Today’s Intelligence Report Proves Nothing [Updated]

Today the U.S. intelligence community–i.e., the CIA, the FBI and the NSA–released a report titled “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections.” This is the declassified version of a longer report that was delivered to President Obama, President-Elect Trump, and indirectly to the Washington Post and other news organs friendly to the Democratic Party. The report constitutes, allegedly, the long-awaited proof that Russia (specifically, Vladimir Putin) meddled in the 2016 presidential election by, most notably, hacking into email accounts of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta and distributing emails from those accounts to Wikileaks and others.

Does the report prove that claim? No, it merely states it. There is zero evidence in the report tying the Russian government (or anyone else) to the crude spearfishing effort or to the generic, out-of-date malware that invaded the DNC’s and Podesta’s email systems. Zero. Nada. Zilch.

Weirdly, today’s report never mentions the one the same agencies (apparently) released eight days ago. That report did purport to contain evidence of Russia’s involvement in the email intrusions, but, as we and many others pointed out, that supposed evidence was essentially meaningless. Anyone could have carried out the simple attack described in last week’s report, and neither the malware used nor the IP addresses implicated–contrary to the conclusory claims of the report–tied the intrusion to Russia’s government.

That first report stands as the only publicly available evidence that Russia had anything to do with hacking the DNC account, or John Podesta’s (which was not addressed at all in that first report). Today’s report adds nothing. It is purely ipse dixit–take our word for it. If the agencies have any responses to the many critiques of their first report, they are keeping those responses to themselves.

Today’s brief report–five pages, plus an executive summary and two annexes–doesn’t address technical issues at all, but rather focuses on public statements by Russian officials and surrogates, and the news agency RT (formerly Russia Today). It draws on these sources to conclude that Putin’s government wanted Donald Trump to win the election. This is possible, and here, some publicly-available evidence is provided. At the same time, we know for sure that Putin’s government wanted Barack Obama to win the 2008 election. Somehow, however, this was never deemed to be news.

The report is also mis-named. While titled “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections,” it addresses only the 2016 presidential election, although there are a handful of references to prior Russian intelligence gathering and propaganda campaigns. If the intelligence agencies had wanted to broaden the focus of their report, while sticking to recent events, they could have discussed the acknowledged Russian hacking of White House and State Department computers that occurred in 2014, and how those intrusions related to what happened in 2015 and 2016. But there is no mention of the 2014 events.

Today’s report is, as noted, remarkably brief. The longest portion of the report, at seven pages, is Annex 1, titled “Russia — Kremlin’s TV Seeks To Influence Politics, Fuel Discontent in US.” Annex 1 is devoted entirely to RT America TV, which the agencies deem a propaganda outlet of the Russian government. Given that this annex comprises the largest portion of the report, it is stunning to see this footnote:

This annex was originally published on 11 December 2012 by the Open Source Center, now the Open Source Enterprise.

So the CIA, FBI and NSA are so lacking in relevant, probative intelligence that the largest portion of today’s report is a recycling of four-year-old, public domain information on Russia Today.

In short, it is possible that the Russian government gained access to the DNC’s and Podesta’s email accounts by spearfishing, downloaded emails from those accounts, and provided them to Wikileaks. But we have to take the bureaucrats’ word for it. Neither last week’s report (which at least tried) nor today’s (which doesn’t try at all) contains any evidence that would make that claim more than mere assertion.

Despite being disappointing with regard to evidence, today’s effort is interesting in other ways. More to come, later tonight.

UPDATE: Here it is: To the FBI, CIA and NSA: Where Were You When We Needed You? The most notable aspect of today’s report is what it tells us about Soviet and Russian support for liberal causes and candidates in the U.S. through the decades.

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