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U.S. intelligence says Putin approved operations to help Trump against Biden

A file picture of the then U.S. President Donald Trump with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a photo session at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin authorised influence operations to help Donald Trump in last November’s presidential election, according to a declassified intelligence assessment that found broad efforts by the Kremlin and Iran to shape the outcome of the race but ultimately no evidence that any foreign actor changed votes or otherwise disrupted the voting process.

Also read: Russia interfered in U.S. election to help Trump win: report

The report released on March 16 from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence represents the most detailed assessment of the array of foreign threats to the 2020 election.

These included efforts by Iran to undermine confidence in the vote and harm Mr. Trump’s re-election prospects as well as Moscow operations that used Mr. Trump’s allies to smear Joe Biden, the eventual winner.

Despite those threats, though, intelligence officials found “no indications that any foreign actor attempted to interfere in the 2020 U.S. elections by altering any technical aspect of the voting process, including voter registration, ballot casting, vote tabulation, or reporting results”. The report is the latest official affirmation of the integrity of the election, even as Trump supporters continue to make false claims of interference, from foreign or domestic actors, and refuse to accept Mr. Biden’s victory.

Also read: Republican-led probe finds Russia helped Trump in 2016 election

Multiple courts and even Mr. Trump’s own Justice Department refuted claims of widespread fraud. The document makes clear that even while Mr. Trump has cried foul about the legitimacy of the election, intelligence officials believe Russia leaned on his associates to try to tip the outcome of the election.

The report wades into the politically freighted assessments of ferreting out which foreign adversaries supported which candidates during the 2020 presidential election.

Mr. Trump, whose 2016 election effort benefited from hacking by Russian intelligence officers and a covert social media campaign, seized on an intelligence community assessment from August that said China preferred a Biden presidency to Mr. Trump’s re-election.

And his intelligence director faced blowback from some Democrats for a hastily called news conference on Iranian efforts he said were aimed against Mr. Trump.

Also read: Joe Biden warns of foreign interference in U.S. poll

Tuesday’s report, however, says China ultimately did not interfere on either side and “considered but did not deploy” influence operations aimed at affecting the outcome.

U.S. officials say they determined that Beijing valued a stable relationship with the U.S. and did not consider either election outcome as advantageous enough for it to risk getting caught with interference.

The primary threats instead came from Russia and Iran, albeit with different intentions and through different means, according to intelligence officials.

In the case of Russia, the report says, Russia sought to undermine Mr. Biden’s candidacy because it viewed his presidency as disadvantageous to the Kremlin, though it likely took some steps to prepare for a Democratic administration as the election neared.

The report also says Mr. Putin authorised influence operations aimed at denigrating Mr. Biden, boosting Mr. Trump, undermining confidence in the election and exacerbating social divisions in the U.S.

Also read: Whistleblower alleges Donald Trump sought Ukraine meddling in 2020 elections

Central to that effort was the reliance on proxies linked to Russian intelligence “to launder influence narratives” by using media organisations and people close to Mr. Trump to push “false” and “misleading” smear campaigns against Mr. Biden.

Intelligence officials did not single out any Mr. Trump ally in that effort, but longtime associate Rudy Giuliani met repeatedly with Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Derkach, who released heavily edited recordings of Mr. Biden speaking while Vice-President with Ukraine’s then-President in an effort to link him to unsubstantiated corruption.

U.S. officials have said they regard Mr. Derkach as an active Russian agent, and Tuesday’s report said Mr. Putin is believed to have “purview” over his activities.

Notably, though, Russia was not as aggressive as in past election cycles in trying to hack election infrastructure, and the report says that Russian cyber operations that targeted state and local government networks last year were probably not focused on the election and were instead part of a broader effort to target U.S. and global entities.

Also read: Trump calls Democratic impeachment inquiry a ‘joke’

Iran, meanwhile, carried out its own influence campaign aimed at harming Mr. Trump’s re-election bid, an effort U.S. officials say was approved by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

One “highly targeted operation” — the subject of an October news conference by then-Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and FBI Director Christopher Wray — involved a flurry of emails to Democratic voters in battleground states that falsely purported to be from the far-right group Proud Boys and threatened the recipients if they didn’t vote for Mr. Trump.

Iran’s efforts, which officials say were more aggressive than in past elections and continued even after the contest was over, were focused on sowing discord in the U.S., likely because Tehran believed that would hurt Mr. Trump’s re-election chances.

Though Iran sought to exploit the vulnerabilities of state election websites, and did “compromise U.S. entities associated with election infrastructure as a part of a broad targeting effort across multiple sectors worldwide”, it did not attempt to manipulate votes or affect election infrastructure.

The 15-page document is a declassified version of a broader election interference report that was provided to Mr. Trump on Jan. 7, one day after a riot at the U.S. Capitol that occurred while the Congress had gathered to certify the election results.


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Printable version | Jul 29, 2021 2:37:49 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/us-intelligence-says-putin-approved-operations-to-help-trump-against-biden/article34087850.ece

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