Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Photograph by AFP/Getty Images
By David Z. Morris
December 10, 2016

The Washington Post reports that the CIA has concluded that the Russian government aimed to help Donald Trump win the presidency by hacking his opponents during the U.S. election. The conclusion was presented to a handful of senators in a closed-door meeting last week.

“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other,” a senior official who had been briefed told the Post, “To get Trump elected.”

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The U.S. intelligence community officially said in October that the Russian government was responsible for hacks of the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign. But those actions were only described as being “intended to interfere with the US election process,” rather than to help a specific candidate.

The claim that Russia specifically favored Trump is not completely official, at least not yet. According to the Post, there remain minor disagreements among the heads of various intelligence agencies. Those hinge in part on the fact that Russia used non-state intermediaries to handle hacked information, providing some nominal distance from state officials.

News of the senatorial briefing came just hours after President Obama ordered intelligence agencies to conduct a full review of Russia’s election hacking activities. The review is expected to be completed before Obama leaves office next month.

Why Trump Is Tweeting About ‘Celebrity Apprentice,’ Not Russia

The latest CIA conclusions cast a further pall on Wikileaks, which helped distribute the hacked emails. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has repeatedly insisted that the sources of the emails were not state parties. While the use of intermediaries may have made this technically true, the CIA’s new conclusions further support the idea that Wikileaks was, at best, an unwitting pawn of Vladimir Putin.

In a statement, the Trump team seemed to shrug off not only the CIA’s new conclusions, but the competence of the agency itself. “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.’”

For more on the frontiers of cyber-conflict, watch our video.

That response demands some fact checking. The Bush administration significantly distorted the CIA’s relatively cautious report on Iraqi WMDs. And Trump’s electoral college numbers do not rank among the largest in history.

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