The Declassified Russian Hack Report

The Intelligence Community’s report on Russia’s tampering in the election is here.

What we see of it is uneven. I think the report is strongest on Russia’s motive for tampering with the election, even if the report doesn’t provide evidence. I think there are many weaknesses in the report’s discussion of media. That raises concerns that the material on the actual hack — which we don’t get in any detail at all — is as weak as the media section.

This will be a working thread.

The first 5 pages are front-matter and fluff, which means this is less than a 10 page report, plus a media annex which is problematic.


Here’s how the report describes the scope of the assessment.

It covers the motivation and scope of Moscow’s intentions regarding US elections and Moscow’s use of cyber tools and media campaigns to influence US public opinion. The assessment focuses on activities aimed at the 2016 US presidential election and draws on our understanding of previous Russian influence operations. When we use the term “we” it refers to an assessment by all three agencies.

I checked with ODNI, and the classified report has the exact same conclusions as this one, suggesting the scope is the same. That seems to be a significant problem to me. At a minimum, it should address whether Shadow Brokers was part of the same campaign. But there are other, less obvious things that would need to be included that would not be under this scope, things that I believe should be considered in the process of drawing conclusions.

The scope also includes this, which Director Clapper had already noted in yesterday’s hearing.

We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election. The US Intelligence Community is charged with monitoring and assessing the intentions, capabilities, and actions of foreign actors; it does not analyze US political processes or US public opinion.

It’s a bit of a cop-out, but a fair one: our nation’s spooks should not be delving into electoral outcomes (aside from the way the FBI’s Jim Comey was the most important player in this election after Hillary).


I’m fascinated by the entirety of the sourcing section. First, it doesn’t even say that it is relying on private contractor reports, which it surely is.

Many of the key judgments in this assessment rely on a body of reporting from multiple sources that are consistent with our understanding of Russian behavior.

Then there’s this section that pretends the government doesn’t have Putin and his associates lit up like Christmas trees.

Insights into Russian efforts—including specific cyber operations—and Russian views of key US players derive from multiple corroborating sources. Some of our judgments about Kremlin preferences and intent are drawn from the behavior of Kremlin loyal
political figures, state media, and pro-Kremlin social media actors, all of whom the Kremlin either directly uses to convey messages or who are answerable to the Kremlin.

On top of all the other problems with the media section, this use of media is tautological: a statement that because Russia has propaganda all its propaganda must be a clear representation of Russia’s views.

The Russian leadership invests significant resources in both foreign and domestic propaganda and places a premium on transmitting what it views as consistent, self-reinforcing narratives regarding its desires and redlines, whether on Ukraine, Syria, or relations with the United States.

Key Judgements

While it is nowhere near this bad elsewhere, check out how the IC conceives of Russia’s efforts in terms of US exceptionalism, the “US-led liberal democratic order.”

Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations. [my emphasis]

I mean, Putin also wants to disrupt US backing of Saudi/Qatari regime change in Syria, and US backing for Neo-Nazis in Ukraine. But the IC pitches US hegemony as exclusively ponies and daisies.

Contrary to what you might read at other outlets, the assessment of Russia’s motive describes Putin’s animosity towards Clinton before it addresses his fondness for Trump.

Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments.

In fact, the judgment that Putin affirmatively wanted Trump is broken out largely because the NSA has less confidence in this than the CIA and FBI.

We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgment. CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has moderate confidence.

That’s especially interesting given the reference to what we know to be, in part, intercepts showing Putin and his buddies celebrating.

Further information has come to light since Election Day that, when combined with Russian behavior since early November 2016, increases our confidence in our assessments of Russian motivations and goals.

That says that the folks who spend the most time reading SIGINT are the least convinced the SIGINT supports the case that Putin was hoping to get Trump elected.

Here’s the key finding on the hack: that GRU not only hacked the targets but used the cut-outs to get the information to the outlets to publish.

