When the WaPo posted last Friday's story about a "secret" CIA assessment that Russian cyber attacks were aimed at helping Republican President-elect Donald Trump win the 2016 election, the readers of the Bezos-owned publication took it as gospel, despite, as we promptly noted, there being no evidence provided by the CIA, and as we learned today, the FBI openly resisting the CIA's assessment. It now appears that once again the WaPo may have been engaging in "partial fake news", as it did with its Nov. 24 story about "Russian propaganda fake media."
According to Reuters, the so-called overseers of the U.S. intelligence community as it supervises the 17 agency-strong U.S. intelligence community, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), while not disputing the CIA's analysis of Russian hacking operations - something which would be unprecedented for the US spy industry and would telegraph just how partisan and broken the country's intelligence apparatus has become - has refused to endorse the CIA's assessment "because of a lack of conclusive evidence" that Moscow intended to boost Trump over Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
As Reuters conveniently notes, the ODNI position could give Trump fresh ammunition to dispute the CIA assessment, which he rejected as "ridiculous" in weekend remarks, and press his assertion that no evidence implicates Russia in the cyber attacks. The ODNI's position confirms that Trump was once again, you guessed it, right.
"ODNI is not arguing that the agency (CIA) is wrong, only that they can't prove intent," said one of the three U.S. officials.
As reported earlier, the FBI, whose evidentiary standards require it to make cases that can stand up in court, likewise declined to accept the CIA's analysis - a deductive assessment of the available intelligence - for the same reason, the three officials said.
The ODNI, headed by James Clapper, was established after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the recommendation of the commission that investigated the attacks. The commission, which identified major intelligence failures, recommended the office's creation to improve coordination among U.S. intelligence agencies.
As a reminder, the first hint that the US would scapegoat Russia for an "unexpected election outcome" took place on October 7, when the U.S. government formally accused Russia of a campaign of cyber attacks against American political organizations ahead of the Nov. 8 presidential election. Back then, president Barack Obama has said he warned Russian President Vladimir Putin about consequences for the attacks. Reports of the assessment by the CIA, which has not publicly disclosed its findings, have prompted congressional leaders to call for an investigation.
The narrative escalated rapidly last week, when outgoing president Obama ordered intelligence agencies to review the cyber attacks and foreign intervention in the presidential election and to deliver a report before he turns power over to Trump on Jan. 20.
So how did the CIA come to its conclusion?
According to Reuters, the agency assessed after the election that the attacks on political organizations were aimed at swaying the vote for Trump because the targeting of Republican organizations diminished toward the end of the summer and focused on Democratic groups, a senior U.S. official told Reuters on Friday. Moreover, only materials filched from Democratic groups - such as emails stolen from John Podesta, the Clinton campaign chairman - were made public via WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy organization, and other outlets, U.S. officials said.
The CIA conclusion - one of induction and no supporting evidence - 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.
Earlier Monday, Senator John McCain said on Monday also confronted the CIA's assessment, saying there was "no information" that Russian hacking of American political organizations was aimed at swaying the outcome of the election. "It's obvious that the Russians hacked into our campaigns," McCain said. "But there is no information that they were intending to affect the outcome of our election and that's why we need a congressional investigation," he told Reuters.
McCain also questioned an assertion made on Sunday by RNC Chair Reince Priebus, who said that there were no hacks of computers belonging to Republican organizations. "Actually, because Mr. Priebus said that doesn't mean it's true," said McCain. "We need a thorough investigation of it, whether both (Democratic and Republican organizations) were hacked into, what the Russian intentions were. We cannot draw a conclusion yet. That's why we need a thorough investigation."
Well, just because HIllary said that, it did make it true, so perhaps Reince is right as well?
Meanwhile, in an angry letter sent to ODNI chief Clapper on Monday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes said he was “dismayed” that the top U.S. intelligence official had not informed the panel of the CIA’s analysis and the difference between its judgment and the FBI’s assessment. Noting that Clapper in November testified that intelligence agencies lacked strong evidence linking Russian cyber attacks to the WikiLeaks disclosures, Nunes asked that Clapper, together with CIA and FBI counterparts, brief the panel by Friday on the latest intelligence assessment of Russian hacking during the election campaign.
We, for one, can't wait to hear his testimony - under oath - why in the span of one month so much has changed, and who precisely prompted the CIA to "infer" that Russia is responsible for Hillary Clinton's loss. Or maybe we will just have to wait for Wikileaks, pardon Russia, to hack Podesta's email account for that first?