Just Before Obama Weighs in on the Russian Hack, John Brennan Tells Everyone What He Says Others Said

At 2:20, WaPo published a story basically saying, “Anonymous source says CIA Director Wrote a Letter Claiming FBI Director and Director of National Intelligence Agree with Him,” but you wouldn’t know that from the headline.

At 2:40, President Obama entered the White House briefing room to give his last press conference of the year, which was scheduled to start at 2:15. Everyone anticipated, correctly, the presser would be dominated by questions about Russia’s role in the election.

So:

2:15: scheduled start for the President to comment on Russia’s hacking and what the intelligence says.

2:20: WaPo tells you what an anonymous leaker says CIA’s Director says FBI’s Director and Director of National Intelligence say, which differs somewhat from what Obama says.

2:40: Obama walks to the podium as, presumably, everyone waiting is reading WaPo’s scoop.

Who says only Vladimir Putin is good at information ops?

Mind you, once you get into the body of the article, there’s a significant difference between what WaPo says CIA says today and what its anonymous sources said CIA said a week ago, the last time it stomped on Obama’s efforts to introduce some deliberation into the claims about Russia’s hacks. Last week, WaPo said the CIA view was this:

“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators. “That’s the consensus view.”

[snip]

The CIA shared its latest assessment with key senators in a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill last week, in which agency officials cited a growing body of intelligence from multiple sources. Agency briefers told the senators it was now “quite clear” that electing Trump was Russia’s goal, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters. [my emphasis]

Goal, singular.

Here’s what the lead says in today’s article.

FBI Director James B. Comey and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. are in agreement with a CIA assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in part to help Donald Trump win the presidency, according to U.S. officials.

With this further elaboration below.

The CIA shared its latest assessment with key senators in a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill about two weeks ago in which agency officials cited a growing body of intelligence from multiple sources. Specifically, CIA briefers told the senators it was now “quite clear” that electing Trump was one of Russia’s goals, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

CIA and FBI officials do not think Russia had a “single purpose” by intervening during the presidential campaign. In addition to helping Trump, intelligence officials have told lawmakers that Moscow’s other goal included undermining confidence in the U.S. electoral system. [my emphasis]

WaPo still makes no mention of the most obvious goal, that Russia hacked Hillary to retaliate for real and perceived slights covertly carried out by Hillary and CIA, something that Hillary claimed just before the WaPo story and the Obama presser.

In any case, if you look at CNN’s far more sober version of this, it appears that there is still some difference in emphasis about whether Russia was trying to elect Trump (and Brennan’s statement appears not to lay out what the consensus view is).

The nuance lay in a stronger view by the CIA that the hacking was intended to help elect Trump, and the CIA leans more strongly in that view than the FBI does.

Ah well, in the waning days of a great empire, who cares about deference to the outgoing President?

Update: This exchange between Obama and Martha Raddatz most directly addresses what Obama wants to say about the hack (elsewhere he says there was no evidence Russia hacked any polls).

Q Mr. President, I want to talk about Vladimir Putin again. Just to be clear, do you believe Vladimir Putin himself authorized the hack? And do you believe he authorized that to help Donald Trump? And on the intelligence, one of the things Donald Trump cites is Saddam Hussein and the weapons of mass destruction, and that they were never found. Can you say, unequivocally, that this was not China, that this was not a 400-pound guy sitting on his bed, as Donald Trump says? And do these types of tweets and kinds of statements from Donald Trump embolden the Russians?

THE PRESIDENT: When the report comes out, before I leave office, that will have drawn together all the threads. And so I don’t want to step on their work ahead of time.

What I can tell you is that the intelligence that I have seen gives me great confidence in their assessment that the Russians carried out this hack.

Q Which hack?

THE PRESIDENT: The hack of the DNC and the hack of John Podesta.

Now, the — but again, I think this is exactly why I want the report out, so that everybody can review it. And this has been briefed, and the evidence in closed session has been provided on a bipartisan basis — not just to me, it’s been provided to the leaders of the House and the Senate, and the chairman and ranking members of the relevant committees. And I think that what you’ve already seen is, at least some of the folks who have seen the evidence don’t dispute, I think, the basic assessment that the Russians carried this out.

Q But specifically, can you not say that —

THE PRESIDENT: Well, Martha, I think what I want to make sure of is that I give the intelligence community the chance to gather all the information. But I’d make a larger point, which is, not much happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin. This is a pretty hierarchical operation. Last I checked, there’s not a lot of debate and democratic deliberation, particularly when it comes to policies directed at the United States.

We have said, and I will confirm, that this happened at the highest levels of the Russian government. And I will let you make that determination as to whether there are high-level Russian officials who go off rogue and decide to tamper with the U.S. election process without Vladimir Putin knowing about it.

Q So I wouldn’t be wrong in saying the President thinks Vladimir Putin authorized the hack?

