Following the bitterly-contested 2016 Presidential election, President Obama directed the U.S. Intelligence Community to conduct a review of Russian activities in that American election and then to report its findings. The intelligence assessment was published on January 6, 2017. A declassified portion was made available to the public.
In a joint statement, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chair Mark Warner (D-VA) announced that the Committee had completed its review of that report. The Committee found that the Intelligence Community’s assessment was accurate.
“Committee staff have spent 14 months reviewing the sources, tradecraft, and analytic work, and we see no reason to dispute the conclusions,” Senator Burr declared. “There is no doubt that Russia undertook an unprecedented effort to interfere with our 2016 elections.”
“Despite the short time frame they had to prepare it, the intelligence community did a very good job with the ICA [Intelligence Community Assessment],” Senator Warner concurred. “After a thorough review, our staff concluded that the ICA conclusions were accurate and on point.”
Excerpted key judgments from the declassified portion of that assessment follow:
Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations.
We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments…
Moscow’s influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations—such as cyber activity—with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or “trolls.” Russia, like its Soviet predecessor, has a history of conducting covert influence campaigns focuses on US presidential elections that have used intelligence officers and agents and press placements to disparage candidates perceived as hostile to the Kremlin…
We assess Moscow will apply lessons learned from its Putin-ordered campaign aimed at the US presidential election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against US allies and their election processes.
Such interference dates back to the Cold War. The assessment recounted, “During the Cold War, the Soviet Union used intelligence officers, influence agents, forgeries, and press placements to disparage candidates perceived as hostile to the Kremlin, according to a former KGB archivist.”
A declassified 1977 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), “Soviet Strategic Objectives,” revealed that the Soviets believed American society presented a possible opening for furthering their aims. That NIE explained:
There is agreement that the Soviets admire and fear American economic capacity and technological prowess. Further, they have a respectful appreciation of US military strength, current and potential. The Soviets see the US as having considerable advantage over the USSR in the economic and military potential of the NATO Alliance in comparison with the Warsaw Pact. At the same time, they see weaknesses in US society that they attribute to the factors of individualism and materialism in American culture: a reluctance to make sacrifices for state goals and an inconstancy in policy deriving from the play of plural interests. They are scornful of what they see as a public appetite for sensation and a general disrespect for authority.
As with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, Russia views the American public as a “weakness” in the overall U.S. political framework. Therefore, it exploits the existence of “plural interests” to try to divide the American public. Consistent with an effort to divide, Russian messages posted on Social Media often took sharply contrasting positions on a range of issues, other than those that were of critical Russian interest.
Russia has updated earlier Soviet disinformation methods to take advantage of technological and structural media industry changes that have occurred since the end of the Cold War. Such tactics utilize both the Internet and Social Media. They attempt to seize opportunities created from a fragmented American media, the advent of hybrid information-entertainment formats, and the rise of alternative media such as Talk Radio. The January 2017 assessment highlighted Russia’s efforts to exploit eroding trust in traditional media outlets.
The general conclusion made available by Senators Burr and Warner marks the end of an important part of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s work. The Committee will subsequently provide findings and make recommendations to address the threat posed by Russia’s election-related activities.