Donald Trump may think the CIA is composed entirely of “the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction”; he may put scare quotes around the word intelligence when referring to the findings of America’s spy agencies; and he may suggest that those agencies engage in political “witch hunts” — but that doesn’t mean he lacks “tremendous respect” for what they do!
So we learned on Friday, minutes after the president-elect emerged from a special briefing on Russian hacking of America’s political institutions. After the nation’s top intelligence and law-enforcement officials presented Trump with their case for believing the Kremlin was responsible for hacking the email accounts of both the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, the president-elect released the following statement:
Here, Trump acknowledges that Russia is among the many entities targeting America’s cyberinfrastructure, but declines to assign the nation culpability for any specific cyberattacks. He also insists that the various hacks of Democratic institutions had “absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election” — a claim that no human being who hasn’t seen voting returns from an alternate universe could possibly know the veracity of.
Regardless, Trump appears to be treating cybersecurity as a significant concern, at least rhetorically. And he’s now acknowledging that hacking is a tool available to more powerful entities than 400-pound guys sitting in their beds.
He still doesn’t seem to have an appetite for punishing Russia’s alleged attempts to undermine our democracy (and/or get him elected). But he also resisted the temptation to praise Vladimir Putin or Julian Assange.
So, count this one as a step toward normality.
Shortly after the release of Trump’s statement, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence published a declassified version of the CIA, FBI, and NSA’s joint report on Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
Still, the document isn’t without its interesting tidbits.
Apparently, Putin underestimated Trump’s appeal in the Rust Belt.
That report is much heavier on conclusions than it is on evidence. Ostensibly, the intelligence agencies are not comfortable disclosing precisely how they came to conclude that Russian operatives were behind the cyberattacks against the DNC and Clinton campaign. And the report’s most explosive finding — that Russia initially intended its attacks to sow doubts about the legitimacy of American democracy, before developing an affinity for the candidate who was constantly praising Putin — has been on the public record for nearly a month now (and wasn’t hard to intuit much earlier than that).