Putin Authorized Smear Campaign Against Biden, US Intelligence Concludes
Less hacking, more laundering: 2020 tactics show evolution of Russian information warfare efforts.
With President Vladimir Putin’s authorization, the Russian government used Ukrainian proxies, individuals linked to President Donald Trump, and the U.S. media to “denigrate President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party” through the promotion of tailored “narratives,” the U.S. intelligence community has concluded, according to a declassified report released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
U.S. intelligence leaders determined that Russia did not hack votes or change voting totals. Moscow did continue to attempt to influence the American voting public and “sought to discredit the Obama administration by emphasizing accusations of corruption by US officials,” the report says.
The National Intelligence Council report does not expressly mention the Hunter Biden laptop story that hit the front page of the New York Post last October. But it does mention Andrii Derkach, the pro-Russian Ukrainian politician sanctioned by the U.S. State Department who was trafficking information remarkably similar to what showed up in the Post report. Derkach gave material to Rudy Giuliani, the New York mayor-turned-Trump lawyer. Versions of the story had been floating around since 2014. The story was dismissed by experts on Russian active measures tactics as an obvious ploy.
“Derkach, [Konstantin V. Klimnik], and their associates sought to use prominent US persons and media conduits to launder their narratives to US officials and audiences," the report said. "These Russian proxies met with and provided materials to Trump administration-linked US persons to advocate for formal investigations: hired a U.S. firm to petition U.S. officials; and attempted to make contact with several senior U.S. officials. They also made contact with established U.S. media figures and helped produce a documentary that aired on a U.S. television network in late January 2020."
Russian active measures researcher Thomas Rid said in a tweet: “Overarching takeaway: Russian intelligence actors and proxies were far more prolific, more aggressive, and more risk-taking in the 2020 election cycle than many assumed, myself included. They were also more covert and more disciplined than in 2016. Expect more.”
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, said in a statement: “This report highlights the ongoing and persistent efforts by our adversaries to influence our elections, which all Americans should be informed about. Russia, in particular, has expended real effort, not just in 2020, but also as we all recall in 2016, to influence election results...But the problem of foreign actors trying to influence the American electorate is not going away and, given the current partisan divides in this country, may find fertile ground in which to grow in the future.”
The report further confirms what the office had previously said about Iranian efforts to undermine the Trump campaign and spoof Florida voters without measurably influencing the election or national news coverage.