US intel deep inside Russian gov’t captured Putin’s direct instructions to damage Hillary’s chances

Posted by DanielS on Sunday, 25 June 2017 08:31.

Washington Post, 23 June 2017:

“Obama’s secret struggle to punish Russia for Putin’s election assault”

In political terms, Russia’s interference was the crime of the century. It was a case that took almost no time to solve and was traced to Russian President Vladimir Putin. But because of the ways President Barack Obama and President Trump handled it, the Kremlin has yet to face severe consequences. Through interviews with more than three dozen current and former U.S. officials, The Post tells the inside story of how the Obama administration handled the Kremlin’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.


ROUNDING UP THE REVELATIONS

•••••••••••

Stunning intelligence: U.S. intelligence agencies had sourcing deep inside the Russian government capturing Vladimir Putin’s direct instructions to damage Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning and help elect Donald Trump.

Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried “eyes only” instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides.

Inside was an intelligence bombshell, a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race.

But it went further. The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump,

At that point, the outlines of the Russian assault on the U.S. election were increasingly apparent. Hackers with ties to Russian intelligence services had been rummaging through Democratic Party computer networks, as well as some Republican systems, for more than a year. In July, the FBI had opened an investigation of contacts between Russian officials and Trump associates. And on July 22, nearly 20,000 emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee were dumped online by WikiLeaks.

But at the highest levels of government, among those responsible for managing the crisis, the first moment of true foreboding about Russia’s intentions arrived with that CIA intelligence.

The material was so sensitive that CIA Director John Brennan kept it out of the President’s Daily Brief, concerned that even that restricted report’s distribution was too broad. The CIA package came with instructions that it be returned immediately after it was read. To guard against leaks, subsequent meetings in the Situation Room followed the same protocols as planning sessions for the Osama bin Laden raid.
Declassified document

Read the declassified report on Russian interference in the U.S. election

It took time for other parts of the intelligence community to endorse the CIA’s view. Only in the administration’s final weeks in office did it tell the public, in a declassified report, what officials had learned from Brennan in August — that Putin was working to elect Trump.

[Putin ‘ordered’ effort to undermine faith in U.S. election and help Trump, report says]

Over that five-month interval, the Obama administration secretly debated dozens of options for deterring or punishing Russia, including cyberattacks on Russian infrastructure, the release of CIA-gathered material that might embarrass Putin and sanctions that officials said could “crater” the Russian economy.

[...]

In political terms, Russia’s interference was the crime of the century, an unprecedented and largely successful destabilizing attack on American democracy. It was a case that took almost no time to solve, traced to the Kremlin through cyber-forensics and intelligence on Putin’s involvement. And yet, because of the divergent ways Obama and Trump have handled the matter, Moscow appears unlikely to face proportionate consequences.

[...]

“It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend,” said a former senior Obama administration official involved in White House deliberations on Russia. “I feel like we sort of choked.”

The post-election period has been dominated by the overlapping investigations into whether Trump associates colluded with Russia before the election and whether the president sought to obstruct the FBI probe afterward. That spectacle has obscured the magnitude of Moscow’s attempt to hijack a precious and now vulnerable-seeming American democratic process.

Beset by allegations of hidden ties between his campaign and Russia, Trump has shown no inclination to revisit the matter and has denied any collusion or obstruction on his part. As a result, the expulsions and modest sanctions announced by Obama on Dec. 29 continue to stand as the United States’ most forceful response.

“The punishment did not fit the crime,” said Michael McFaul, who served as U.S. ambassador to Russia for the Obama administration from 2012 to 2014. “Russia violated our sovereignty, meddling in one of our most sacred acts as a democracy — electing our president. The Kremlin should have paid a much higher price for that attack. And U.S. policymakers now — both in the White House and Congress — should consider new actions to deter future Russian interventions.”

The Senate this month passed a bill that would impose additional election- and Ukraine-related sanctions on Moscow and limit Trump’s ability to lift them. The measure requires House approval, however, and Trump’s signature.

This account of the Obama administration’s response to Russia’s interference is based on interviews with more than three dozen current and former U.S. officials in senior positions in government, including at the White House, the State, Defense and Homeland Security departments, and U.S. intelligence services. Most agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the issue.

The White House, the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment.

‘Deeply concerned’

The CIA breakthrough came at a stage of the presidential campaign when Trump had secured the GOP nomination but was still regarded as a distant long shot. Clinton held comfortable leads in major polls, and Obama expected that he would be transferring power to someone who had served in his Cabinet.