We assess with high confidence that Russian military intelligence (General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate or GRU) used the Guccifer 2.0 persona and to release US victim data obtained in cyber operations publicly and in exclusives to media outlets and relayed material to WikiLeaks.

We know the classified report describes the cut-outs that got the documents to Assange.

The one new disclosure in this document is that the IC now assesses the probes of state-related election outlets to be Russian, which they had never before done.

Russian intelligence obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple US state or local electoral boards. DHS assesses that the types of systems Russian actors targeted or compromised were not involved in vote tallying.

I’ll come back to this point.

I noted in my deep dive on the sanctions package that the sanctions apply to those who tamper in our allies’ elections. This finding — that Russia wants to do more of this — is why the EO was written that way.

We assess Moscow will apply lessons learned from its Putin-ordered campaign aimed at the US presidential election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against US allies and their election processes.

Russia’s influence campaign

In addition to restating the top-line motives, the section describing why Putin ordered this operation (and it does say that, explicitly) this section describes a few of the motives that the IC hasn’t been as ready to leak to the press. It describes Putin’s retaliation for Panama Papers and the Olympic doping scandal this way:

Putin publicly pointed to the Panama Papers disclosure and the Olympic doping scandal as US-directed efforts to defame Russia, suggesting he sought to use disclosures to discredit the image of the United States and cast it as hypocritical.

Note how the passage does not deny that the US was behind Panama Papers (for which there is no public evidence) and the doping scandal (which would fit more squarely in the way the US wields its power). I assume the most compartmented version of this report explains whether we did have a role in Panama Papers.

The report also admits that Putin did this to retaliate for what protests he believes Clinton incited in Russia.

Putin most likely wanted to discredit Secretary Clinton because he has publicly blamed her since 2011 for inciting mass protests against his regime in late 2011 and early 2012, and because he holds a grudge for comments he almost certainly saw as disparaging him.

Again, this passage is remarkably non-committal about whether the US did incite those protests.

The timing on the description of how Russia came to love the Donald is interesting — beginning in June.

Beginning in June, Putin’s public comments about the US presidential race avoided directly praising President-elect Trump,

In its description of Putin’s desire to force an international ISIL coalition, the report doesn’t address a number of things, most notably the reasons why we don’t have an international coalition now. Again, this is a bullet point that I’m sure the most classified report has far more detail on.

Moscow also saw the election of Presidentelect Trump as a way to achieve an international counterterrorism coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Likewise, I wonder whether there’s backup to this discussion of Putin’s comfort in working with people who have business ties to Russia.

Putin has had many positive experiences working with Western political leaders whose business interests made them more disposed to deal with Russia, such as former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

How much did CIA lay out what Trump’s business interests in Russia are?

The section on the actual hack is interesting. It starts by saying “Russian intelligence” got into the DNC in July 2015, which would refer to the FSB hack. Here’s how it talks about the GRU hack(s).

The General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) probably began cyber operations aimed at the US election by March 2016. We assess that the GRU operations resulted in the compromise of the personal e-mail accounts of Democratic Party officials and political figures. By May, the GRU had exfiltrated large volumes of data from the DNC.


  • The report admits that they don’t know when GRU started this. This is interesting for a slew of reasons, not least that it shows some uncertainty in the forensics.
  • Note how it refers to “Democratic party officials and political figures,” but never Podesta by name. It also doesn’t name Colin Powell, though the follow-up language must include him too.
  • Here, unlike in the JAR, the report says GRU exfiltrated a lot of data.

I’m not terrifically impressed by their paragraph on Guccifer 2.0, which is a problem, because this is one of the weakest parts of their argument.

Guccifer 2.0, who claimed to be an independent Romanian hacker, made multiple contradictory statements and false claims about his likely Russian identity throughout the election. Press reporting suggests more than one person claiming to be Guccifer 2.0 interacted with journalists.

I’ll come back to this. I just think it’s weak in a number of places.

The DC Leaks passage is stronger.

