US agencies said to identify parties who gave hacked emails to WikiLeaks
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US agencies said to identify parties who gave hacked emails to WikiLeaks

Intel chief doubles down on assessment Russia interfered in election; Moscow reportedly celebrated Trump win in intercepted communications

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, left, talks with National Security Agency and Cyber Command chief Adm. Michael Rogers on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017, at the conclusion of a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing: "Foreign Cyber Threats to the United States." (AP/Evan Vucci)
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, left, talks with National Security Agency and Cyber Command chief Adm. Michael Rogers on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017, at the conclusion of a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing: "Foreign Cyber Threats to the United States." (AP/Evan Vucci)

US intelligence agencies have identified parties who served as the go-between the Russians used to deliver stolen Democratic emails to WikiLeaks, The Washington Post reported Thursday, citing anonymous US officials.

That information was included in a classified report by intelligence agencies on Russia’s alleged hacking campaign in the lead-up to the elections, which was shared with President Barack Obama on Thursday. The report identifies multiple motives for Russia’s interference, according to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who gave testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

Clapper did not provide details on what these motives were, but officials familiar with the report told the Washington Post that there were disparities between efforts to infiltrate Democratic and Republican networks, and there were intercepted communications in which Russian officials celebrated Donald Trump’s victory.

The US officials said the festive reaction by Russian officials — some of whom the US believes knew of the hacking campaign — contributed to the assessment that the cyber breaches were aimed at helping Trump win, the paper reported.

“The Russians felt pretty good about what happened on November 8 and they also felt pretty good about what they did,” a senior US official told the Washington Post.

Trump has been dismissive and mocking of the intelligence community’s assessment of the Russian hacking, repeatedly deriding spy agencies on social media and bringing up past failures, specifically intelligence reporting the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in the lead-up to the war there.

Donald Trump speaking during election night at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York, November 9, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON)
Donald Trump speaking during election night at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York, November 9, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON)

Trump has criticized US intelligence findings to the point of even citing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s contention that Russia did not provide him with hacked Democratic emails.

In new tweets early Thursday, he backed away and blamed the “dishonest media” for portraying him as agreeing with Assange, whose organization has been under criminal investigation for its role in classified information leaks. “The media lies to make it look like I am against ‘Intelligence’ when in fact I am a big fan!” Trump wrote.

Brushing aside Trump’s dismissiveness Thursday, Clapper insisted that US agencies were more confident than ever that Russia interfered in the recent presidential election. And he called the former Cold War foe an “existential threat” to the nation.

Clapper’s testimony was short on concrete evidence of Russian activities, but it raised the stakes in the intelligence community’s standoff with Trump. Clapper indicated the agencies he leads would not back down in their assessment, even if that threatens a prolonged crisis of confidence with their next commander in chief.

That puts the pressure back on Trump, who has raised the possibility of more positive relations with Russia amid criticism of US intelligence agencies. He will be briefed Friday on the classified evidence concerning Russian interference.

Shortly after Thursday’s hearing, news leaked that Trump would soon name former Republican Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana to replace Clapper after the new president takes office.

In this Nov. 17, 2016 file photo, then-Indiana Sen. Dan Coats on Capitol Hill in Washington. President-elect Donald Trump is planning to appoint former Coats as Director of National Intelligence. (AP/Susan Walsh)
In this Nov. 17, 2016 file photo, then-Indiana Sen. Dan Coats on Capitol Hill in Washington. President-elect Donald Trump is planning to appoint former Coats as Director of National Intelligence. (AP/Susan Walsh)

In a joint report that roiled the presidential campaign last fall, the Homeland Security Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said the US was confident about foreign meddling, including Russian government hacking of Democratic emails.

“We stand actually more resolutely on the strength of that statement,” Clapper said Thursday. He declined to discuss whether Russia’s interference was aimed at helping Trump win.

An unclassified version of the report will be released next week, Clapper said. That version, expected to be a fraction of the length of the classified one, is not likely to answer all the questions about Russia’s actions. Exactly how the US monitors its adversaries in cyberspace is a closely guarded secret, since revealing such details could help foreign governments further obscure their activities.

“I think the public should know as much about this as possible,” Clapper told the senators. “And so we’ll be as forthcoming as we can, but there are some sensitive and fragile sources and methods here.”

Clapper was less shy about declaring Russia “an existential threat to the United States.” That’s strong rhetoric that harks back to the Cold War between the US and Soviet Union, language Obama has avoided. For his part, Trump has embraced the possibility of warmer US-Russian ties.

Republican John McCain of Arizona, chairman of the Senate panel, pressed Clapper as to whether Russia’s actions constituted an “act of war.” The intelligence director said that was “a very heavy policy call,” more appropriate for others in the government to decide.

Obama announced sanctions against Russia late last year, a move Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said was akin to throwing a pebble.

“I’m ready to throw a rock,” Graham said.

The GOP is divided over how to deal with Russia. Once Trump takes office, he is certain to face opposition from Democrats as well as some in his own party regarding his posture toward Russia.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama is confident that the intelligence assessment on Russia is “unvarnished.”

“The president has insisted that the intelligence community should not hesitate to present to the president what could be considered bad news, because a whitewashed assessment doesn’t serve anybody well,” Earnest said. He added that anyone who consumes intelligence “using rose-colored reading glasses is not going to be able to make good decisions.”

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