On Friday January 6th, after an unexplained delay of several days by intelligence officials, President-elect Trump received the anticipated classified briefing from the intelligence community, on so-called “Russian hacking” into the Democratic party e-mail and computerized systems. It has been alleged for weeks by the Clinton campaign, and the DNC; and liberal pundits, that Russia hacked into their e-mail system during the campaign, and thus influenced the outcome of the election. The salient questions are: (1) did this happen; and (2) what if any affect did such activity have on the election?
According to the publicly released unclassified version of the intelligence report, ordered by President Obama, the intelligence community, reflecting a conclusion of only 3 of 17 agencies, contrary to repeated reports in the media of all 17 agencies, led by Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) James Clapper, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director John Brennan, and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director James Comey, has “high confidence” that Russia hacked into the Democratic e-mail system, for the purpose of trying to influence the election against Mrs. Clinton. The issue for Mr. Trump and the incoming administration, and the American people, is whether the conclusion of the report is reliable.
Unfortunately, sadly, and dangerously, at least in respect to the unclassified version of the report, the answer cannot be determined. Why not? There are unique and historically unusual circumstances surrounding today’s intelligence community under the leadership of President Obama; specifically, surrounding, not the professional intelligence officers and analysts inside the intelligence agencies, who perform in a superb manner, often at great risk to themselves, but rather the leadership of three of the lead intelligence gathering agencies, including the ODNI; the CIA; and the FBI.
First, it must be observed that Russian President Vladimir Putin is no friend of the United States. His annexation of Crimea, forceful efforts to exert control over Ukraine, and military support of the brutal dictator in Syria, despite his use of chemical weapons and slaughter of 500,000 of his own people, demonstrate that Putin’s central priority is increasing his power and influence in the world, without regard to innocent life. In effect, Putin is a brutal “strongman;” who has successfully positioned himself as a dictator in Russia; and no one should doubt this former Russian KGB intelligence officer’s willingness to engage in hacking activities within the U.S. election process. Notwithstanding, in respect to the intelligence report on Russian hacking, the problem is not Putin, but the credibility of leaders in the U.S. intelligence community.
Last year, ODNI director James Clapper, compromised his credibility, when he lied in sworn testimony before a congressional committee, about whether innocent American citizens, without any cause, had been covertly subjected to intelligence agency data-gathering. In 2014, the CIA, led by Director John Brennan, admitted to unconstitutionally spying on a Senate panel by hacking into a computer network of the Senate Intelligence Committee. During the 2016 election, FBI Director James Comey, by his seemingly contradictory actions and decision surrounding the investigation and recommendation against prosecution of former secretary Clinton, for sending classified information over a private e-mail server, compromised his credibility. Further, it is known that intelligence analysts in the U.S. Defense Department’s Central Command, were pressured by political leaders to diminish their conclusions about the degree of the threat represented by ISIS in the Middle East. Moreover, the Obama Administration, through its United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, repeatedly lied to the American people about the nature of the attack in Benghazi, Libya, which was, in fact, a terrorists’ attack; which resulted in the murder of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
In view of these actions, on the part of intelligence agency leaders, and other senior government officials connected to the intelligence community, one cannot reasonably, in the absence of clear evidence, which is not provided in the unclassified version of the intelligence report on Russian hacking, simply accept the report’s conclusions as credible. In short, the intelligence community leadership among the ODNI, CIA, and FBI, has been “politicized.” This reality represents an egregious situation, which jeopardizes the security of the nation. Whether there is clear evidence in the classified version of the Russian hacking report is, of course, unknown to the public. Hence, senior intelligence officials, who have compromised credibility, are asking Americans, to simply trust them. Unfortunately, given recent intelligence community history this is no longer possible.
Now, with respect to whether the purported Russian hacking had any effect on the election, according to the report, there is no evidence of any interference with the voting process or with voting machines. In short, there were no irregularities affecting the election outcome.
Finally, it is well-known that Russia, China, and other state actors, regularly engage in cyber-warfare activities. Efforts to breach U.S. computer systems extends to both public and private sector entities; which raises the question of why the president would be so concerned at this time to order an intelligence community report, as compared to other occasions where such public concern was not demonstrated? The answer is more than likely, politics.
Since the election loss by former secretary Clinton, democratic operatives, coupled with the Clinton campaign, have sought state election recounts in Democrat strongholds; engaged in efforts to pressure state electors to refrain from voting for Mr. Trump in the electoral college vote; and on Friday January 6th, even attempted to disrupt the electoral vote certification in the joint session of the U.S. Congress. These activities collectively, reasonably indicate that these actions are intended to undermine the legitimacy of Donald Trump’s election as president, in order to diminish his political stature, and thereby weaken his ability to implement his agenda priorities, many of which require congressional legislative action.
There is no doubt that Mr. Trump won the election. The Russian hacking report does not diminish Trump’s political stature, as the people voted for his policy proposals in electing him. Trump has responded to the classified version of the report, by stating that he will order an examination of cyber-warfare, a present and growing threat to U.S. national security, in order to ensure that the U.S. develops and employs the security measures, and tools to use in combating this increasing threat to government and private sector computerized systems. Most importantly, President-elect Trump is already acting to address the intelligence community credibility problem, by his lead intelligence agency appointments of Congressman Mike Pompeo; and former Senator Dan Coats, to lead the CIA, and the DNI office, respectively. Ultimately, it is new leadership that is required to restore the intelligence community’s lost credibility. Accordingly, expect the remaining intelligence agency appointments to reflect individuals of unquestionable integrity.
By Allen Sutton