Report Says Putin Ordered Election Meddling

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(CN) – A newly declassified report says Russian President Vladimir Putin “ordered” an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election.

The 25-page report released Friday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence says Putin’s goal was to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton and harm her electability and potential presidency.

The release came after intelligence officials briefed President-elect Donald Trump and top lawmakers on Capitol Hill on a longer, classified version.

The campaign to influence the  election, the report notes, was in line with “Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order,” which Putin views as a threat to Russia and his regime.

However, Russian interference in the election “demonstrated a significant escalation” in the level and scope compared to prior operations, the report says.

Intelligence officials said the sophistication of the effort reflects years of investment in its capabilities, which Moscow perfected in former Soviet countries. The report describes the campaign as “multifaceted and designed to be deniable,” blending covert cyber intelligence operations with overt efforts, and targeted both political parties.

Russian influence campaigns utilize “a mix of agents of influence, cutouts, front organizations, and false-flag operations,” the report says.

“Russia, like its Soviet predecessor, has a history of conducting covert influence campaigns focused on US presidential elections that have used intelligence officers and agents and press placements to disparage candidates perceived as hostile to the Kremlin,” the report says.

“We assess with high confidence that Russian military intelligence (General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate or GRU) used the Guccifer 2.0 persona and DCLeaks.com to release US victim data obtained in cyber operations publicly and in exclusives to media outlets and relayed material to WikiLeaks,” the document continues.

The intelligence community believes cyber operations intended to upend the election began in March of last year, and relied heavily on Russian state-run media outlets like RT and Sputnik to spread negative stories about Clinton.

That included speculation that Wikileaks had a hacked email that would lead to Clinton’s imprisonment, and rumors about her health.

The intelligence assessment states that the Russian influence campaign directed its efforts at undermining Clinton’s presidency when it appeared likely that she would win. That included calling into question the fairness of the election.

“Before the election, Russian diplomats had publicly denounced the US electoral process and were prepared to publicly call into question the validity of the results,” the report states. “ProKremlin bloggers had prepared a Twitter campaign, #DemocracyRIP, on election night in anticipation of Secretary Clinton’s victory, judging from their social media activity.”

The report concludes that Moscow’s influence campaign signals a “new normal” in its influence efforts, and states that Moscow will apply lessons learned to future global influence efforts, including against U.S. allies.

But the report also notes that Moscow could already be at work again in the U.S.

“Immediately after Election Day, we assess Russian intelligence began a spearphishing campaign targeting US Government employees and individuals associated with US think tanks and NGOs in national security, defense, and foreign policy fields,” the report says.

After his briefing, Trump stopped short of embracing the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the presidential campaign, saying only that any hacking attempts had “absolutely no effect” on the outcome of the election.