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The Russian connectionRefusal to accept reality of Russian hacking hobbles U.S. cyber defense efforts: Experts

Published 27 July 2017

The evidence of a broad, systemic effort by Russian government hackers and disinformation specialists – on instructions from President Vladimir Putin — to undermine the U.S. electoral process and ensure a Trump victory in November 2016 is incontrovertible, and it is mounting. The evidence has not persuaded President Donald Trump, however. He cites Putin’s denial of the Russian cyber effort as a reason why he – Trump — does not trust the unanimous conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community. Cyber experts say that Trump’s refusal to accept the reality of the 2016 Russian government hacking and disinformation campaign is creating a dangerous policy vacuum. This vacuum, the security experts fear, is only encouraging more cyber warfare.

The evidence of a broad, systemic effort by Russian government hackers and disinformation specialists – on instructions from President Vladimir Putin — to undermine the U.S. electoral process and ensure a Trump victory in November 2016 is incontrovertible, and it is mounting.

This mountain of evidence – based on technical means, human sources, and cyber forensics – has led all of the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies to conclude that Putin’s effort to undermine the U.S. democracy was not only audacious in its conception, but also unprecedented in its scope and ambition.

Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, the director of Belfer Center’s Intelligence and Defense Project at Harvard Kennedy School, served as director of intelligence and counterintelligence at the U.S. Department of Energy, before that was a distinguished intelligence officer in the CIA for two decades.

He told the Harvard Gazette:

It has become clear that the Russian intention was to attempt to enter into a collaborative or cooperative relationship with the Trump campaign in order to sabotage Hillary Clinton’s campaign to their mutual benefit. To that end, the Russian government employed hacking activity to collect information and then embarked on an ambitious intelligence operation to leak that information to Trump’s advantage and to Clinton’s detriment. The question that remains, and is most important to answer, is did the Trump campaign willfully accept this assistance from the Russian government and enter into a conspiracy to benefit the campaign?

Mowatt-Larssen added:

I would say it’s the most consequential Russian intelligence operation in my lifetime in terms of the attempted scope of their intention to penetrate our domestic politics and influence an American election. I can’t recall a precedent where they were that ambitious and that aggressive in pursuing that kind of goal. It’s hard to imagine that they would have done so with a completely unwilling partner.

The unanimous conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community, now headed by two stalwart Republicans – former Indiana senator Dan Coats as director of national intelligence and former Kansas congressman Mike Pompeo as CIA director — has not persuaded President Donald Trump, however. He cites Putin’s denial of the Russian cyber effort as a reason why he – Trump — does not trust the unanimous conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community.