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Bipartisan Senate report backs intel assessment of 2016 Russian interference

The Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday released its review of a joint assessment issued by U.S. intelligence agencies of Russia’s coordinated campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election. The review is the fourth and penultimate chapter resulting from the committee’s more than three-year investigation into the Russian government’s actions. In its heavily redacted 158-page report,…

Bipartisan Senate report backs intel assessment of 2016 Russian interference

The Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday released its review of a joint assessment issued by U.S. intelligence agencies of Russia’s coordinated campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election. The review is the fourth and penultimate chapter resulting from the committee’s more than three-year investigation into the Russian government’s actions.
In its heavily redacted 158-page report, the committee found that the Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) commissioned by former President Barack Obama in late 2016 “presents a coherent and well-constructed intelligence basis for the case of unprecedented Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.” The report was unanimously approved by senators on the committee.”The ICA reflects strong tradecraft, sound analytical reasoning, and proper justification of disagreement in the one analytical line where it occurred,” Republican Senator Richard Burr, the committee chairman, said in a statement accompanying the report’s release. “The Committee found no reason to dispute the Intelligence Community’s conclusions.”A declassified version of the ICA — which was compiled by the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency (NSA) and Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and is otherwise highly classified — was released publicly on January 6, 2017.The committee review said interviews with those involved in drafting the ICA showed that “analysts were under no politically motivated pressure to reach specific 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,” the report said.Among the findings that proved to be more controversial over time was the accompanying assessment that the Russian government’s efforts were designed to boost then-candidate Donald Trump’s chances of winning the election while damaging Hillary Clinton’s. That judgment was delivered with high confidence by the CIA and FBI; the NSA had moderate confidence.Republican allies of the president later maintained that Russia did not intervene on behalf of any one candidate, only that it intended to sow chaos in U.S. political processes.
The ICA’s principal finding, delivered with “high confidence,” was that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered an influence campaign aimed at the 2016 election and designed to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral process. The Senate Intelligence Committee previously released a brief, unclassified summary of its findings on the ICA, declaring it in July 2018 to be a “sound intelligence product” with findings that were later bolstered by continued intelligence collection. The committee faulted the assessment for providing inadequate “historical context” about Russia’s previous attempts at election interference. But where agencies had different confidence levels in a finding, the committee found “analytical disagreement was reasonable, transparent, and openly debated” by the relevant analysts and agency heads.Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, in their own report on the matter, faulted the ICA for its judgment that Russia preferred Mr. Trump, saying agencies failed to employ “proper analytic tradecraft.”The U.S. intelligence community has continuously warned that Moscow would again attempt to interfere in the 2020 presidential election, likely using more sophisticated tactics. The question of whether Russia would show support for a particular candidate has already proven politically divisive.In February, Mr. Trump abruptly dismissed acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire after ODNI official Shelby Pierson told the House Intelligence Committee in a classified briefing that Russia had developed a “preference” for Mr. Trump in the 2020 election. In a subsequent briefing to all members of Congress, administration officials said they had “nothing to support” the notion that Putin favored one candidate over another. Pierson was excluded from the latter briefing.The Senate Intelligence Committee released three previous volumes of its final product. The first focused on election security and was made public in July 2019. It was followed by a second, released in October 2019, on the coordinated campaign Russia waged on social media. The third evaluated the Obama administration’s response to Russia’s efforts. The fifth and final volume, which is still being drafted, is focused on the counterintelligence concerns stemming from any U.S. political campaign links to Moscow.
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