Russians aimed to undermine democratic order, paint US as hypocritical

Vladimir Putin
Sergei Ilnitsky | Pool | Reuters

The Russian campaign to influence U.S. elections was simply the latest in the country's efforts to erode faith in the democratic process, according to a declassified version of a report published by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Friday.

The report said Vladimir Putin did want to help President-elect Donald Trump's chances "when possible by discrediting Secretary [Hillary] Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him." But it also emphasizes historical behavior and patterns that show Russia had hoped to gain more than simply electing Trump.

The intelligence community posits that the Russian president also sought to "denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency." The report notes that Putin has "publicly blamed her since 2011 for inciting mass protests against his regime in late 2011 and early 2012."

It wasn't all about Trump

The purpose of the "influence campaign" was to "undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order," something the Kremlin sees as a "threat to Russia and Putin's regime."

As part of this influence campaign, Putin cast the Panama Papers and the Olympic doping schedule as "U.S.-directed efforts to defame Russia," the report said. It added that these comments suggest Putin was trying to "discredit the image of the United States and cast it as hypocritical."

They've done it before

The report describes the Russian attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election as "the most recent expression of Moscow's longstanding desire to undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order."

Below are some of the previous instances of Russian influence efforts highlighted in the report:

— During the Cold War, the Soviet Union used intelligence officers, influence agents, forgeries,and press placements to disparage candidates perceived as hostile to the Kremlin, according to a former KGB archivist.

— The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Directorate S (Illegals) officers arrested in the United States in 2010 reported to Moscow about the 2008 election

— In the 1970s, the KGB recruited a Democratic Party activist who reported information about then-presidential hopeful Jimmy Carter's campaign and foreign policy plans, according to a former KGB archivist

The Kremlin's consistent denial of its involvement is just part of the game, the report said.

"By their nature, Russian influence campaigns are multifaceted and designed to be deniable because they use a mix of agents of influence, cutouts, front organizations, and false-flag operations. Moscow demonstrated this during the Ukraine crisis in 2014, when Russia deployed forces and advisers to eastern Ukraine and denied it publicly."

But the report also said that Russia's activity in the 2016 U.S. presidential election was a "significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations aimed at US elections."

They'll do it again

The intelligence community expects Moscow to "apply lessons learned from its Putin-ordered campaign aimed at the US presidential election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against U.S. allies and their election processes."

In fact, the intelligence community suggests that it has already begun.

The report noted that "immediately after Election Day," officials noticed "Russian intelligence began a spearphishing campaign targeting US Government employees and individuals associated with U.S. think tanks and NGOs in national security, defense, and foreign policy fields."