the Associated Press reported on testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee:

Brushing aside Donald Trump’s dismissiveness, the nation’s intelligence chief insisted Thursday that U.S. agencies are more confident than ever that Russia interfered in America’s recent presidential election. And he called the former Cold War foe an “existential threat” to the nation.

Did Russian hacking sway the results? There’s no way for U.S. agencies to know, said James Clapper, the director of national intelligence.

Asked about the possible effect of the disclosure of private information stolen by hackers, Clapper said, “The intelligence community can’t gauge the impact it had on the choices the electorate made.”

Where Trump and the intelligence community are in agreement is that, as Clapper said, Russian hacking “did not change any vote tallies.”

After having become a lonely holdout in sustaining his skepticism about whether any Russian hacking had even occurred, Trump now claims absolute certainty about the hacking’s effect — which is to say, that it had no effect.

The overarching message Trump wants to promote is that Russia had no role in his election.

Until it became an unsustainable viewpoint, Trump insisted that he simply didn’t believe there had been any Russian involvement.

Now that he can’t push that line any further, he’s changed his tack slightly by abandoning his hard denial and instead says Russia’s interference was of no consequence.

What is clear, is that Trump is convinced that if he gives any real ground on this issue, he is going to end up being viewed — or as many of us would say, recognized — as Putin’s man in the White House.

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Putin ordered ‘influence campaign’ aimed at U.S. election, report says

The New York Times reports: American intelligence officials have concluded that the president of Russia, Vladimir V. Putin, personally “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election,” and turned from seeking to “denigrate” Hillary Clinton to developing “a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”

The conclusions were part of a declassified intelligence report, ordered by President Obama, that was released on Friday. Its main determinations were described to President-elect Donald J. Trump by the nation’s top intelligence officials earlier in the day, and he responded by acknowledging, for the first time, that Russia had sought to hack into the Democratic National Committee’s computer systems. But he insisted that the effort had no effect on the election, and he said nothing about the conclusion that Mr. Putin, at some point last year, decided to aid his candidacy.

The report, a damning and surprisingly detailed account of Russia’s efforts to undermine the American electoral system and Mrs. Clinton in particular, went on to assess that Mr. Putin had “aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”

The report described a broad campaign that included covert operations, including cyberactivities and “trolling” on the internet of people who were viewed as opponents of Russia’s effort. While it accused Russian intelligence agencies of obtaining and maintaining “access to elements of multiple U.S. state or local electoral boards,” it concluded — as officials have publicly — that there was no evidence of tampering with the tallying of the vote on Nov. 8. [Continue reading…]

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Intel report says U.S. identifies go-betweens who gave emails to WikiLeaks

CNN reports: US intelligence has identified the go-betweens the Russians used to provide stolen emails to WikiLeaks, according to US officials familiar with the classified intelligence report that was presented to President Barack Obama on Thursday. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: Former CIA director R. James Woolsey Jr., a veteran of four presidential administrations and one of the nation’s leading intelligence experts, resigned Thursday from President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team because of growing tensions over Trump’s vision for intelligence agencies.

Woolsey’s resignation as a Trump senior adviser comes amid frustrations over the incoming administration’s national security plans and Trump’s public comments undermining the intelligence community. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. intercepts capture senior Russian officials celebrating Trump win

The Washington Post reports: Senior officials in the Russian government celebrated Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton as a geopolitical win for Moscow, according to U.S. officials who said that American intelligence agencies intercepted communications in the aftermath of the election in which Russian officials congratulated themselves on the outcome.

The ebullient reaction among high-ranking Russian officials — including some who U.S. officials believe had knowledge of the country’s cyber campaign to interfere in the U.S. election — contributed to the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Moscow’s efforts were aimed at least in part at helping Trump win the White House.

Other key pieces of information gathered by U.S. spy agencies include the identification of “actors” involved in delivering stolen Democratic emails to the WikiLeaks website, and disparities in the levels of effort Russian intelligence entities devoted to penetrating and exploiting sensitive information stored on Democratic and Republican campaign networks.

Those and other data points are at the heart of an unprecedented intelligence report being circulated in Washington this week that details the evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign and catalogues other cyber operations by Moscow against U.S. election systems over the past nine years. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. obtained evidence after election that Russia leaked emails, say officials

Reuters reports: U.S. intelligence agencies obtained what they considered to be conclusive evidence after the November election that Russia provided hacked material from the Democratic National Committee to WikiLeaks through a third party, three U.S. officials said on Wednesday.

