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The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Confirms the US Intelligence Community’s Assessment’s Findings on Russian Interference in the 2016 US Elections

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) has issued an unclassified, preliminary, summary report that confirms the Intelligence Community’s Assessment that Russia did interfere in the 2016 presidential election and did so in support of the President and his campaign. Let’s start with the Conclusion.

Conclusion

Finally, the Committee notes that, as is the case with all intelligence questions, information continues to be gathered and analyzed. The Committee believes the conclusions of the ICA are sound, and notes that collection and analysis subsequent to the ICA’s publication continue to reinforce its assessments. The Committee will remain vigilant in its oversight of the ongoing challenges presented by foreign nations attempting to secretly influence U.S. affairs.

From the report:

Initial Findings

Summary

The Committee finds that the Intelligence Community met President Obama’s tasking and that the ICA is a sound intelligence product. While the Committee had to rely on agencies that the sensitive information and accesses had been accurately reported, as part of our inquiry the Committee reviewed analytic procedures, interviewed senior intelligence officers well-versed with the information, and based our findings on the entire body of intelligence reporting included in the ICA.

The Committee finds the difference in confidence levels between the NSA and the CIA and FBI on the assessment that “Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances” appropriately represents analytic differences and was reached in a professional and transparent manner.

In all the interviews of those who drafted and prepared the ICA, the Committee heard consistently that analysts were under no politically motivated pressure to reach any conclusions. All analysts expressed that they were free to debate, object to content, and assess confidence levels, as is normal and proper for the analytic process.

As the inquiry has progressed since January 2017, the Committee has seen additional examples of Russia’s attempts to sow discord, undermine democratic institutions, and interfere in U.S. elections and those of our allies.

And now we get to the important parts:

Russian Efforts to Influence the 2016 Election

The ICA states that: Russian efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations1 .

• The Committee found that this judgment was supported by the evidence presented in the ICA. Since its publication, further details have come to light that bolster the assessment.

• The ICA pointed to initial evidence of Russian activities against multiple U.S. state or local electoral boards. Since the ICA was published, the Committee has learned more about Russian attempts to infiltrate state election infrastructure, as outlined in the findings and recommendations the Committee issued in March 2018.

• While the ICA briefly discussed the activities of the Internet Research Agency, the Committee’s investigation has exposed a far more extensive Russian effort to manipulate social media outlets to sow discord and to interfere in the 2016 election and American society.

Russian Leadership Intentions

The ICA states that: We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. 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 Trump2 .

• The Committee found that the ICA provided a range of all-source reporting to support these assessments.

• The Committee concurs with intelligence and open-source assessments that this influence campaign was approved by President Putin. • Further, a body of reporting, to include different intelligence disciplines, open source reporting on Russian leadership policy preferences, and Russian media content, showed that Moscow sought to denigrate Secretary Clinton.

• The ICA relies on public Russian leadership commentary, Russian state media reports, public examples of where Russian interests would have aligned with candidates’ policy statements, and a body of intelligence reporting to support the assessment that Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for Trump.

The ICA also states that:

We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him3.

• The Committee found that the ICA provided intelligence and open source reporting to support this assessment, and information obtained subsequent to publication of the ICA provides further support.

• This is the only assessment in the ICA that had different confidence levels between the participating agencies -the CIA and FBI assessed with “high confidence”and the NSA assessed with “moderate confidence”-so the Committee gave this section additional attention.

The Committee found that the analytical disagreement was reasonable, transparent, and openly debated among the agencies and analysts, with analysts, managers, and agency heads on both sides of the confidence level articulately justifying their positions.

Russian Cyber Operations

The ICA states that: Russia’s intelligence services conducted cyber operations against targets associated with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, including targets associated with both major U.S. political parties. We assess Russian intelligence services collected against the U.S . primary campaigns, think tanks, and lobbying groups they viewed as likely to shape future U.S. policies. In July 2015, Russian intelligence gained access to Democratic National Committee (DNC) networks and maintained that access until at least June 2016.4

• The Committee found this judgment supported by intelligence and further supported by our own investigation. Separate from the ICA, the Committee has conducted interviews of key individuals who have provided additional insights into these incidents.

1 Intelligence Community Assessment: Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections, 6 January 2017. P.ii. (NOTE: all page numbers referenced are from the Unclassified I CA)

2 Intelligence Community Assessment: Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions inRecent U.S. Elections, 6 January 2017. P.ii. 3 Intelligence Community Assessment: Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections, 6 January 2017.P.ii.

4 Intelligence Community Assessment: Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections, 6 January 2017. P.2.

Much more at the link. Or just click here for the report: SSCI ICA ASSESSMENT_FINALJULY3

Right now the Man from Lajes begins planning for his next gambit…

Stay clandestine.

Open thread!



