Russian President Vladimir Putin authorised operations to influence last year’s United States presidential elections in favour of former president Donald Trump, according to a declassified intelligence report released on Tuesday.
The report, “Foreign threats to the US federal elections”, was released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. However, it said there was no evidence to show that foreign actors altered votes or disrupted the voting process.
The report said that Russia’s “influence operations” to try to swing the November elections were aimed at “denigrating” the candidacy of President Joe Biden. It added that the operations were directed to undermine public confidence in the electoral process and at aggravating sociopolitical divisions in the US. It said that unlike in the 2016 presidential elections, the intelligence department did not find Russian efforts to gain election infrastructure.
“A key element of Moscow’s strategy this election cycle was its use of proxies linked to Russian intelligence to push influence narratives – including misleading or unsubstantiated allegations against President Biden – to US media organisations, US officials, and prominent US individuals, including some close to former President Trump and his administration,” the report said.
Besides Russia, the report pointed out that Iran too tried to influence the elections but its campaign was focused on undercutting the prospects of Trump’s candidacy. As president, Trump pulled the US out of a multilateral nuclear deal with Iran and imposed fresh sanctions.
However, the intelligence office said that Iran did not do this by directly promoting Trump’s rivals. “We assess that Supreme Leader [Sayyid Ali Hosseini] Khamenei authorised the campaign and Iran’s military and intelligence services implemented it using overt and covert messaging and cyber operations,” the report said.
It said that China did not attempt to influence the elections as Beijing did not consider any of the outcomes favorable to risk getting caught in meddling.
“We assess that a range of additional foreign actors – including Lebanese Hizballah, Cuba, and Venezuela – took some steps to attempt to influence the election,” the report said. “In general, we assess that they were smaller in scale than the influence efforts conducted by other actors this election cycle. Cybercriminals disrupted some election preparations; we judge their activities probably were driven by financial motivations.”
The intelligence office assessed that it would have been difficult for foreign actors to manipulate elections at a large scale that would go unnoticed. “The IC [intelligence collection] identified some successful compromises of state and local government networks prior to election day – as well as a higher volume of unsuccessful attempts – that we assess were not directed at altering election processes,” the report said. “Some foreign actors, such as Iran and Russia, spread false or inflated claims about alleged compromises of voting systems to undermine public confidence in election processes and results.”
The report is the latest official affirmation of the integrity of the November election as Trump supporters have continued to make claims of interference and refused to accept Biden’s victory, according to AP.
The 15-page document was given to Trump on January 7, a day after a riot at the US Capitol complex. Violence erupted as Congress was gathering to certify the election results. Biden was declared the winner of the elections.
A separate report released by the US Departments of Justice and Homeland Security arrived at similar conclusions. “Although the report notes that Russian, Chinese, and Iranian government-affiliated actors materially impacted the security of certain networks during the 2020 federal elections, the departments found no evidence that any foreign government-affiliated actor manipulated election results or otherwise compromised the integrity of the 2020 federal elections,” it said.