Analysis: Russia did meddle in US election, but its goal was not to elect Trump

Trump 2016No person familiar with the theory and practice of intelligence will be shocked by allegations that Russia interfered in the recent American presidential election. On the contrary, the claim will strike experienced observers as a textbook case of covert operation —an intelligence activity designed to influence foreign political, military or economic developments. Far from being physically violent, most covert operations involve actions like secretly funding political parties, planting misinformation or propaganda in foreign media outlets and —in more extreme cases— bribing or extorting key political actors. During the Cold War, hardly a national election took place without attracting the covert attention of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and its Soviet equivalent, the KGB. This practice continues today, as nearly every intelligence agency engages in covert operations of some form or other.

It would thus be extremely unusual and highly uncharacteristic of Russian spy agencies if they did not launch at least a rudimentary covert campaign to target the 2016 US presidential election. To not have done so would mean that the Russian intelligence apparatus failed to abide by its mission statement. Such an eventuality would be unthinkable, especially given the size and importance of the target. It should therefore be presumed that Russian spy agencies, in particular the Foreign Intelligence Service and the Main Intelligence Directorate, engaged in systematic efforts to meddleq-quote in last month’s US election. Indeed, the opposite would be strange.

The view that Russian spy agencies interfered in the US presidential election does not, for the moment, rely on publicly available evidence. The latter remains absent, though it is worth noting that, according to The Washington Post, US intelligence agencies concluded “with high confidence” that Russia meddled in the campaign over many months. It is always wise to treat claims in the media by unnamed “US officials” with some skepticism. But if The Post’s allegation is factual, then the words “with high confidence” are significant. The business of intelligence analysis is one of accuracy and precision. The term “high confidence” is rarely employed, and when it is, it typically denotes an almost indisputable degree of confidence in an analytical conclusion.

That the president-elect chose to automatically dismiss The Post’s allegations by describing them as “ridiculous” and denouncing the CIA in its entirety as “the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction” is worrying. It indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of the intelligence profession and its role in executive decision-making. Ideally, the president-elect should have remained silent until he had an opportunity to confer with the CIA and examine the evidence behind the report. Instead, during a Sunday morning interview on Fox News, Trump said simply: “I don’t believe it”. But this has nothing to do with belief. It has to do with facts and data, which he ought to examine before summarily dismissing an entire agency.

What is more, the evidence behind these allegations must be presented to the American people, who were the ultimate targets of the alleged operation. This was not about the two presidential q-quotecandidates. This was about the reputation of the American electoral process. In fact, the primary goal of Russia’s involvement in the US election —which, again, must be presumed— was not to empower a particular candidate, but to weaken the reputation of American political institutions as a whole. Those who claim that the Kremlin tried to promote Trump because the Republican candidate appears to be more favorably disposed toward Russia are wrong. They misunderstand the complex nature of Russian-American relations and underestimate Russian strategy. Moscow understands that its bilateral relationship with Washington rests on a set of longstanding geopolitical variables and does not depend on ephemeral personal relations between individual leaders. Furthermore, the Kremlin views Trump as an inherently unpredictable actor that is not to be trusted. The Russian plan, therefore, was not to help elect Trump. Rather, it was to sow mistrust between American –and by extension Western– civil society and its political institutions. Given the challenges currently being faced by European and American democracy, that is not a far-fetched goal.

The current state of American politics, which is characterized by ugly sectarianism the likes of which have not been witnessed since the Vietnam War, favors Russia’s strategic goals. Many Americans are currently convinced that the president-elect and some of his most senior aides are influenced by Moscow. Instead of actively trying to alleviate these concerns, Trump has now gone on an all-out offensive against the US Intelligence Community while essentially defending Russia. Americans who care about the current state and future of the Republic must be seriously concerned with this picture, regardless of their political affiliation. It may be that the history textbooks of the future will record the Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election as one of the most successful covert operations of modern times.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 December 2016 | Permalink

6 Responses to Analysis: Russia did meddle in US election, but its goal was not to elect Trump

  1. Quite honestly, I’m more concerned with USA intelligence manipulation of American public opinion. USA generated propaganda became legal to aim at Americans in 2013 with the NDAA appropriations bill, effectively overturning the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948.

