Russia’s election intervention is ‘new reality, new weapon’

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will hold a meeting about the intelligence report released this week that concludes the Russian government tried to influence the U.S. election. To break down what is in the report and what to expect, senior national security reporter at The Wall Street Journal Shane Harris joins Hari Sreenivasan.

Read the Full Transcript


    One day after top U.S. intelligence officials showed him the classified evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a hacking campaign to influence the election in his favor, President-elect Trump said Russia could become an ally during his administration. In a series of tweets this morning, Mr. Trump said in part, quote, "When I am president, Russia will respect us far more than they do now, and both countries will perhaps work together to solve some of the many great and pressing problems and issues of the world."

    The agencies also released a declassified version of their key findings for public consumption.

    For more on the intelligence report and what it means going forward, I'm joined from Washington by "Wall Street Journal" reporter, Shane Harris.

    Shane, so, what happens now? We've had the classified version in both party's hands so to speak, both administrations — the incoming one and the existing one. What happens for Congress?

    SHANE HARRIS, SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, the most immediate next step will be that on Tuesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee is going to hold a hearing about this report that's been released publicly, and, of course, some of its members have already seen the classified version, which is about 50 pages, we're told. It's a little bit longer than what the public has seen.

    There will be witnesses there. It will be a public hearing. They'll get to question intelligence leaders about these findings, and I imagine that they'll go into more detail about why they reached these conclusions. I don't think we should expect to be revealing anything about their classified sources.

    But that will be yet another opportunity for this to get aired publicly and for lawmakers to ask more direct questions about these findings that the Russian government intervened in the election and tried to help Donald Trump get elected.


    You know, in the classified version, there's no smoking gun so to speak. But you sort of expect that because of the sources and methods on how they got the information that's in the classified report. Is that what the intelligence agencies are telling you?


    Exactly. That there is — this is not an opportunity for them so much to show their work, as too much to show their conclusions. And so, I think that people who were already skeptical about these findings are probably not going to be persuaded by this particular document that was released.

    Although it is definitive in a lot of its judgments, it doesn't actually tell you, we got this information from, for instance, this person in Russia, or this series of communications that we intercepted. That's been left out, as have a number of other pieces of the puzzle, if you will, that the intelligence agencies feel would be too revealing about how they collect information and they don't want to burn those channels going forward.


    You know, there's one quote that I'm looking at. It says, "We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election." That's from the report. And then, I'm looking at President-elect Trump's tweet, "Intelligence stated very strongly, there was absolutely no evidence that hacking affected the election results."

    So, I mean, can both of those exist in sort of parallel universes here?


    Well, I think they do. I mean, clearly, the intelligence agencies did not try to make that assessment of whether or not this Russian intervention, what they think was trying to help Mr. Trump get elected, whether it actually succeeded. And I think in his statement, he's characterizing a bit too far what the intelligence agencies actually said.

    Now, what they did say in this report is that there is no evidence that Russian hackers or anyone else actually manipulated vote counts, or got into voting machines or equipment and literally change the outcome that way. But this question of whether this so-called influence campaign changed the outcome of the election, they did not assess that.


    That the voting machines were not hacked, it was something even the Obama administration mentioned. The other thing is that this report seems to be a guidepost for elections to come around the world.


    That's right. And the intelligence report and officials publicly have said that they want to make clear, this is not activity by Russia that they imagine will be limited only to this campaign, only this election. They're already seeing this — similar activities in England, in Germany. They have seen them before in Eastern Europe.

    And they really wanted people to understand, this is now a full spectrum of operations that the Russian government is using and I think now has some evidence that it can be very effective, and that the intelligence officials just don't expect that they're going to stop. This is a kind of a new reality, a new weapon frankly that they think that the Russians are going to be using.


    You know, what about the concerns that people have and say, listen, we are pointing at Russia, that — but the United States and other Western countries probably have similar operations under way around the world?


    It's a very interesting question. Sort of, you know, aren't we doing the same thing overseas, perhaps that they're doing to us? And James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, testified this week and was sort of asked about this point, and he really drew a line by saying, look, intelligence agencies all around the world, including ours, collect information all the time, including about their political adversaries. The distinction that he was making though that Russia did here was to disclose this information and some lawmakers have said to weaponize it. It's that disclosure, the giving of the emails to WikiLeaks and other groups, that they feel cross the line.


    All right. Shane Harris, senior national security reporter at "The Wall Street Journal" — thanks so much.


    Pleasure. Thanks.

Listen to this Segment