I touched on this in a post yesterday, but today the Washington Post has a story titled FBI and CIA give differing accounts to lawmakers on Russia’s motives in 2016 hacks.
In a secure meeting room under the Capitol last week, lawmakers held in their hands a classified letter written by colleagues in the Senate summing up a secret, new CIA assessment of Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election.
Sitting before the House Intelligence Committee was a senior FBI counterintelligence official. The question the Republicans and Democrats in attendance wanted answered was whether the bureau concurred with the conclusions the CIA had just shared with senators that Russia “quite” clearly intended to help Republican Donald Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton and clinch the White House.
For the Democrats in the room, the FBI’s response was frustrating — even shocking.
During a similar Senate Intelligence Committee briefing held the previous week, the CIA’s statements, as reflected in the letter the lawmakers now held in their hands, were “direct and bald and unqualified” about Russia’s intentions to help Trump, according to one of the officials who attended the House briefing.
The FBI official’s remarks to the lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee were, in comparison, “fuzzy” and “ambiguous,” suggesting to those in the room that the bureau and the agency weren’t on the same page, the official said.
According to the story, the CIA thinks the FBI just isn’t ballsy enough:
The divergent messages from the CIA and the FBI put a spotlight on the difficulty faced by intelligence and law enforcement officials as they try to draw conclusions about the Kremlin’s motives for hacking Democratic Party emails during the 2016 race. Officials are frequently looking at information that is fragmentary. They also face issues assessing the intentions of a country expert at conducting sophisticated “influence” operations that made it hard — if not impossible — to conclusively detect the Kremlin’s elusive fingerprints.
The competing messages, according to officials in attendance, also reflect cultural differences between the FBI and the CIA. The bureau, true to its law enforcement roots, wants facts and tangible evidence to prove something beyond all reasonable doubt. The CIA is more comfortable drawing inferences from behavior.
“The FBI briefers think in terms of criminal standards — can we prove this in court,” one of the officials said. “The CIA briefers weigh the preponderance of intelligence and then make judgment calls to help policymakers make informed decisions. High confidence for them means ‘we’re pretty damn sure.’ It doesn’t mean they can prove it in court.”
Let’s unpack this for a just a second. According to everyone involved there is no actual evidence of direct Kremlin involvement in the hacks or that the hacks had the specific goal of helping Trump. This is not disputing that it COULD be true, only to note that both sides say that there is no evidence. The FBI limits its comments to what it knows. The CIA, however, goes into a flight of fancy that seems to have exactly one objective: discrediting the results of the 2016 election and creating a myth that Trump as elected by Russian influence.
Now let’s go back to the days right before the election and see what national security people were saying about the Russian — here I mean originated in Russia, not necessarily directed by the KGB (or whatever they are calling it this week) and the GRU.
Russian state-sponsored hackers are likely to spend polling day trying to spread disinformation to undermine U.S. and global public confidence in the election result, rather than in pointless efforts to hack the results themselves, according to new cyber intelligence analysis.
As Mr Kiselev’s commentary made clear, the Kremlin’s main objectives are to discredit the institutions of democratic elections and the free press, and to weaken both candidates as much as possible.
Both the U.S. intelligence community and the private experts believe that the Russian government …is motivated by an even longer-term strategy: Undermine the American political system by disrupting and discrediting the election process, sowing doubts and suspicion, and providing “proof” for the conspiratorial beliefs about a corrupt political system in which the electoral process is “rigged” and where “international bankers” are conspiring with Clinton to “steal” the election.
Now, western security officials say Mr Putin is pursuing an aggressive campaign to destabilise his rivals, including the US and Nato, through what General Valery Gerasimov, Russia’s chief of the general staff, bills as “non-linear war”.
Mr Putin’s objective is “to weaken the politicians of the old order everywhere and shake the unity that made the west a single alternative to all non-democratic regimes,” says Vladimir Milov, a former Russian deputy energy minister who is now a prominent opposition leader and frequent government critic.
This is the theme you see over and over and over. The Russian objective is to discredit the US electoral process. They might prefer Trump or they may be like tens of millions of Americans and simply oppose Hillary. The electoral result, however, is completely secondary to the main objective which is attack the public’s faith in the electoral process.
Now ask yourself, how better to accomplish that goal than to make totally unsupported allegations that the Russians interfered in our election and implying that the president was elected by their interference? Who is the real tool of the Kremlin here?