Not a surprise given the magnitude of the operation. Would Russian hackers really have freelanced something that could upend the U.S. presidential election, causing all sorts of blowback for Putin? He had to have known. Still, this is newsworthy if only because the Washington Post’s story last week revealing the CIA’s suspicions about Russia’s motives made a point of noting that the CIA hadn’t connected all the dots yet. Quote:
For example, intelligence agencies do not have specific intelligence showing officials in the Kremlin “directing” the identified individuals to pass the Democratic emails to WikiLeaks, a second senior U.S. official said. Those actors, according to the official, were “one step” removed from the Russian government, rather than government employees. Moscow has in the past used middlemen to participate in sensitive intelligence operations so it has plausible deniability.
Per NBC, they’ve connected more dots now:
Two senior officials with direct access to the information say new intelligence shows that Putin personally directed how hacked material from Democrats was leaked and otherwise used. The intelligence came from diplomatic sources and spies working for U.S. allies, the officials said.
Putin’s objectives were multifaceted, a high-level intelligence source told NBC News. What began as a “vendetta” against Hillary Clinton morphed into an effort to show corruption in American politics and to “split off key American allies by creating the image that [other countries] couldn’t depend on the U.S. to be a credible global leader anymore,” the official said.
Oh, now. I think Trump neutering NATO will go a lot further towards destroying the credibility of American leadership than some election-hacking mess will. Incidentally, the bit about Putin having a vendetta against Clinton has been reported before; it stems from 2011, when she dared to suggest as Secretary of State that Russian elections might not be entirely free and fair. When the CIA says that Russia was trying to get Trump elected, that may have less to do with Putin badly wanting to see Trump win than badly wanting to see Clinton lose.
Anyway, supposedly U.S. intel has made this conclusion about Putin’s personal involvement with “high confidence,” their greatest degree of certainty — although how they can know what goes on at the highest levels of the Russian government in terms of approving covert ops is unclear. One possibility that occurs to me: Maybe Putin now wants it known that he personally supported the U.S. hacking campaign and took measures to reveal it to American intelligence. Why wouldn’t he? Clearly he’ll pay no price from Trump, who’s acting like a Kremlin spokesman when this subject comes up in interviews. If Russia’s going to get off scot free for interfering in the election, Putin might as well taunt the American intelligence bureaucracy by flaunting his role in it (while formally denying it in public so as not to make things awkward for Trump, of course).
If you’d prefer to believe this is all a political hit job by anti-Trump sources in the IC, that theory is straightforward. Putin is a Bond villain come to life; the closer you can put him to Trump’s victory, the more awkward it’s going to make Trump’s attempts to forge warm diplomatic relations with Russia next year. Or, if you prefer a simpler theory of skullduggery, maybe this is mere revenge by American spies on Trump for undermining them constantly in the media. The Cold War between Trump and his intel bureaucracy will be worse next year than the Cold War with Russia:
“In Trump’s case, it’s not really clear what the substitute is [for trusting the CIA],” said Rebecca Friedman Lissner, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “He’s basically discrediting the intelligence community and pointing to no more reputable sources.”…
“Intelligence has enormous implications for keeping the military safe, preventing threats against the homeland, and foreign diplomacy,” Susan Hennessey, a Brookings fellow and former attorney at the NSA, said. “What happens when it goes away, I don’t know. We could have a president who is governing based on instinct instead of evidence.”…
“There are a number of people in the intelligence community who risk their lives to do this out of a deep sense of patriotism,” she said. “If those men and women start to hear from the president that he doesn’t care so much about their info, he won’t read it, he won’t believe it, I think really talented people are going to start to think ‘Why am I doing this?'”
Former CIA chief Michael Hayden told Jake Tapper today (see below) that intel agents he knows are moving from disappointment in Trump to anger that he won’t back up their judgments about Russian operations. Hayden doesn’t talk consequences, but some resignations — or firings — wouldn’t be surprising early next year. For what it’s worth, a new Fox News poll finds that 67 percent have at least “some confidence” in the CIA and 50 percent say Trump is “too accommodating” towards Russia. Fully 59 percent, though, say they think Russia’s meddling had no effect on the outcome of the election, which should mitigate the political pain Trump suffers from this.
Exit question: Obama has no choice but to strike back at Russia before he leaves office, assuming he hasn’t covertly done so already, right? In fact, maybe that’s what tonight’s leak is really all about.
Conspiratorially minded sort could see IC as trying to bait Obama into a response to Russian hacks in order to box in his successor.
— Noah Rothman (@NoahCRothman) December 15, 2016
O’s base is spitting mad, not just at Russia and Trump but at him for not speaking up more forcefully during the campaign in accusing Putin of trying to tilt the election against Hillary. He knows full well that if he doesn’t order some sort of operation to retaliate, Trump isn’t going to do it, no matter how bold the IC gets in accusing Russia and Putin. He has 37 days to get something done and salvage a shred of dignity for his dismal legacy of being outmaneuvered by Putin.