Content that we assess was taken from e-mail accounts targeted by the GRU in March 2016 appeared on starting in June.

Here’s the passage on WikiLeaks.

We assess with high confidence that the GRU relayed material it acquired from the DNC and senior Democratic officials to WikiLeaks. Moscow most likely chose WikiLeaks because of its selfproclaimed reputation for authenticity. Disclosures through WikiLeaks did not contain any evident forgeries.

The passage doesn’t talk about cut-outs, but earlier leaks make it clear that’s how it happened. I think the sentence “Moscow most likely chose WL” is either bullshit or not very smart.

Others have complained that this passage confirms there were no “obvious forgeries.” The passage as a whole undermines some claims IC affiliates were saying in real time. So behind this paragraph, there’s a whole lot of real-time assessments that were revisited. Indeed, several paragraphs later, the report makes the claim that forgeries are the MO for GRU.

Such efforts have included releasing or altering personal data, defacing websites, or releasing emails.

I’m going to come back to the passage on WL and RT.

Note, the report includes the WADA hacking, even though the scope of this is supposed to be the election.

Again, I’m going to come back to the section on the info ops. I think it is weak, in part because it doesn’t seem to distinguish genuinely held belief from outright propaganda. But this passage really gets to the core of the problem with it.

RT’s coverage of Secretary Clinton throughout the US presidential campaign was consistently negative and focused on her leaked e-mails and accused her of corruption, poor physical and mental health, and ties to Islamic extremism. Some Russian officials echoed Russian lines for the influence campaign that Secretary Clinton’s election could lead to a war between the United States and Russia.

After all, you could say the same about most mainstream US outlets (some of which were ahead of RT on Hillary’s health). There is almost nothing in the RT section that couldn’t be said by a lot of  US based outlets, some of which got bigger play. So how do you prove something is propaganda if it is doing what everyone else is doing? Moreover, much of what the passage points to depends on social media, and therefore algorithms built in Silicon Valley. Are they not a part of this propaganda? Also note, there’s no discussion of Sputnik here, which was if anything more obvious in its opposition to Hillary. Why?

There’s a long section from 2012 that deals with RT. I’ll return to it when I return to the media section. It’s really bad, though.

The report says it’s not going to weigh in on whether Russia’s efforts affected the election. But it does, here.

We assess the Russian intelligence services would have seen their election influence campaign as at least a qualified success because of their perceived ability to impact public discussion.


45 replies
  1. makomk says:

    “The report says it’s not going to weigh in on whether Russia’s efforts affected the election. But it does, here.” – subtle distinction, but this doesn’t say that Russia influenced the election, it says Russia would see their efforts as a success because they influenced public discussion. Which they undoubtedly did; for example, the widespread belief that Russia “hacked the election” is a part of the public discussion they definitely impacted.

  2. Ol' Hippy says:

    Just like anything else the federal govt says I have a hard time believing much of anything the say or claim. Call me skeptical but I’ve been fooled too often to believe much of any of their propaganda. So I’ll wait and see what shakes from the trees and then determine what’s true or mostly not.

  3. Phil Perspective says:

    There’s a long section from 2012 that deals with RT. I’ll return to it when I return to the media section. It’s really bad, though.


    You’re making us wait?  This is the best part of the report!!

    • emptywheel says:

      I’m tired. And I think it needs a far more substantive discussion about why our InfoOps sucks wienie so badly.

      • JM says:

        Such language!!

        Thank you Marcy for this and everything you’ve done over the last decade to decipher and expose u.s. government misdirection, spin and lies.

        Thank you

  4. martin says:

    geeezus.  at this point, do you think  the working class gives a flying fuck? They’re rolling on the floor in gut splitting laughter at all the morons trying to put all the pieces of Humpty Dumpty back together while they have to figure out how their going to pay the rent next month in 12 degree weather. Fuck.  The Big Bang of Stupidity is finally coming to a boil.  emptywheel.. get a grip.  Do you REALLY think anyone who is a working schmuck gives a fuck? Gimmee a call when you figure it out. Meanwhile, since you don’t have to clear off a windshield full of snow to go to work at 4am,  let us know how it feels to spend the day on twitter and a blog solving National Security idiocy in the name of those who DO have to get up at 3am and go to work.

