Hacking occurred? Check. Russians involved? Check. An operation by the Russian government to elect Donald Trump? Er … not so fast. After leaks that the CIA believes that the Russians deliberately set out to crown Trump set off days of angry demands and accusations, Reuters reports that the highest levels of the intelligence structure don’t share that view. Instead, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence appears to side with the FBI — that the CIA hasn’t produced evidence of motive for the hacks:
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 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.
Reince Priebus emphatically denies that Republicans got hacked at all. As RNC chair, one would assume he’d know if it happened, but as Donald Trump’s new chief of staff, he’d certainly have some interest in denying it now, too. Senator John McCain alluded to that when insisting on a Senate investigation, saying that just “because Mr. Priebus says that doesn’t mean it’s true.” True, but considering that this appears to be the entire fulcrum of the CIA’s analysis, perhaps that should be the first point either corroborated or debunked in the upcoming hearings.
This doesn’t make a lot of sense anyway. First off, as Gabriel Malor points out, the hacks in question started well before anyone thought Trump would win the nomination, let alone the general election:
An issue here is the DNC hacks started before Trump won the primary. One of them LONG before. pic.twitter.com/L2GD99YCmL
— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) December 12, 2016
That image is from the independent report DNC commissioned about the hacks.
— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) December 12, 2016
To believe that the entire exercise was designed to elect Trump, one would have to see evidence that Russians were hacking Trump’s Republican rivals in the primaries. No such attacks have ever been noted, although some of them would certainly prefer that explanation than the reality of how they lost to Trump. Several of them attacked Trump for his attitude toward Putin, so if these candidates saw hacking attempts from Russia coming at them, it seems almost unbelievable that they would have remained quiet about it. A DNC hack would be a really indirect way of electing any Republican, let alone Trump.
Perhaps one can express this in the negative — that the Russians wanted to keep Hillary Clinton from getting elected rather than wanting to boost Trump. But does that make any sense? Hillary was going to keep Barack Obama’s foreign policy largely in place, under which Putin and Russia had managed to do pretty much what they wanted in the Middle East and in eastern Europe. Perhaps Trump’s foreign-policy comments made him more attractive, but those didn’t start coming out until well after the Russians began penetrating the DNC in summer 2015. Hillary was the Secretary of State that offered up the “reset button” to Sergei Lavrov, and Obama was promising Dmitry Medvedev “more flexibility” after the 2012 election while Hillary was still at Foggy Bottom. Hillary was the architect of Obama’s incoherent “Arab Spring” response, which opened the door to Russian military adventurism in Syria and an overt military alliance with Iran. Hillary and the Obama administration barely even mentioned Russia as a threat until Trump gained traction in the primaries.
Let’s also remember what was going on at State under Hillary’s management. Russians took control of a significant portion of American uranium in the Uranium One deal, approved on Hillary’s watch while her husband Bill took in $500,000 from the Russian bankers involved. That was also accompanied by over two million dollars in donations to the Clinton Foundation. Putin seemed to find the Clintons pretty easy partners, as long as he could launder cash to them through speeches and the foundation.
Finally, if Putin really wanted to torpedo Hillary Clinton, they had one sure and direct way of accomplishing it: the secret e-mail server. If the DNC and (allegedly) the RNC got penetrated by Russian intelligence in order to manipulate American elections and governance, does anyone have any doubt at all that Meemaw’s home-spun e-mail server (Now Wiped With Cloths!) remained inviolate? Once Hillary and her lawyers deleted over 32,000 e-mails that were supposedly “personal,” the FSB or whichever agency was involved could have leaked those all day long. They could have begun leaking them in 2014, when Hillary clearly was putting the band back together for a White House run and the existence of the server wasn’t yet publicly known. Do we really believe that the Russians penetrated non-governmental systems like the DNC, RNC (allegedly), and the Center for American Progress but totally missed the Secretary of State’s unprotected communications over four years? Come on, man.
The Wall Street Journal isn’t convinced by the CIA’s logic, or their track record:
Somewhere in the Kremlin Vladimir Putin must be laughing. The Russian strongman almost certainly sought to undermine public confidence in American democracy this year, and as the Obama Administration leaves town it is playing into his hands.
That’s the real story behind the weekend reports that U.S. intelligence services have concluded that Russia intervened to assist Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. The stories are attributed to “senior administration” officials who won’t go on the record but assert murky details that are impossible to verify without seeing the evidence. …
If the CIA really does have “high confidence” about Mr. Putin’s motives, this would also be the first time in recent history. These are the same seers who missed the Russian invasion of Crimea, missed the incursion into southern Ukraine, and missed Mr. Putin’s foray into Syria. The intelligence community also claimed “high confidence” in 2008 for its judgment that Iran had suspended its nuclear-weapons program. That judgment conveniently shut down any further Bush Administration action against Iran. But a year later, in the Obama Administration, our highly confident spooks disclosed Iran’s secret Fordo underground facility.
Hopefully the Congressional investigations to come will shed much more light on the hacks. If the Russians used the hacks to fuel Wikileaks and attempt to manipulate voters, we have to respond to that and make sure it doesn’t happen in the future. But the evidence for that conclusion had better be based on more evidence than what we’re seeing so far — evidence so weak that even the ODNI isn’t buying it from their own CIA.