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Russian hacking in US election

Rayhan Ahmed Topader

 CIA concludes Russia interfered to help Trump win election, say reports.Agency reportedly believes individuals acting for Moscow hacked Democrat party emails and gave them to WikiLeaks

The CIA determined that individuals linked to Moscow stole Democratic party emails, according to the Washington Post.Saturday 10 December 2016 09.47 EST

US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in last month’s presidential election to boost Donald Trump’s bid for the White House, according to reports.

A secret CIA assessment found that Russian operatives covertly interfered in the election campaign in an attempt to ensure the Republican candidate’s victory, the Washington Post reported, citing officials briefed on the matter.

A separate report in the New York Times said intelligence officials had a “high confidence” that Russia was involved in hacking related to the election.

The claims immediately drew a stinging rebuke from the president-elect’s transition team, which said in a statement: “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”

President’s decision to have US intelligence agencies look over evidence comes after unrelenting pressure from Democratic lawmakers to declassify information

Barack Obama has ordered US intelligence to review evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election after coming under sustained pressure from congressional Democrats.

The review will be one of Obama’s final instructions to the intelligence agencies, which will soon report to Donald Trump, whom congressional Democrats consider the beneficiary of a hack targeting the Democratic National Committee.

Lisa Monaco, the White House counterterrorism director, announced what she called a “full review” at a breakfast briefing sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor on Friday.

At the White House press briefing later on Friday, Eric Schultz, the deputy White House press secretary, denied the review was “an effort to challenge the outcome of the election”.

“We have acknowledged who won the election,” he said. “It wasn’t the candidate the president campaigned for. He has gone out of his way to ensure a smooth transition of power.”

The review will span the last three presidential election cycles, Schultz told reporters.“These agencies will have to take a look at what we saw in 2008,2012 and 2016.This is going to be a deep dive.This is a review that will be broad and deep at the same time.They’re going to look at where the activity leads them to look at.”

“If what the CIA are saying is true, and the CIA’s statement refers to people who are known to be linked to the Russian state, they would have arrested someone if it was someone inside the United States.

“America has not been shy about arresting whistleblowers and it’s not been shy about extraditing hackers. They plainly have no knowledge whatsoever.”

The California Republican congressman Devin Nunes, chair of the House intelligence committee and a member of the Trump transition team, said: “I’ll be the first one to come out and point at Russia if there’s clear evidence, but there is no clear evidence even now.There’s a lot of innuendo, lots of circumstantial evidence, that’s it.”

The emails were steadily leaked via WikiLeaks in the months before the election, damaging Clinton’s White House run by revealing that DNC figures had colluded to harm the chances of her nomination rival Bernie Sanders, and later giving examples of collusion between her campaign and figures in the media to blindside Trump in debates.

Person of the year shouldn’t be Trump it’s clearly Putin | Jonathan Freedland.A separate report in the New York Times, also sourced to unnamed officials, claimed US intelligence agencies had discovered that Russian hackers had also penetrated the Republican National Committee’s networks, but conspicuously chose to release only the information stolen from the Democrats.

A third report, by Reuters, said intelligence agencies assessed that as the campaign drew on, Russian government officials devoted increasing attention to assisting Trump’s effort to win the election. Virtually all the emails they released publicly were potentially damaging to Clinton and the Democrats, the official told Reuters.

“That was a major clue to their intent,” the official said. “If all they wanted to do was discredit our political system, why publicise the failings of just one party, especially when you have a target like Trump?”

On Friday the White House announced that Obama had ordered intelligence officials to conduct a broad review of election-season cyber-attacks, including the email hacks, to report before he leaves office on 20 January.

There were intrusions into both the Obama and John McCain campaigns in 2008, publicly attributed to the Chinese, he continued, and although there were no notable incidents in 2012, “knowing what we know now”, that election will also be scrutinised.

In 2016, he said, the government did not detect any increased cyber activity on election day itself but the FBI made public specific acts in the summer and fall, tied to the highest levels of the Russian government.“This is going to put that activity in a greater context…dating all the way back to 2008.”

Asked if the review would investigate Russia’s motives, Schultz replied: “Malicious cyber activity, specifically malicious cyber activity tied to our elections, has no place in the international community. Unfortunately this activity is not new to Moscow. We’ve seen them do this for years … The president has made it clear to President Putin that this is unacceptable.”

