(National Sentinel) Faulty Assessment: Just two weeks before President-elect Donald J. Trump took office, President Obama’s intelligence heads made public a unanimous analysis that Russian operatives, under orders from President Vladimir Putin, staged an influence campaign in order to help Trump win the 2016 election.
As the Washington Times reported, it was a significant event: The CIA, NSA, and FBI were all challenging the legitimacy of a presidential election.
While the charges at the time seemed persuasive and sharp, some 10 months later they are unraveling, which is raising questions about the legitimacy of the initial assessment and whether it was politically motivated to undermine the incoming commander-in-chief.
“It left me scratching my head,” said one intelligence source with personal access to former Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper and former CIA Director John O. Brennan, two of the men who had signed off on the assessment.
Both men have since publicly criticized Trump, which in and of itself is nearly unprecedented.
What’s more, the Times reported:
The 15-page document presented to the president-elect at Trump Tower in Manhattan was mostly filler — a republication of a years-old CIA analysis of the Kremlin’s global television network Russia Today. A mere five pages were dedicated to [the] charge that Moscow blended cyberhacking with state-backed propaganda and social media trolls to defeat Mr. Trump’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
There was no supporting documentation of how America’s top spies arrived at the brazen conclusion that Russians had “gained access to” and “exfiltrated large volumes of data” from Democratic National Committee computers, an explosive claim that sent shock waves across the U.S. political and intelligence landscapes.
And yet, because of the source of the report, those five pages have cast a pall over Trump’s presidency ever since, hurting his credibility abroad and forming the backdrop for five separate congressional and special counsel investigations.
This, despite the fact that the document’s singular conclusion — Russian collusion with Team Trump — looks less and less believable by the day.
And now, members of both parties say that the Russian efforts to undermine the November election were neither new nor aimed at electing Trump, but merely to ‘undermine’ American democratic processes.
The Times said in interviews with scores of former U.S. national security, intelligence community vets at the highest levels as well as foreign diplomats who all thought the initial assessment was devoid of much detail.
“I actually called them both the day after it came out and asked, ‘Why was it so thin?’” said the source close to Clapper and Brennan. “The answer I got was simple: There was a serious counterintelligence operation going on.”
The Times noted, “U.S. spies were neck-deep in an elaborate counterintelligence operation, and they didn’t want to jeopardize it by revealing too many details, according to various officials inside and outside the intelligence community.”
Trump did not see it that way; he believed that the Obama intelligence apparatus had been politicized and, as we have learned since, it likely was, just like Obama’s Justice Department.
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Other intelligence vets agree:
Fred Fleitz, a 19-year CIA veteran who served as a chief of staff for John R. Bolton during the George W. Bush administration, first laid out the argument in a Fox News op-ed the day after the assessment was made public.
The entire purpose of the report was apparently “to undermine the legitimacy of Trump’s election,” Mr. Fleitz wrote on Jan. 7. He called the assessment “rigged for political purposes” and lamented that it contained “serious accusations of Russian interference” but “did not back them up with evidence.”
At least one Russian envoy interviewed by the Times agreed. “I believe it was a total fraud and it was very badly concocted, to say the least,” he said. “It was clearly done to divert attention away from all the infighting and backstabbing that was going on inside the Democratic Party. It was also a perfect move to place the blame on someone else — a foreign power — for Hillary’s defeat.”
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