Chicago Chronicle - Thursday 20th April, 2017
WASHINGTON, U.S. - From the U.S. intelligence bodies, to whistleblowers… experts, analysts and cyber geniuses - everyone has had something to say about 2016’s biggest conspiracy that will go down in the pages of history.
But what FBI and CIA haven’t explicitly revealed so far - is sound, solid proof that Russia indeed interfered with the U.S. Presidential election held last year, that saw the shock victory of the then Republican candidate, Donald Trump.
Now, in a shocking expose, a Reuters report claims to have statements from three current and four former U.S. officials, who have reportedly offered that, which will prove the interference by Kremlin - which people have only speculated about so far.
The controversy drags on.
First computer experts merely doubted it - then came the Democratic party leaks and finally, an accusation made official.
The officials now claim that a Russian government think tank controlled by Vladimir Putin brainstormed to put together a plan to swing the 2016 U.S. presidential election in favour of Donald Trump.
The strategy also included a strong plan to undermine voters’ faith in the American electoral system.
The U.S. officials told Reuters that there were two confidential documents prepared by the Moscow-based Russian Institute for Strategic Studies that provided the framework and rationale for Russia’s interference.
After the election, U.S. intelligence officials acquired these documents.
The institute is reportedly headed by retired senior Russian foreign intelligence officials appointed by Putin’s office.
According to the report, the first Russian institute document was a strategy paper drafted in June last year.
The paper was said to have been circulated at the highest levels of the Russian government and was not addressed to any specific individuals.
The seven officials revealed that the paper recommended the Kremlin launch a propaganda campaign on social media and Russian state-backed global news outlets to encourage U.S. voters to elect a president who would take a softer line toward Russia than the administration of then-President Barack Obama.
The second document drafted by the think tank in October was distributed in the same way.
This time it issued a warning that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was likely to win the election, officials said.
It argued that it was better for Russia to end its pro-Trump propaganda and instead intensify its messaging about voter fraud to undermine the U.S. electoral system’s legitimacy - in a bid it would damage Clinton’s reputation and undermine her presidency.
The officials who chose to remain anonymous due to the Russian documents’ classified status even declined to discuss how the United States got its hands on the documents.
They however pointed out that it was on the basis of these documents that the Obama administration concluded that Russia launched a “fake news” campaign and led cyber attacks against Democratic Party groups and Clinton's campaign.
Four of the officials who made the shocking expose have said that the approach outlined in the June strategy paper was a broadening of an effort the Putin administration launched in March 2016.
In March last year, the Kremlin had reportedly instructed state-backed media outlets and international platforms like Russia Today and Sputnik news agency, to start producing positive reports on Trump for the U.S. presidency, the officials said.
Responding to the report, a spokesperson for Sputnik was quoted as dismissing the assertions by the U.S. officials that it participated in a Kremlin campaign as an “absolute pack of lies.”
The spokesperson told Reuters in an email, “And by the way, it's not the first pack of lies we're hearing from 'sources in U.S. official circles’.”
A former senior U.S. intelligence official quoted in the report stated, “Putin had the objective in mind all along, and he asked the institute to draw him a road map.”
However, four of the officials have also said that neither of the documents mentioned anything about the release of hacked Democratic Party emails to interfere with the U.S. election - claiming that the hacking was a covert intelligence operation run separately out of the Kremlin.
The agency, which has been described by five of the officials making the expose as the Kremlin’s in-house foreign policy think tank - sheds some light on its director on its official website.
The institutes’s website claims that Leonid Reshetnikov was its director during the time that the documents were drafted.
It elaborates further that in his 33-year career in Russia’s foreign intelligence service, Reshetnikov rose to the rank of lieutenant general.
Mikhail Fradkov was named as Reshetnikov’s replacement by Putin after the former director retired from the institute in January.
The conspiracy unfolds
In September last year, Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority leader expressed his suspicions over Russian links in cyber attacks on Democrats.
The following month and a month before the elections, Russia faced an official accusation from the U.S. for launching cyber attacks against Democratic Party organisations.
In December, the White House said that President Barack Obama asked the intelligence bureau to examine the cyber attacks and submit a report before January.
Soon after that, CIA, in its official assessment declared that they had "high confidence" in their findings, which stated that hackers linked to the Russian government were responsible for handing over information to WikiLeaks, which posted thousands of hacked Democrat emails and others including Hilary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta.
CIA officials said that they had gone through several pieces of evidence and had identified some individuals connected to the Russian government.
U.S. intelligence officials claimed that cyber attacks on the email accounts of Democratic National Committee and others during the election campaign were aimed at damaging the reputation of Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.
Trump's team fervently disagreed with the report, even calling for Obama to declassify the CIA findings.
The FBI too was in agreement with the CIA assessment on Russia's role in the U.S. election.
In his year-end conference and the longest he has held in eight years, Obama said, while it wasn’t necessary, he would provide evidence if it could be done safely and protect sources and methods.
Obama said, “Unless the American people genuinely think officials in the CIA, the FBI, the entire intelligence structure are less trustworthy than the Russians, people should pay attention to what our intelligence agencies say.”
Obama also made it clear he was certain the Russia president personally knew about the hacking.
Meanwhile, Putin and the Russian government have denied interfering in the U.S. election
And Trump’s team has maintained that Russia’s activities had no impact on the outcome of the race.
Currently, congressional and FBI investigations into Russian interference have been ongoing and have produced no public evidence that Trump associates colluded with the Russian government to manipulate the outcome of the election.
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