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Russia hacking – Top U.S. spy agency has not embraced CIA assessment.


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
Monday.

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
attacks.

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
attacks.

Reports of the assessment
by the CIA, which has not publicly disclosed its findings, have prompted
congressional leaders to call for an investigation.

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.

“THIN REED”

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 on Monday.

“(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 campaign.
(Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Jonathan Oatis)

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
 

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