The CIA on Russian hackers: Intelligence estimates, or desperate political spin?

One needs an appreciation of the collection and analysis process that precedes a public announcement of a critical intelligence assessment, such as the recent charge by the CIA director that Russia interfered with our election and did so solely to get Donald Trump elected.  The fact that Russia also hacked the Republican National Committee is quickly brushed away as an inconvenient fact that doesn't fit the Democratic narrative.  To follow their tangled thinking, which grasps at any theory that might halt the ratification of the election by electors, Russia's theft and leaking of documents showing the machinations by Clinton, Podesta, and others in their party to undercut Bernie Sanders – Clinton's more likable party rival – and their schemes to vilify Trump voters prove that Putin was on Trump's side and stole the election for him.  It's a theory supported by no evidence and no facts.

To accept the veracity of CIA's announcement, especially with the outgoing Democratic president issuing an all-for-show public warning to Moscow that it could face retaliation (another of his meaningless red lines), one has to realize we are still in a moment of grand national theater when the outcome of the election – in the minds of Democrats – is still in play.  To them, the votes of the College of Electors could be swayed to halt the process, delay it for weeks or months, or render the election won by Clinton if enough electors change their votes.  To get them to do so, advertisements have appeared in major newspapers and on websites appealing to "conscience," urging electors to ignore their sworn missions.  These are the electors sworn to cast votes that concur with the majority of voters they represent in their states.  This last-minute Democratic connivance is being bolstered by the quickly crafted NIE – National Intelligence Estimate – with all players working from the same script, seeking to cast doubt on the election outcome and to override the votes of half of the American electorate.

Regrettably, the public might not recall earlier intelligence estimates that not only were wrong, but had terribly damaging consequences.  And this one would, since it would trigger a constitutional crisis.  Some of those, like today's, advanced by CIA's always liberal analytic branch and embraced by a chastened, brought to heel FBI, is naked politics at its most shameless, driven by liberal smugness and absence of objectivity, all claims to the contrary.  They are counting on Americans – particularly the uneducated "deplorables" who voted for Trump – to be incapable of understanding arcane, technical hacking jargon, which can be used to make them have enough doubt to halt election ratification.

One NIE during the Cuban Missile Crisis assessed that the Soviets would not dare place offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba.  Once that was shown to be wrong, and missiles were discovered, a second NIE was trotted out insisting that the Soviets would not dare launch them – also untrue, as later Russian and Cuban conferences have revealed.  Another mistaken intelligence estimate occurred when the director of the CIA, claiming that Iraq had WMDs, agreed that Americans would be welcomed as saviors and that the approval of the war by the U.N. was a "slam dunk."  The Mideast war this started is still underway today after more than a decade.  Those estimates were driven by liberal incomprehension over the capabilities of our adversaries.

The collection and analysis process leading to the latest intelligence assessment is not very different from the classical scientific method, which starts with a logical question, such as "Might the Russian cyber-hacks revealed by WikiLeaks be an attempt to influence our election?"  To answer the question, the intelligence analysts determine how cyber-attacks occur, their timing, who was behind the attacks, and why, and if the hackers achieved their objectives because of this.  The process is then reiterated with more specific questions based on the initial findings.  When the assessment is finally determined accurate and valid, the president may choose to make a public announcement, even a public warning to the perpetrator.

The president and/or the CIA should have provided the president-elect with the necessary technical details and facts the intelligence analysts supposedly used in reaching their conclusions, to avoid any challenges to the assessment.  The public also needs to have proof of the cyber-attacks where sources are incontrovertible.  The president has the authority to declassify enough information to satisfy any public concerns about the truthfulness of the CIA's and his claims, yet we are getting the usual "national security" smokescreen they used with the claims of aluminum tubes or yellowcake in earlier assessments, which turned out to instantly fall apart in the light of public scrutiny.

Nothing could be more important to the reputations of the CIA and FBI than to reveal solid, credible information to satisfy the public – and to remove the strong whiff of politics that currently emanates from these recent assessments hiding in the classified shadows.