  5. Donald says:

    The last few days some blogs have been pushing this audio of Kerry talking to Syrian rebel spokespeople last fall. Anne Barnard had a piece on this but left out the most interesting parts–

    The most interesting parts are near minute 27 or a little before, where Kerry says the Russians intervened in Syria to stop Isis, while the Us had hoped Isis would be a means of pressure on Assad.

    Presumably the Russians knew this, so they preferred Trump.

    • emptywheel says:

      Thanks for the link. Yeah, it’s pretty remarkable that the report suggests forming an international coalition against ISIL is a bad thing. It ought to really alarm people.

      • lefty665 says:

        That goes to the heart of the schizophrenic policy we’ve had in Syria and elsewhere for years.  The supply of arms, training and money that ended up in ISIL’s hands, much of it via al Qaeda, while we refrained from attacking them has been beyond bizarre.

        I fear much of what Trump and the Repubs will do. But, if Trump pulls us back from alliances with terrorists in the middle east and normalizes relations with Russia, it will make some of the other stuff go down easier.

        Thank you for this whole series of posts. They are wonderful.

  6. CTuttle says:

    “There’s a long section from 2012 that deals with RT. I’ll return to it when I return to the media section. It’s really bad, though.”

    *heh* Abby Martin wrote on FB earlier: “Guys, it’s my fault. The long awaited intelligence report on Russia says my show Breaking the Set, that ended two years ago on RT, helped cost Hillary the election.”

  7. Claudia Sutton says:

    Real cynical here. Hard to tell active vs passive players given MSM, which I rarely access now. I would assume multiple countries are playing hardball behind the scenes. Meanwhile most ordinary people are going along day to day. Happy New year.

  8. trevanion says:

    An extremely useful overview.

    The stuff on RT is so alarmingly sophomoric, among other adjectives. The way it was handled in the report is far more alarming than any of the other moving pieces in this ridiculous episode.

    To think that many eyes looked at it and signed off… Uff da.

  9. bevin says:

    The report is a complete farce. essentially it says that ‘the Russians’ by breaking the media monopoly which was supporting Clinton, through RT, influenced the election and undermined confidence in US institutions such as Primary elections, the NY Times and the networks. If you think about it, and it takes an awful lot of poring through pages of guff and fluff before one can, what the CIA and FBI are saying is “We have our own little racket here in election years: the oligarchs buy a couple of candidates and platforms then they decide which one will serve them best and the media takes it over, telling the Rubes where to mark their ballots. And suddenly the Russians come along and give platforms to people criticising the media-just like Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty al Hurra etc etc etc- and questioning the policies the oligarchs want. Who does Putin think he is? An American? …”

    Marci is right: the real story is that decades of hubris have corrupted the system entirely, the people running the intelligence agencies, political campaigns, the media are a caste of self selected sycophants, place holders, well connected dead-heads and ruthless cynics skilled at careerist plotting, corruptions of every kind and picking pockets. As a group they couldn’t run the proverbial piss up at a brewery. And when they failed they blamed outsiders.

    You know which country really intervened in the Elections? The UK with BBC and The Guardian… and I’ve got video of the House of Commons and Blairites NOT celebrating when the result became known.

  10. JOHN says:

    What about the pressure Comey felt to re-open the Clinton email investigation?  Where the FBI agents who exerted this pressure influenced by the fake news campaign?  Where the FBI agents or Congressional committee investigating Clinton targets of Russia?  Although it was fair to punt on determining whether the Russians influenced the election, they should have investigated whether the Russians influenced the FBI.