THE PRESIDENT: Martha, I’ve given you what I’m going to give you.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

13 replies
  1. Evangelista says:

    There still does not appear to be any evidence of any degree of legitimacy greater than that a hacker who hacked something used a pseudonym “Fancy Bear” and a bear is the animal-symbol, mascot of Russia, linking the nation of Russia (or Vladimir Putin personally) to the United States’ 2016 national election.

    What appears is evidence of a concerted effort to establish by assertion and reassertion, and then utilization of previous assertion for “proofing”, and then assertion of additional assertions around the primary assertion, making the primary assertion an assigned “foundational-fact”, that even if the peripheral assertions alleged prove unfound, the foundational-fact primary assertion, that “Russia hacked”, will remain; will be fixed in “fact” by being the part “always there”, there “from the beginning”. Thus becoming a “core fact”. It is an old trick. A first cousin to “everybody knows” and “We’ve always known…”

    In fact, there is still flatly zero evidence of Russian hacking in the first place.

  2. TarheelDem says:

    Was Fancy Bear as self-designation or a code that Crowdstrike used to designate a potential Russian government hack with the [Some word] Bear formulation?  That has never been clear to me from the coverage.

  3. PeasantParty says:

    Honestly, this is beginning to look like a biggest Dick contest between the CIA and the FBI.  Where are the NSA confirmations and all that techie stuff that should be proof?  Why does the CIA have to brief members of Congress behind closed doors?  If they have the proof, why not tell it and go after it?  Step right up, folks.  Get your tickets now to see the largest multi-ring circus on the globe!

    • pebird says:

      First of all, it takes time to “organize” the evidence, so let’s all wait and not ask for proof before it’s finished cooking.  Second, this is looking more like the biggest Dickhead contest between the CIA and FBI.

  4. bevin says:

    Foreign interference in the election?
    Israel, I’d say so, after all when you’re milking the taxpayer for billions annually, you’d be remiss not to take a close interest in who would be signing the next four years worth of cheques.
    Saudi Arabia, you can bet on that. Without US support in every military and security sphere the GCC would be a lot smaller and a deal less aristocratic. And who better to ask than the head of the CIA and former station chief in Riyadh, Brennan himself.
    So let us blame Russia, if only for spoiling our sport by taking the war against terror (wink-wink, nudge-nudge) so bloody seriously.
    All that remains is for a panel of medical men to tell us that billionaire oligarch Putin, whom the Panama Papers, (who leaked them?) revealed to be the richest man ever, is on performance enhancing drugs and is banned from the Security Council until he apologises to Mother Samantha for not having a guilty conscience about driving the wahhabi terrorists out of Aleppo.

  5. max says:

    Tarheel Dem: “Was Fancy Bear as self-designation or a code that Crowdstrike used to designate a potential Russian government hack with the [Some word] Bear formulation? That has never been clear to me from the coverage.”

    Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear are Crowdstrike’s nicknames for APT 28 & 29.

    Marcy: “Ah well, in the waning days of a great empire, who cares about deference to the outgoing President?”

    Brennan is REALLY pushing hard for this to be all about Putin. A cynical mind might wonder if he’s providing cover for Comey or something weirder. Or maybe it’s all about the hawkery in the end.

    max
    [‘Foreigner’s interfering with our government without the approval of the IC is BAD. Parts of the IC conducting a palace coup is FINE. Just business, doncha know.’]

  6. sponson says:

    My recollection of the last 8 years is that Obama was often 15-30 minutes late before he started his scheduled press conferences. In any case, today he was certainly willing to answer and speak for quite a long time. He certainly didn’t seem to be “thrown” in any way by what the Post and the CIA did.

  7. D.H. Fabian says:

    Let’s see if we can untangle this mess.  Clinton’s email server was reportedly hacked into — back in November of 2010.  It appears that some negative information about Clinton was leaked, in 2015, by Clinton campaign insiders. This is how we now know that Putin magically rigged voting machines throughout the country to ensure that Trump won the majority of the Electoral College votes…  Right.

  8. Kris says:

    Just to clarify, Podesta’s email were not “hacked”; they were taken as a result of a phishing scam (that he really shouldn’t have fallen for). Also, in addition to Assange and Murray, there are several foreign government (anonymous) sources (Germany, for instance) saying the Wikileaks material were the result of leaks, not hacks. Is there any independent confirmation of these narratives? And what about another common argument making the rounds that, if this were a hack, the NSA would’ve had all the definitive evidence on it already, which could have easily been shared in opaque enough form to protect “sources and methods” (I love how we all accept and normalize military-speak).

  9. Kris says:

    Just to clarify, Podesta’s email were not “hacked”; they were taken as a result of a phishing scam (that he really shouldn’t have fallen for). Also, in addition to Assange and Murray, there are several foreign government (anonymous) sources (Germany, for instance) saying the Wikileaks material were the result of leaks, not hacks. Is there any independent confirmation of these narratives? And what about another common argument making the rounds that, if this were a hack, the NSA would’ve had all the definitive evidence on it already, which could have easily been shared in opaque enough form to protect “sources and methods” (I love how we accept and normalize military-speak).

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