Exclusive: Top U.S. spy agency has not
embraced CIA assessment on Russia hacking - sources
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[December 13, 2016]
By Mark Hosenball and Jonathan Landay
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The overseers of the
U.S. intelligence community have not embraced a CIA assessment that
Russian cyber attacks were aimed at helping Republican President-elect
Donald Trump win the 2016 election, three American officials said on
While the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) does
not dispute the CIA's analysis of Russian hacking operations, it has not
endorsed their assessment because of a lack of conclusive evidence that
Moscow intended to boost Trump over Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton,
said the officials, who declined to be named.
The position of the ODNI, which oversees the 17 agency-strong U.S.
intelligence community, could give Trump fresh ammunition to dispute the
CIA assessment, which he rejected as "ridiculous" in weekend remarks,
and press his assertion that no evidence implicates Russia in the cyber
Trump's rejection of the CIA's judgment marks the latest in a string of
disputes over Russia's international conduct that have erupted between
the president-elect and the intelligence community he will soon command.
An ODNI spokesman declined to comment on the issue.
"ODNI is not arguing that the agency (CIA) is wrong, only that they
can't prove intent," said one of the three U.S. officials. "Of course
they can't, absent agents in on the decision-making in Moscow."
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, whose evidentiary standards require
it to make cases that can stand up in court, declined to accept the
CIA's analysis - a deductive assessment of the available intelligence -
for the same reason, the three officials said.
The ODNI, headed by James Clapper, was established after the Sept. 11,
2001, attacks on the recommendation of the commission that investigated
the attacks. The commission, which identified major intelligence
failures, recommended the office's creation to improve coordination
among U.S. intelligence agencies.
In October, the U.S. government formally accused Russia of a campaign of
cyber attacks against American political organizations ahead of the Nov.
8 presidential election. Democratic President Barack Obama has said he
warned Russian President Vladimir Putin about consequences for the
Reports of the assessment by the CIA, which has not publicly disclosed
its findings, have prompted congressional leaders to call for an
Obama last week ordered intelligence agencies to review the cyber
attacks and foreign intervention in the presidential election and to
deliver a report before he turns power over to Trump on Jan. 20.
The CIA assessed after the election that the attacks on political
organizations were aimed at swaying the vote for Trump because the
targeting of Republican organizations diminished toward the end of the
summer and focused on Democratic groups, a senior U.S. official told
Reuters on Friday.
Moreover, only materials filched from Democratic groups - such as emails
stolen from John Podesta, the Clinton campaign chairman - were made
public via WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy organization, and other outlets,
U.S. officials said.
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A padlock is displayed at the Alert Logic booth during the 2016
Black Hat cyber-security conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.
August 3, 2016. REUTERS/David Becker
The CIA conclusion was a "judgment based on the fact that Russian
entities hacked both Democrats and Republicans and only the
Democratic information was leaked," one of the three officials said
"(It was) a thin reed upon which to base an analytical judgment,"
the official added.
Republican Senator John McCain said on Monday there was "no
information" that Russian hacking of American political
organizations was aimed at swaying the outcome of the election.
"It's obvious that the Russians hacked into our campaigns," McCain
said. "But there is no information that they were intending to
affect the outcome of our election and that's why we need a
congressional investigation," he told Reuters.
McCain questioned an assertion made on Sunday by Republican National
Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, tapped by Trump to be his White
House chief of staff, that there were no hacks of computers
belonging to Republican organizations.
"Actually, because Mr. Priebus said that doesn't mean it's true,"
said McCain. "We need a thorough investigation of it, whether both
(Democratic and Republican organizations) were hacked into, what the
Russian intentions were. We cannot draw a conclusion yet. That's why
we need a thorough investigation."
In an angry letter sent to ODNI chief Clapper on Monday, House
Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes said he was “dismayed”
that the top U.S. intelligence official had not informed the panel
of the CIA’s analysis and the difference between its judgment and
the FBI’s assessment.
Noting that Clapper in November testified that intelligence agencies
lacked strong evidence linking Russian cyber attacks to the
WikiLeaks disclosures, Nunes asked that Clapper, together with CIA
and FBI counterparts, brief the panel by Friday on the latest
intelligence assessment of Russian hacking during the election
(Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Jonathan Oatis)
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