U.S. officials had concluded months earlier that Russian intelligence agencies had directed the hacking, but had been less certain that they could prove Russia also had controlled the release of information damaging to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The timing of the additional intelligence is important because U.S. President Barack Obama has faced criticism from his own party over why it took his administration months to respond to the cyber attack. U.S. Senate and House leaders, including prominent Republicans, have also called for an inquiry.

At the same time, President-elect Donald Trump has questioned the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia tried to help his candidacy and hurt Clinton’s. Russia has denied the hacking allegations.

A U.S. intelligence report on the hacking was scheduled to be presented to Obama on Thursday and to Trump on Friday, though its contents were still under discussion on Wednesday, officials said. [Continue reading…]

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What do intelligence agencies mean when they express a ‘high confidence level’ in an intelligence finding?

In an interview with former CIA Acting Director Michael Morell, Suzanne Kelly asks: With the understanding that sources and methods need to be kept secret in order for an intelligence organization to be able to effectively do its job, can you give a sense of how rigorous a source is vetted by an intelligence agency? It’s not like they are taking the first thing they hear and calling it intelligence, right? Can you give us an idea of how rigorously information is checked before it is presented to the President?

Morell: The analytic process itself is fact-based. It’s rigorous from the perspective of the analyst who is doing the work, and it is, as you know, reviewed by a large number of people, including other analysts in the agency in which you’re working, other analysts in other intelligence community agencies, as well as your superiors. In the case of a significant judgment like the one we’re talking about, it goes to the very top of the intelligence community. So I’m sure that (Director of National Intelligence) Jim Clapper, (CIA Director) John Brennan, and the other leaders of the Intelligence Community have paid very close attention and have looked very closely at the judgments and how they were arrived at and asked a lot of questions, sent people back to the drawing board to look at this or look at that, so that’s point number one.

Point number two is, since the Iraq war, the Intelligence Community has put a huge amount of focus on stating their level of confidence in a judgment that they make. It turns out that the real mistake in the Iraq war was not the judgment that they came to, but the fact that if they had really thought about it, the analysts would have only said that they only had low confidence in that judgment that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. That would have been a completely different message, right?

That was a mistake, so the lesson learned from Iraq was to really focus on your level of confidence in the judgment you’re making. ‘Not only do I think its going to rain tomorrow, but I have high confidence in that,’ or ‘It’s going to rain tomorrow but you guys have to know that I only have low confidence in that.’ That has become a big focus. What really caught my attention in the leaks that came out about the CIA’s judgment about what Putin was trying to achieve in his interference in the election is that the analysts applied ‘high confidence’ to that judgment. What that says to me, because we don’t attach high confidence levels to just any judgment, very few judgments actually have a high confidence level, so to get that, you have to have more than one source of data. I think we’re looking at multiple sources of data here, and you have to have something that is stronger than just a circumstantial case. I think you have to have some direct evidence, so I think we have some direct evidence.

The stuff that’s being talked about publicly, is all stuff that doesn’t really damage sources and methods, and that’s stuff that seems to be circumstantial, right? How do you know what Russian intentions are simply from the fact that they hacked the DNC, right? It’s the stuff that takes you directly to the top and directly to Putin’s intentions that probably have very sensitive sources and methods involved, and that’s why you’re not hearing anything about them.

So when the CIA says it has high confidence that they not only interfered in the election, but they did with the intent of helping Trump and hurting Clinton, I’d put very high stock in that for the two reasons we just talked about. [Continue reading…]

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Trump alleges delay in his briefing on ‘so-called’ Russian hacking; U.S. official says there wasn’t one

The Washington Post reports: A U.S. official disputed that there had been any delay in delivering the briefing that Trump requested on Russia, saying that high-level U.S. intelligence officials are scheduled to meet with the president-elect in New York on Friday.

The official said that Trump did receive a regular intelligence briefing on Tuesday, and raised the possibility of confusion on the part of his transition team or schedulers.

“It’s possible that his team has some scheduling disconnect” and that “whatever he received today didn’t meet his expectations,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence matters. But, the official said, the fuller briefing on Russia’s alleged election hacking was never scheduled to occur Tuesday, and that plans for a fuller Friday briefing have been in place for several days.

The officials expected to take part in that session include Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, Jr., CIA Director John Brennan, FBI Director James Comey and the head of the National Security Agency, Adm. Mike Rogers. [Continue reading…]

The Wall Street Journal reports: In Mr. Trump’s Twitter post Tuesday evening, he used quotation marks in such a way that suggests he doesn’t accept the intelligence community’s conclusions.

“The ‘Intelligence’ briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case,” he wrote. “Very strange!”

Shortly after Mr. Trump issued his tweet, Sen. Mark Warner (D., Va.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, responded on Twitter and said, “really wish we saw more [president-elect] respect for our intelligence professionals.” [Continue reading…]

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