  11. Sordo says:

    “We assess the Russian intelligence services would have seen their election influence campaign”….While not as common these days, the subjunctive verb mood always seems indicative of paltry factual information.  Should have, would have, could have but not necessarily shall, will, can or did.

  12. Desider says:

    Context on the “international coalition is bad” comment, please.
    Yes, I think the Turkish-Syrian-Russian coalition is pretty bad, for one.
    As nasty as Daesh is, something that would reconstitute Russia’s army of the 70’s would be much worse – nukes, tanks, fighters, subs at $600 billion a year…
    It’s not just about taking Mosul or Aleppo in the end.
    (and no, I didn’t think arming the rebels was a terribly prudent approach despite backing the Arab Spring – actually I liked Arab Spring as a non-militarized movement)

    • LP says:

      Ru-Tr-Sy coalition only came to be as the broader anti-Daesh coalition failed to materialize, and Turkey got caught in the erratic US policy. Already intervening on the moderates’ behalf but still unable to get the US to drop its support of the kurds.

      And it’s fairly safe to assume the broader coalition was the Russian goal, looking at the explicit terms of the last failed US-Ru ceasefire deal. Plus the whole deal with the first, predictably untenable Russian ceasefire and the circus around Palmyra.

      Hence, the NATO-Russia-Syria coalition against Daesh is presumably the one Kerry described as a bad thing.

  13. Hieronymus Howard says:

    “Tampering with the election”

    Am unable to buy into the basic premise of a foreign state “influencing” our election.  Voters’ minds are pretty much made up beforehand & what “foreign actors” say or do is of no moment.

    This is not Central America.  A continent-wide federal election is too monolithic an enterprise to be manipulated by outsiders.  Our elections are compromised from the INSIDE via embedded vote-rigging within large urban centers & gerrymandering.

    Hillary was a warmonger & Poot didn’t like her.  Poot’s guy got in—independent of anything Poot or his minions did.

  14. Willow says:

    Smoke and mirrors deflecting the blame to anyone but them for an arrogant, out-of-touch and loser political party and candidate. The real crimes here are Hillary’s reckless use of her server, and the Clintons and Democrats committing election fraud against Bernie Sanders.

  15. RWood says:

    You’ve got the truth. Love you, Americans! Really.
    куча идиотов!!!

    Ц ьас люблю, тоже


    • bmaz says:


      Long time, no see. The join function is offline for a bit. But will be back at some point, and great to see you again!

    • wayoutwest says:

      You’re parroting another Clintonite lie, perris, read Trump’s actual statement out loud and follow the words with your finger. He said ‘IF’ the Russians or anyone else already had Clintons missing 30,000 emails he and others would like to see them. This type of statement is called snark.

      Things Trump actually says when passed through Clinton World resemble what you see from the telephone game, unrecognizable, ignorant and of little use except for those with a partisan agenda.  Trump informs everyone that there are at least a million criminal illegal aliens in the country and that is Clintonized into Trump hates Mexicans. Trump speaks of plans to inconvenience some foreign Muslims from some countries by not allowing them to enter the US and that was transformed into Trump will deport Muslims from the US.

      This type of lying for effect often works but the Red Queen was soundly beaten in the election so continuing with this misinformation is feeding another agenda.

      • Desider says:

        He said (from transcript):

        “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing,” Trump said, referring to the more than 30,000 purportedly personal emails that Clinton deleted from a private email server that she was using when she was secretary of state. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. Let’s see if that happens. That will be next.”

        He didn’t say “if the Russians or anyone else already has Clinton’s missing 30,000 emails we’d love to see them”. “Snark” as you describe it for the primary birther – he might as well have said, “Hey Russia, try to find Obama’s birth certificate”. Of course Trump always uses a few weasel words and phrasing, so when he talks about “2nd amendmenting Hillary” I’m sure you can excuse that as just “snark” as well –

        Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish, the Second Amendment. By the way, and if she gets to pick—if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.