The intelligence on Putin was extraordinary on multiple levels, including as a feat of espionage.

For spy agencies, gaining insights into the intentions of foreign leaders is among the highest priorities. But Putin is a remarkably elusive target. A former KGB officer, he takes extreme precautions to guard against surveillance, rarely communicating by phone or computer, always running sensitive state business from deep within the confines of the Kremlin.

[Vladimir Putin: From the KGB to president of Russia]

The Washington Post is withholding some details of the intelligence at the request of the U.S. government.

[...]

The administration encountered obstacles at every turn.

Despite the intelligence the CIA had produced, other agencies were slower to endorse a conclusion that Putin was personally directing the operation and wanted to help Trump. “It was definitely compelling, but it was not definitive,” said one senior administration official. “We needed more.”

Some of the most critical technical intelligence on Russia came from another country, officials said. Because of the source of the material, the NSA was reluctant to view it with high confidence.

[...]

Jeh Johnson, the homeland-security secretary, was responsible for finding out whether the government could quickly shore up the security of the nation’s archaic patchwork of voting systems. He floated the idea of designating state mechanisms “critical infrastructure,” a label that would have entitled states to receive priority in federal cybersecurity assistance, putting them on a par with U.S. defense contractors and financial networks.

On Aug. 15, Johnson arranged a conference call with dozens of state officials, hoping to enlist their support. He ran into a wall of resistance.

The reaction “ranged from neutral to negative,” Johnson said in congressional testimony Wednesday.

[...]

Stung by the reaction, the White House turned to Congress for help, hoping that a bipartisan appeal to states would be more effective.

[...]

When U.S. spy agencies reached unanimous agreement in late September that the interference was a Russian operation directed by Putin, Obama directed spy chiefs to prepare a public statement summarizing the intelligence in broad strokes.

With Obama still determined to avoid any appearance of politics, the statement would not carry his signature.

On Oct. 7, the administration offered its first public comment on Russia’s “active measures,” in a three-paragraph statement issued by Johnson Jeh Johnson Homeland security secretary. Johnson is tasked with securing voting systems and arranges meetings with dozens of state officials. and Clapper James R. Clapper Director of national intelligence and one of four senior administration officials to participate in meetings in of the Situation Room on how to retaliate against Russia. Clapper would eventually release the Obama administration’s first statement concluding Russia interfered in the election. . Comey James B. Comey FBI director appointed by Obama. Comey was one of four senior officials to participate in meetings in the Situation Room on how to respond to Russia’s interference. Comey particpates in a briefing for members of Congress on Russia’s activities, but the meeting disolves into partisan bickering. had initially agreed to attach his name, as well, officials said, but changed his mind at the last minute, saying that it was too close to the election for the bureau to be involved.

“The U.S. intelligence community is confident that the Russian government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations,” the statement said. “We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.”

Early drafts accused Putin by name, but the reference was removed out of concern that it might endanger intelligence sources and methods.

[...]

To some, Obama’s determination to avoid politicizing the Russia issue had the opposite effect: It meant that he allowed politics to shape his administration’s response to what some believed should have been treated purely as a national security threat.

Schiff said that the administration’s justifications for inaction often left him with a sense of “cognitive dissonance.”

[...]

The assumption that Clinton would win contributed to the lack of urgency.

[...]

Instead, the administration issued a series of warnings.

Brennan John Brennan CIA director. Brennan first alerts the White House to the Putin intelligence and later briefs Obama in the Oval Office. delivered the first on Aug. 4 in a blunt phone call with Alexander Bortnikov Alexander Bortnikov Director of the FSB, the post-Soviet successor to the KGB. CIA Director John Brennan is one of the first to warn Bortnikov over Russia’s election interference in a telephone call. Brennan said Bortnikov denied it but told him he would pass on his message to Russian President Vladimir Putin. , the director of the FSB, Russia’s powerful security service.

A month later, Obama confronted Putin directly during a meeting of world leaders in Hangzhou, China. Accompanied only by interpreters, Obama told Putin that “we knew what he was doing and [he] better stop or else,” according to a senior aide who subsequently spoke with Obama. Putin responded by demanding proof and accusing the United States of interfering in Russia’s internal affairs.

In a subsequent news conference, Obama alluded to the exchange and issued a veiled threat. “We’re moving into a new era here where a number of countries have significant capacities,” he said. “Frankly, we’ve got more capacity than anybody both offensively and defensively.”

There were at least two other warnings.

[...]

Election Day arrived without penalty for Moscow.



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