Washington (dpa) – US intelligence officials left no doubt Thursday in their assessment that Russia used cyberactivities during the US presidential election as part of a “multifaceted” campaign directed by top officials in the Kremlin.
The cyberattacks that targeted Democrats last year could only have been authorized by “Russia’s senior most officials,” they said, adding that Russian hacking has become more aggressive in recent years.
Russia has a long history of interfering in elections, their own and those in other countries, James Clapper, director of national intelligence, told a Senate committee.
“I don’t think we’ve ever encountered more aggressive or direct campaigning to interfere in our election process than we’ve seen in this one,” Clapper said.
The campaign also included “disinformation” reported on Russian-state-funded broadcaster Russia Today (RT), classical propaganda and the distribution of fake news, he said.
“Whatever crack or fissure they could find in our tapestry … they would exploit it,” Clapper said, adding that the totality of that impact is a “grave concern” to him both as an intelligence official and a US citizen.
The comments came during a hearing over hacks that exposed information about the inner workings of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign and whether it interfered in the presidential election.
Congress is looking into intelligence officials’ claim – first revealed one month before the election – that Russia orchestrated cyberattacks and whether they influenced the outcome.
Clapper said Thursday the Russian activity “did not change any vote tallies.”
Russia has denied any involvement in the intrusion of the committee’s computer systems.
The hearing follows president-elect Donald Trump’s statements, mostly on Twitter, doubting the intelligence agencies’ claims that Russia was behind the attacks.
Trump said earlier this week that US intelligence agencies were incorrect in their assessment of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction prior to the US-led invasion of that country in 2003.
US Senator John McCain said after the hearing that he hoped Trump understands that the intelligence community is “vital” in providing counsel for US security.
They might have made mistakes in the past, he said, but their conclusions about Russian cyberattacks “have been correct so far” and their work should be respected.
He said it remained to be seen how Trump would react to Clapper’s statements. He and other intelligence officials who testified said more would be revealed about Russia’s activities, including their motive, in a report to be made public next week.
McCain also dismissed placing any trust in WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
“This is really a person who has put the lives of Americans in danger he cannot be trusted for anything,” McCain said.
Trump in a Twitter post pointed to Assange comments that “a 14-year-old could have hacked Podesta,” referring to the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. He also asked why the Democrats were careless in protecting their computer networks and noted that Assange said the Russians did not give him the information.
On Thursday, Trump said on Twitter: “The dishonest media likes saying that I am in Agreement with Julian Assange – wrong. I simply state what he states, it is for the people.”