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Putin 'ordered' project to help Trump, harm Clinton, US intelligence says

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Russian President Vladimir Putin "ordered" a campaign aimed at "discrediting" Democrat Hillary Clinton and helping Republican candidate Donald Trump ahead of the 2016 election, a declassified US intelligence report said Friday.

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US intelligence officials released a 25-page declassified version of a report on Friday that explicitly tied Putin to the hackings, saying he "ordered" the operation and calling it the "boldest effort yet" to influence a US election. 

The report assesses "with high confidence" that Putin himself ordered an "influence campaign" that "aspired to help President-elect Trump's election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton".

"Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton and harm her electability and potential presidency," the intelligence agencies said. "We further assess Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump."  

The report – jointly released by the CIA, the NSA and the FBI – said that the intelligence community "did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election". It also noted that Russia's cyber activities did not target US systems involved in vote tallying.

Intelligence officials first announced in early October that the Russian government was directing cyber-attacks on the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign staff.

Russia denies the US government's allegations.

Intelligence agencies also said Friday that the Kremlin’s cyber efforts continue. Since the election Russia has launched a "spear-phishing" campaign, which uses fraudulent emails, targeting US government employees and think tanks specialising in national security, defense and foreign policy, the report said. 

Exactly how the US monitors its adversaries in cyberspace is a closely guarded secret, since revealing details could help foreign governments modify their methods to hide their activities.

Trump: 'No effect' on election

In a telephone interview with the New York Times before the briefing, Trump dismissed the controversy as a "witch hunt". He later issued a statement whose main aim appeared to be to deflect questions about the legitimacy of his November 8 victory over Clinton.

"China, relatively recently, hacked 20 million government names," Trump said, referring to breaches at the Office of Personnel Management in 2014 and 2015. "How come nobody even talks about that? This is a political witch hunt."

After intelligence agencies briefed him on their conclusions that Russia had staged cyber-attacks during the campaign, Trump said he was certain that the outcome of the US election was not affected by the breaches.

"There was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines," he said.

Taking to Twitter, Trump also said the Democratic National Committee should have been more rigorous in its attempts to thwart cyber intrusions from the start.

The New York businessman, who is to be inaugurated as president on January 20, nevertheless said he would appoint a team to give him a plan within 90 days of taking office on how to prevent cyber-attacks but suggested that he would keep their recommendations secret.

"The methods, tools and tactics we use to keep America safe should not be a public discussion that will benefit those who seek to do us harm," Trump said.

Trump's questioning of US intelligence agencies has not only drawn the ire of Democrats but also of fellow Republicans.

Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, both Republicans who took part in a Senate hearing with US spy chiefs on Thursday, have called for further congressional inquiries.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP and AP)

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