America’s intelligence chiefs may have been singing their swan’s song Thursday and Friday (Jan. 5-6) when they hurled allegations of election-meddling “ordered at the highest Kremlin level” against Russia at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in Washington. The committee’s chair John McCain picked up the ball and declared that Russian hacking was “an act of war,” after hearing grim testimony from the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and the National Security Agency head Adm. Michael Rogers.
They disclosed that they had compiled a confidential intelligence report that demonstrated how President Vladimir Putin interfered in the US election campaign in favor of the winner, Donald Trump. They declined to divulge its contents but promised to release a shorter, censored version to the public next Monday, Jan. 9.
CIA chief John Brennan and Homeland Secretary Jeh Johnson then proceeded to the White House to present the confidential report to President Barack Obama.
It will be put before President-elect Trump Friday.
The furious clamor keeping the alleged Russian hacking scandal on the boil is being orchestrated by the outgoing president and his intelligence chiefs to ramp up US-Russian friction to an eve-of-cold war pitch.
DEBKAfile’s Washington and intelligence sources find that the campaign is prompted by five motives:
1. The president-elect not only proposes to put relations with Moscow on a new and different footing, his transition teams are already at work with Putin’s advisers to chart areas of cooperation between the two powers, ready for the Trump administration to go forward when he moves into the White House on Jan. 20.
The most prominent area is the war on the Islamic State; another – the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. They are also exploring a joint US-Russian effort to resolve the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
2. Obama, who has decided to retain a team for monitoring Trump’s policies, has plunged into a dogged fight against his successor’s decision to reset US-Russian ties.
Battling to salvage a part of his “legacy” is, Obama, exceptionally for departing American presidents, is determined to cast a long shadow over his successors’ actions and policies.
In the next four years, Barack Obama will keep hammering at the Russian hacking affair in order to keep the flames high against Trump’s “Russian steps.”
3. It is important to note that Trump and his advisers, including designated Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, don’t propose rushing into détente with Moscow or any sort of honeymoon. They are acting to restore relations to an even keel and end the disequilibrium of the past eight years, during which Obama just talked and Putin did what he wanted, especially in East Europe and the Middle East.
If the effort to restore balance to the relationship works, cooperation in common areas of concern might follow. But if not, the rivalry will continue, except that henceforth America will operate from a position of strength.
4. Working together in the war on Islamic terror will call for a large measure of cooperation between US intelligence agencies and the Russian secret services.
Sixteen years ago, after 9/11, Putin proposed this kind of cooperation to President George W. Bush in the fight against Al Qaeda.
In 2011, he stepped in again with an offer of assistance to Obama in the Libyan war.
Putin was rebuffed by both presidents rebuffed him. Donald Trump is the first US leader ready to seriously explore Putin’s intentions.
The US intelligence community is up on arms at this prospect, mainly because its clandestine branches were purpose-built to confront Russia, America’s historic Cold War enemy. It is hard for them to wrench the wheel round and head in the opposite direction at the bidding of the Trump administration.
5, Notwithstanding denials by administration officers, the president elect has every intention of overhauling the character and operational methods of America’s intelligence services. His overarching goal is to cut down the vast numbers off officers, analysts and computer operations, which turn out mountains of intelligence reports most of which he claims no one reads.
Trump plans to focus more on the product of secret agents in the field, and so save the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on desk staff and high-tech computer systems. His administration will prefer to rely more on human intelligence and less on technology-based input.
Trump encapsulated his approach to intelligence and computers in a remark to reporters on New Year’s day: “No computer is safe. You want something to really go without detection, write it out and have it sent by courier.”