    Prior to this, the CIA had concealed its efforts in this regard when promoting conflicts abroad because it was illegal, as noted by John Stockwell ‘In Search of Enemies.’ Now it would seem the only need to conceal is to effect the desired outcome. As for the Post, it’s relationship to the CIA has been longstanding:

    “You could get a [Washington Post] journalist cheaper than a good call girl, for a couple hundred dollars a month.” -CIA operative cited in “Katherine The Great” by Deborah Davis

  2. Juan F says:

    How does it feel being meddled like in a banana republic? Muleteer we were, and on the road we´ll meet

  3. Veblen says:

    The only sane analysis I have yet to see on this topic. For a while now I have noticed suspicious differences in the way Moscow has been treated in Western media. Where some have compared Putin to Hitler, others have blatantly endorsed Moscow’s foreign policy strategy. I don’t know the extent of Russia’s meddling, but it seems reasonable to assume that having Americans distrustful of the government and questioning Western Institutions ultimately undermines the West, which behooves the Kremlin’s influence on the world stage. Thanks for covering this topic… I’m surprised you haven’t already.

  4. Mike says:

    That was a great read. Thank you.

  5. Nathan Smith says:

    Here’s the thing no one is asking: why didn’t the CIA just pull Trump aside for an hour and show him the evidence? Did you have this thought? If not, it’s ok. Some people are trained to have it, while some people are trained not to have it. Let’s look at the recent history of Trump’s life – the Clinton campaign knew it was staring down a massive competition in Trump. So it created a false narrative of his connection with Putin and Russia. They ballooned it to wild proportions, trying to connect him to authoritarians and Nazis so that Clinton could win the election.

    So now that Trump has won the election, the first thing he hears from the preeminent intel agency which also spoke on behalf of Clinton’s false narrative about Trump’s connection to Russia is: we think Russia helped you win the election. If you were Trump, what would your reaction be? More importantly, what would your reaction be if the CIA went not to you to tell you about all this, but straight to the media, looking for all the world like they were trying to politicise intelligence? And this same agency then had the gall to turn around and feign indignation when Trump is sceptical and suggests some conniving among the government to discredit him. Again, what you think if you were Trump?

    Washington is not a simple place. The first step is not to believe what you hear in the media. There is extremely real geopolitical rivalry between nations. No one is disputing that. But people don’t seem to realise that the only game every branch and agency in the US are playing is to win influence over Washington. Just like in Roman times, the generals and senators might frame their foreign actions as “quelling a rebellion” in Gaul or “border protection” in Germany. But their every action was about influencing politics back in Rome. In an empire, the only city that matters is the capital. And the US is an empire, whether it wants to admit that or not.

    If you can’t see the same thing happening in Washington today, then you won’t understand why events play out as they do. And you certainly won’t understand why you’re seeing certain events, but not others. The Trump vs CIA debacle is actually a politics vs government struggle – the oldest game in the Western world. Trump won’t win that struggle, elected officials barely ever never win fights with permanent government officials. But the game in Washington is always about who has access to policy making power.

    The CIA doesn’t trust Trump because he’s an outsider. Not a political outsider on the other side of the ruling class, but a member of the ruled class. He has to be shown his place, because he won’t know it. The agency used its opening move to call on the shock troops of the media – which is part of the extended civil service – to show Trump who is boss. Trump is not even president yet and he’s already being shown the score. But if he’s paying attention, he will soon learn the weakness of the presidency and how the score will never be in his favour. If he’s smart he will turn over and let the tide carry him. No elected official can swim against the tearing current of the civil service forever.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Does JF know that Trump is using BAH for his intelligence briefings? The CIA and State Department are not to be trusted, and anyone paying attention knows this.

    You people that still do not recognize what “globalists” are are at a serious disadvantage when observing and analyzing politics. The corporate media has been engaged in psychological warfare against the US public for over an entire year now. They are successively ramping up the hostility and absurdity factor. There is a reason why no one believes them, and the people who continue to cite WaPo, BBC, NYT, etc., uncritically, as if they are beacons of truth and enlightenment are losing their respectability fast.

    I cannot wait to see pictures of Putin and Trump golfing and smoking cigars while the EU falls apart.

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