The much-anticipated intelligence report, about which President-elect Trump met with U.S. Intel Chiefs today, is public, and one revelation in the report is more significant than any other.
A declassified U.S. intelligence report released Friday directly accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering a campaign to influence the U.S. election and hurt Hillary Clinton’s candidacy – findings made public after officials briefed President-elect Donald Trump.
The debate has, to date, been bogged down in the useless and silly question of whether or not the Russian interference in our election had any material result. Essentially, whether they helped Donald Trump to win or not. There is no doubt in my mind, nor in the minds of many other observers, that the actual end-result of Russian attempts to affect the election was nil. They simply did not create enough havoc or doubt to change the outcome of the election. It’s a logically untenable position to believe that the news leaked from emails through Wikileaks about the DNC and the Clintons in particular was in any way a sufficient counter to the mountains of negative information that was released about Donald Trump. As I see it, it’s just not plausible that it changed the outcome from a Hillary win to a Trump win.
But that does appear to be what they wanted.
“Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency,” U.S. Intelligence added.
However, that is a wholly separate quuestion from whether or not it was the intent of Russia to influence the election. And even more so a separate question from the only really pivotal question which is, in two part: Did Russia engage in cyber espionage against American targets, and if so, from what level of government in Russia did the order to so originate?
We now seem to have answers to both of those questions, at least in the considered opinion of the majority, consensus view of our intelligence apparatus in total. Yes, they did use cyber warfare against the United States, and the order originated at the highest possible level. It came from Vladimir Putin himself.
And yes, by the way, this is cyberwarfare. It is the very definition of cyberwarfare: penetrating our digital security and sovereignty for the purposes of causing disruption, harm, or destruction.
For the first part, I will not in this post go over the evidence (solid) that Russia was involved in hacking against the United States. Many nations are, and Trump, who today received the briefing on the report that was leaked last night, conceded same already. Suffice it to say that it is the position of our intelligence community that Russia did this, that they have adequate and reasonable evidence for that position, and that Donald Trump no longer disputes it. (President-elect Trump is, by the way, doing a good job with this information this afternoon and has, in my view, handled this a lot better the last few days than the Obama administration has.)
The point of this post, however, is the second revelation: Putin’s involvement.
From Fox News:
“We assess with high confidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election, the consistent goals of which were to undermine public faith in the US 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.”
The intelligence report said this campaign included cyber activity and other efforts.
From the Washington Times:
The report was highly redacted and offered no specific evidence of the hacking, instead reporting conclusions of the FBI, the CIA and the National Security Agency on their assessments of Moscow’s motives and intentions.
“Moscow’s use of disclosures during the U.S. election was unprecedented, but its influence campaign otherwise followed a longstanding Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations — such as cyber activity — with over efforts by Russian government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries and paid social media users or ‘trolls,’” the intelligence community said in its report.
While the CIA, FBI and NSA all prepared the report, the NSA showed only “moderate confidence” in the conclusions that Russia’s intention was to dent Mrs. Clinton and aide Mr. Trump. The CIA and FBI, meanwhile, had “high confidence” in those judgments.
This is somewhat of an area of personal expertise for me, and I expect the NSA is probably closest to accurate, but also the most likely to be deliberately circumspect in any public assessment of an intelligence breach.
Putin’s direct involvement takes this to another level. His effort, successful or not, to change our election results in what he views as his favor is a very big deal. But even if you doubt his direct involvement, I hasten to add that our accusing him of it is an equally big deal. These are not minor matters.
It is something of a dirty public secret that the United States is routinely the target of cyberwarfare and acts against us that, to a traditional line of thinking, would be considered such overt acts of war as to precipitate a real world conflict. This is to say, acts that go above mere spying (which, by the way, also goes on every day between nations. Even friendly ones). The digital age is a new world in international activity and espionage, and even overt attempts to cause disruption, to breach our very real cyber-sovereignty, indeed to penetrate our national defenses in a very real way using cyber attacks, do not result in the same international incidents that, say, violating our airspace might. This reality can make it hard to believe that this was a very serious thing or that the intel community is being forthright in their assessments. It might be tempting to say ‘if they really did this, why aren’t we at war?”
But they did this. They do this. Many nations do this. The cyber war happens every day across the globe. It’s a new world, and information is power. That is as true, if not truer, in the field of espionage and national security as it is anywhere else. The only difference this time is that we all know about it, it targets a much larger scale (an entire election), and the involved parties are at the very highest level.
It can’t be left alone, and it can’t be a simple Democrat vs. Republican political football. Actions must have consequences, whatever form those consequences take.