The Senate Judiciary Committee Democratic Minority Report

Cheryl assigned me the homework of asked if I’d go through the Senate Judiciary Committee Democratic minority report on Russian active measures interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. The report can be found at this link. I want to highlight this important caveat from the final paragraph on page 1 (emphasis mine):

We still do not know the full story about the June 9 meeting at Trump Tower or, more broadly, the degree to which the campaign cooperated or communicated with Russia. 1 While Senate Judiciary Democrats have sought to conduct a robust and independent investigation, the lack of bipartisan agreement on what to investigate has limited the Committee’s examination of Russian interference in the 2016 election and who was involved. The Committee’s progress has also been hampered by the lack of cooperation from several key witnesses, identified in the Appendix that accompanies these findings. As a result, the Committee has been unable to answer a number of questions regarding contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The Democratic minority on the committee is telling us right up front that the committee has really not been able to conduct a proper investigation up to this point. From the news reporting, my take is that the Senate Judiciary Committee investigation has been better than the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence’s, but not as seemingly good as the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s. So Senator Grassley has been better than Congressman Nunes in conducting his duties, but not as good as Senator Burr. While you’d like to see these committees actually doing their jobs, that is not possible right now given the ongoing corruption of congressional Republicans as the President remakes the GOP in his own image. While Senator Burr and Senator Warner seem to be on track, unless or until the Democrats were to retake the majority in either or both chambers, the real action will remain with Special Counsel Mueller and his various investigations.

The first thing that really jumped out at me is just how sloppy the players involved were. Especially in regard to their communications. While a lot of what is in the report, both substantive factual information and about the various individuals involved, has been previously reported, this sloppiness just sort of screams at the reader. For instance (emphasis mine):

On Friday June 3, 2016, at 10:36 a.m., Donald Trump Jr. received an email with the subject line “Russia – Clinton – private and confidential.” The email came from Rob Goldstone, a music publicist who represented Emin Agalarov, and offered assistance from Russia via Trump’s trusted friend Aras Agalarov. Goldstone wrote: Good morning. Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting. The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with [Emin’s] father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary [Clinton] and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father. This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump—helped along by Aras and Emin.

This jumped out at me. Emin Agalarov called Goldstone, asked him to get a hold of Donald Trump, Jr., and gave Goldstone enough information so that he could convey the details when reaching out. HE CALLED HIM AND GAVE HIM ENOUGH INFORMATION TO CONVEY THE DETAILS!!!!! The Agalarovs are oligarchs and known to be connected to Putin and Goldstone is a British citizen and was in England at the time of the phone call. While this conversation, and the subsequent emails, took place about two months before the FBI opened their counterintelligence investigation, I would not be surprised at all to find out that Britain’s GCHQ routinely tracked phone calls, emails, and texts from the Agalarovs that came in to British citizens because of Aras Agalarov’s connections to Putin. I would also not be surprised if other of our allied intelligence partners in Europe who are concerned about Russia were also monitoring the Agalarov’s communications. And I would definitely not be surprised that if this SIGINT was captured by our allies, that the Special Counsel’s Office has it and knows exactly what Emin Agalarov told Rob Goldstone.

And this wasn’t a one off in sloppy communication (emphasis mine):

In the days leading up to the meeting, Mr. Trump Jr. exchanged a number of emails and phone calls with Mr. Goldstone and Emin Agalarov. On Monday, June 6, 2016, Mr. Goldstone emailed Mr. Trump Jr. and asked when he would be available to talk with Emin Agalarov “by phone about this Hillary info.”14 Mr. Trump Jr. responded, “Rob could we speak now?”15 Mr. Goldstone then told Mr. Trump Jr. that Emin Agalarov would call in twenty minutes.16

Emin called Mr. Trump Jr. at the designated time.17 Twenty-five minutes after this first call ended, Mr. Trump Jr. called Emin back and then emailed Mr. Goldstone, “Rob thanks for the help.”18 Despite phone records reflecting this exchange of phone calls, Mr. Trump Jr. testified that he did not recall whether he spoke to Emin or what they discussed.

The next day, June 7, Emin called Mr. Trump Jr. again.

While I have no way of knowing if there is SIGINT capture of these calls, if GCHQ or one of our other partner’s intelligence services that routinely monitors and captures the communications of Russian oligarchs, as well as officials, their families, and their employees, then I would expect that the Special Counsel’s Office has all of it and knows exactly what was discussed, what was promised, and what the responses were.

To me, the lack of any attempt to secure communications is what is really interesting. Everything else in the Democratic minority’s preliminary report has been reported at one time or another over the past year or so. But these descriptions of how the approach and the dangle were made by Goldstone and Agalarov to Donald Trump, Jr. on behalf of the Russian government really stand out. And they do so because they provide hints that there may be low hanging SIGINT fruit that has been plucked. If I were Jr, Goldstone, and/or the Agalarovs I would be very, very concerned that GCHQ captured everything. And that if they did, that they would have provided it to the counterintelligence investigation that Special Counsel Mueller inherited when he was appointed. There’s really no way to know, and even if Special Counsel Mueller knows, the rest of us may never know.