Gene Poteat is president emeritus of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO).

One needs an appreciation of the collection and analysis process that precedes a public announcement of a critical intelligence assessment, such as the recent charge by the CIA director that Russia interfered with our election and did so solely to get Donald Trump elected.  The fact that Russia also hacked the Republican National Committee is quickly brushed away as an inconvenient fact that doesn't fit the Democratic narrative.  To follow their tangled thinking, which grasps at any theory that might halt the ratification of the election by electors, Russia's theft and leaking of documents showing the machinations by Clinton, Podesta, and others in their party to undercut Bernie Sanders – Clinton's more likable party rival – and their schemes to vilify Trump voters prove that Putin was on Trump's side and stole the election for him.  It's a theory supported by no evidence and no facts.

To accept the veracity of CIA's announcement, especially with the outgoing Democratic president issuing an all-for-show public warning to Moscow that it could face retaliation (another of his meaningless red lines), one has to realize we are still in a moment of grand national theater when the outcome of the election – in the minds of Democrats – is still in play.  To them, the votes of the College of Electors could be swayed to halt the process, delay it for weeks or months, or render the election won by Clinton if enough electors change their votes.  To get them to do so, advertisements have appeared in major newspapers and on websites appealing to "conscience," urging electors to ignore their sworn missions.  These are the electors sworn to cast votes that concur with the majority of voters they represent in their states.  This last-minute Democratic connivance is being bolstered by the quickly crafted NIE – National Intelligence Estimate – with all players working from the same script, seeking to cast doubt on the election outcome and to override the votes of half of the American electorate.

Regrettably, the public might not recall earlier intelligence estimates that not only were wrong, but had terribly damaging consequences.  And this one would, since it would trigger a constitutional crisis.  Some of those, like today's, advanced by CIA's always liberal analytic branch and embraced by a chastened, brought to heel FBI, is naked politics at its most shameless, driven by liberal smugness and absence of objectivity, all claims to the contrary.  They are counting on Americans – particularly the uneducated "deplorables" who voted for Trump – to be incapable of understanding arcane, technical hacking jargon, which can be used to make them have enough doubt to halt election ratification.

One NIE during the Cuban Missile Crisis assessed that the Soviets would not dare place offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba.  Once that was shown to be wrong, and missiles were discovered, a second NIE was trotted out insisting that the Soviets would not dare launch them – also untrue, as later Russian and Cuban conferences have revealed.  Another mistaken intelligence estimate occurred when the director of the CIA, claiming that Iraq had WMDs, agreed that Americans would be welcomed as saviors and that the approval of the war by the U.N. was a "slam dunk."  The Mideast war this started is still underway today after more than a decade.  Those estimates were driven by liberal incomprehension over the capabilities of our adversaries.

The collection and analysis process leading to the latest intelligence assessment is not very different from the classical scientific method, which starts with a logical question, such as "Might the Russian cyber-hacks revealed by WikiLeaks be an attempt to influence our election?"  To answer the question, the intelligence analysts determine how cyber-attacks occur, their timing, who was behind the attacks, and why, and if the hackers achieved their objectives because of this.  The process is then reiterated with more specific questions based on the initial findings.  When the assessment is finally determined accurate and valid, the president may choose to make a public announcement, even a public warning to the perpetrator.

The president and/or the CIA should have provided the president-elect with the necessary technical details and facts the intelligence analysts supposedly used in reaching their conclusions, to avoid any challenges to the assessment.  The public also needs to have proof of the cyber-attacks where sources are incontrovertible.  The president has the authority to declassify enough information to satisfy any public concerns about the truthfulness of the CIA's and his claims, yet we are getting the usual "national security" smokescreen they used with the claims of aluminum tubes or yellowcake in earlier assessments, which turned out to instantly fall apart in the light of public scrutiny.

Nothing could be more important to the reputations of the CIA and FBI than to reveal solid, credible information to satisfy the public – and to remove the strong whiff of politics that currently emanates from these recent assessments hiding in the classified shadows.

Gene Poteat is president emeritus of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO).

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