        Red meat to a pack of hyenas. But never mind. As Digby noted today, he Tweeted about Wikileaks multiple times a day for weeks leading up to the election – and then says he didn’t notice it, that it didn’t make any difference. Excusing a liar will become a very interesting proposition over the next 4 years.

        • wayoutwest says:

          Trump ran into the wall of humorless anal-retentive Clintonite media when he made his off the cuff jibe at the Red Queen’s illegal deleting of emails. The written  statement, although still in jest, was released later that day before the media men and women could burst into flames from their overstimulation.

          One critical fact overlooked by this brain-trust we call the media was that any reference to hacking in either the comment or the statement were in the past tense. The 30,000 emails had already been illegally deleted and the server dismantled or destroyed leaving nothing for the Russians or anyone else to hack.

          One thing is certain now that the Red Queen has been humiliated with public defeat she will never have the power to lead any gun banning campaign.


  16. martin says:

    quote”The ;;Russian;;–er.. United Sates leadership invests significant resources in both foreign and domestic propaganda and places a premium on transmitting what it views as consistent, self-reinforcing narratives regarding its desires and redlines, whether on Ukraine, Syria, or relations with the United States;;– er….Russia”. unquote

    There. Fixed it.

    Willow says:
    January 7, 2017 at 6:56 pm

    quote”Smoke and mirrors deflecting the blame to anyone but them for an arrogant, out-of-touch and loser political party and candidate. The real crimes here are Hillary’s reckless use of her server, and the Clintons and Democrats committing election fraud against Bernie Sanders.”unquote

    And this year’s award for Great Moments in Boiling Bullshit Narrative Down to It’s Core Elements goes to……

    btw, this comment section is so buggy I never know what to expect. One minute you can reply directly to a comment, and the next day you can’t. One moment, the parameters “bar” is there(quote block etc), and the next moment it isn’t. Sure wish some one would address that.

  17. John Casper says:


    You wrote “Sure wish some one would address that.”

    “Sure wish some one would” donate more so it could be.

    I donated $320 last year. Hope you were able to give more.

    • martin says:

      I donated $320 last year. Hope you were able to give more.

      Dear Mr. Deeppockets.  As life would have it, I’m a 72yr old senior, trying to survive on SS and SNAP, of which, the P’sTB have determined 2 people can feed themselves on $29 per week by cutting my SNAP to $116 per month. However, perhaps I can donate the savings of eliminating one of my daily meal of biscuits and karo syrup, although, because the price of propane has become completely out our reach, I’d prefer to spend it on matches.  In that case,, I’ll be happy to retract my request, and request instead, for you to go fuck yourself.

      • bevin says:

        I too am a 72 year old. And, like you, find your critic’s constant references to his own generosity wearing. All the best for the New Year.

        • Desider says:

          If you’re 72-years-old, I’m sure you’ve heard harder pitches for money, like the 24 hour Jerry Lewis telethon.

          Just because *you* can’t afford to contribute doesn’t mean *someone else* won’t get the point and pony up so Marcie can work.

          Nobody knows if you’re a dog or a billionaire on the internet, 13 or 98. But we do know that eventually someone has to pay the bills or shut down.

  18. wayoutwest says:

    Response to Decider,

    That was a poor attempt at deflection, Des.
    I may be the one who started the use of Red Queen to describe the antagonist in this election drama and battle of Titans. She got stomped but I continue to use Red Queen in memory of her once royal pretensions.

    • bmaz says:

      Naw, it is just to be a recalcitrant Clinton derangement syndrome adherent troll at this point. Which is fine and all if you must, but at least have the balls to admit what you are doing.

      • wayoutwest says:

        Only in Clinton World was articulating the crookedness of the Red Queen viewed as deranged or a syndrome while in the real world justice and the rule of law is what was being called for. Now that Clinton World is crumbling to dust and she has been reduced to nothing more than  a two time loser, the whole world can relax and hardly ever have to mention her name again.

Comments are closed.