In 1966, the scholar-diplomat George F. Kennan testified before Senator William J. Fulbright’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee and said that the United States would be well advised to quit its habit of overhyping communist threats abroad. To continue, in Kennan’s words, to “jump around” like “an elephant frightened by a mouse” was unbecoming a great power and ultimately detrimental to its national security interests.
The 25 page declassified report on Russia’s campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) proves, if nothing else, that old habits die hard: we are still jumping around like that frightened elephant.
Released on January 6, the public version of the ODNI report is presented as an “analytic assessment drafted and coordinated among the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and The National Security Agency (NSA).”
The report assesses with high confidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an “influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election.” The aim of Putin’s campaign was threefold: “undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.”
The trouble with the ODNI report, as quickly becomes clear, is that there is simply “no there there.” The report contains not a single shred of forensic evidence that the Russian government directed the hacks of the DNC or of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
Instead of demonstrating conclusive links between the government of Russia and the hackers or between the government of Russia and Wikileaks, we are provided with a series of undocumented, evidence-free assertions of “high confidence” that Vladimir Putin directed an influence campaign to discredit Hillary Clinton in order to hurt her chances at the polls in November.
The report is marred by a reliance on innuendo and amateur psychological insights into Putin’s motives, while adding no new forensic or other hard evidence. Nowhere does the report indicate the ODNI’s sweeping conclusions were based on either HUMINT (human intelligence) or SIGINT (signals intelligence).
Nor does the report necessarily indicate agreement between the three lead agencies. According to The New York Times, “the eavesdroppers of the NSA believe with only ‘moderate confidence’ that Russia aimed to help Mr. Trump, while their colleagues at the CIA and the FBI have ‘high confidence.’” This is especially troubling because, as William Binney, a 36-year veteran of NSA and the creator of many of its collection systems, has pointed out, “the NSA would know where and how any ‘hacked’ emails from the DNC, HRC or any other servers were routed through the network.”