Stay frosty!

Open thread.



The US Senate Select Committee On Intelligence Hearing On Worldwide Threats Live Stream

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is holding its hearing on worldwide threats this morning.

The witnesses are:

  • Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats
  • Director of Central Intelligence Mike Pompeo
  • Director of the FBI Christopher Wray
  • Director of the National Security Agency ADM Mike Rogers
  • Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency LTG Robert Ashley
  • Director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency Robert Cardillo

Here’s the live stream from Senator Warner’s Youtube page:

And here’s the livestream from The Washington Post in case something goes wrong with the other one.

Despite the topic, given who the witnesses are, I expect there will be questions pertaining to the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Which will likely elicit a lot of non responsive responses.

Open thread!

 



Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Live Feed: Attorney General Sessions Testimony

Here’s the live feed for AG Sessions testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence:

We now know that the source of the allegations of a third meeting between then Senator Sessions and Russian Ambassador Kislyak is from signals intelligence (SIGINT) captured last year.

The origin of the Mayflower story can be traced, according to several American officials, to raw intelligence picked up by American spy agencies last year that is now held at C.I.A. headquarters in Virginia. The intelligence appears to be based on intercepts of Mr. Kislyak discussing a private meeting he had with Mr. Sessions at a Trump campaign event last April at the luxury hotel.

Lawmakers have reviewed the intelligence — which remains classified — as part of the congressional investigations into Russia’s attempts to disrupt last year’s presidential election. Several news outlets have reported that Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and now a senior White House adviser, may have also attended the meeting.

Here is a link to Ryan Goodman’s, Just Security‘s co-editor in chief’s five not so obvious questions for Attorney General Sessions.

Update at 2:35 PM EDT

Don’t forget to call your Senators!



Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Live Feed: Former Director Comey Testimony II

Here’s a fresh thread for former Director Comey’s testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Update at 12:10 PM EDT

Because we can chew gum and walk at the same time, do not forget to call your senators about the attempt to jam the AHCA through the Senate!!!!!! You know what to do!



Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Live Feed: Former FBI Director Comey Testimony

Here’s the live feed for former FBI Director Comey’s testimony.

Update at 10:34 AM EDT

I switched the live stream below to PBS’s.

 



An Informed Expert’s Initial Views on James Comey’s Testimony Tomorrow

Benjamin Wittes is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and the editor in chief of Lawfare. He is also a friend of James Comey. Earlier this evening he shared his initial thoughts after reading the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s release of former FBI Director Comey’s prepared opening statement tomorrow. While I highly recommend the whole thing, here are the final three paragraphs that tie Wittes’ thoughts together.

But I will make three general observations based on this document alone.

First, Comey is describing here conduct that a society committed to the rule of law simply cannot accept in a president. We have spent a lot of time on this site over seven years now debating the marginal exertions of presidential power and their capacity for abuse. Should the president have the authority to detain people at Guantanamo? Incinerate suspected terrorists with flying robots? Use robust intelligence authorities directed at overseas non-citizens? These questions are all important, but this document is about a far more important question to the preservation of liberty in a society based on legal norms and rules: the abuse of the core functions of the presidency. It’s about whether we can trust the President—not the President in the abstract, but the particular embodiment of the presidency in the person of Donald J. Trump—to supervise the law enforcement apparatus of the United States in fashion consistent with his oath of office. I challenge anyone to read this document and come away with a confidently affirmative answer to that question.

Second, we are about to see a full-court press against Comey. I don’t know what it will look like. But the attack instinct always kicks in when a presidency is under siege. And Trump has the attack instinct in spades even when he’s not under siege. It is important to remember what the stakes are here. They are not about whether Comey was treated fairly. They are not about whether you like him. They are not about whether he handled the Clinton email investigation in the highest traditions of the FBI or the Justice Department. They are not about leaks. The stakes here are about whether what Comey is reporting in this document are true facts and, if so, what we need as a political society to do about the reality that we have a president who behaves this way and seeks to use the FBI in this fashion. It is critical, in other words, that people not change the subject or get distracted when others try to do so.

Finally, it is also critical—though probably fruitless to say—that we eschew partisanship in the conversation. Tomorrow, this document will be the discussion text when Comey faces a committee that, warts and all, has handled the Russia matter to date in a respectable and honorably bipartisan fashion. It is not too much to ask that members put aside party and respond as patriots to the fact that the former FBI director will swear an oath that these facts are true—and was fired after these interactions allegedly took place by a man who then told Lester Holt that “when I decided to just do it [fire Comey], I said to myself … this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story,” and boasted to the Russians the day after dismissing Comey that “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”