Obama expected the review to be completed before he leaves office, Schultz said. “This is a huge priority..I think the president wanted this done under his watch because he takes it very seriously. This is something the president has been watching closely for eight years now.”

Schultz also told the briefing: “We’re going to make public as much as we can. As you can imagine, something like this might include sensitive and even classified information. When that report is submitted we’re going to take a look. We want to brief Congress and the relevant stakeholders, possible state directors.”

“This is good news. Declassifying and releasing information about the Russian government and the US election, and doing so quickly, must be a priority,” said Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee.

In October, the director of national intelligence and the secretary of homeland security publicly accused the “senior-most” levels of the Russian government of directing those digital breaches. Trump, who has treated Russian president Vladimir Putin with a warmth unequalled by most US politicians, has repeatedly dismissed the accusation as politically motivated.

US intelligence laid the blame for the DNC hack at Russia’s feet but has not provided evidence supporting the accusation, although several private cybersecurity firms reaching the same conclusion have. Earlier this month, all the Democratic members of the Senate intelligence committee publicly intimated the administration knows significantly more about Russian culpability than the October statement revealed, and implored Obama for a public disclosure he has thus far resisted.

Yet the White House was more sympathetic to a request earlier this week from several senior Democrats in the House of Representatives, who wrote to Obama requesting a classified briefing on the role the Russians played in the election.

While Democrats, stung by a rout in an election many expected to win, have spearheaded the calls for disclosure of Russian interference, they also have some Republican support. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina hawk who savaged Trump on the campaign trail, told CNN this week he will use his Senate perch to pursue an investigation of Russian involvement in the DNC hack.

A second official familiar with the report said the intelligence analysts’ conclusion about Russia’s motives did not mean the intelligence community believed that Moscow’s efforts altered or significantly affected the outcome of the election.

The Kremlin has rejected the hacking accusations, while the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has previously said the DNC leaks were not linked to Russia. A second senior official cited by the Washington Post conceded that intelligence agencies did not have specific proof that the Kremlin was “directing” the hackers, who were said to be one step removed from the Russian government.

According to the Post’s report, officials briefed on the matter were told that intelligence agencies had found that individuals linked to the Russian government had provided WikiLeaks with thousands of confidential emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and others.

They told the paper that the people involved were known to US intelligence and acted as part of a Russian operation to boost Trump and hurt the chances of the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton. “It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favour one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” one said.

Craig Murray, the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, who is a close associate of Assange, called the CIA claims “bullshit”, adding: “They are absolutely making it up.”

“I know who leaked them,” Murray said. “I’ve met the person who leaked them, and they are certainly not Russian and it’s an insider. It’s a leak, not a hack; the two are different things

According to Monaco, the review will be classified and delivered to lawmakers before Obama leaves office on 20 January.

Democrats immediately pounced on the announced review and pressed the White House to declassify it before Trump takes office.

Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said Russia had “succeeded” in “sow[ing] discord” in the election, and urged as much public disclosure as is possible.

“More than that, the administration must begin to take steps to respond forcefully to this blatant cyber meddling, and work with our allies in Europe who have been targets of similar attacks to impose costs on the Kremlin; if we do not, we can expect to see a lot more of this in the near future,” Schiff said Friday.

The review, led by intelligence agencies, will be a “deep dive” into a possible pattern of increased “malicious cyber activity” during the campaign season, the White House spokesman Eric Schultz said. It would look at the tactics, targets, key actors and the US government’s response to the recent email hacks, as well as incidents reported in past elections, he said.

White House says Obama has ordered ‘full review’ of election hacking.

“The president wanted this done under his watch because he takes it very seriously,” he said. “We are committed to ensuring the integrity of our elections.”

Schultz said the president had ordered the inquiry as a way of improving US defence against cyber-attacks and did not intend to question the legitimacy of Trump’s victory. “This is not an effort to challenge the outcome of the election,” he said.

The Washington Post reported that US intelligence agencies were sceptical about the possibility that hackers would have been able to systematically manipulate the results of the election.

A CIA spokeswoman told Reuters that the agency had no comment on the matter.

                                      Writer and Columnist

                                          United Kingdom


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