Putin approved influence operations to help Trump against Biden in US election - intelligence report

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Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a Security Council meeting via video conference at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Friday, March 12, 2021.
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a Security Council meeting via video conference at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Friday, March 12, 2021.   -  Copyright  Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik

Russian President Vladimir Putin authorised influence operations to help Donald Trump in last November's presidential election, according to a declassified US intelligence assessment.

It found that broad efforts were made by the Kremlin and Iran to shape the outcome of the ballot but ultimately no evidence that any foreign actor changed votes or otherwise disrupted the voting process.

The report, released on Tuesday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, represents the most detailed assessment of the array of foreign threats to the 2020 election.

These included efforts by Iran to undermine confidence in the vote and harm Trump’s re-election prospects, as well as Moscow operations that relied on Trump's allies to smear Joe Biden who was the eventual winner.

But despite these threats, intelligence officials found "no indications that any foreign actor attempted to interfere in the 2020 US elections by altering any technical aspect of the voting process, including voter registration, ballot casting, vote tabulation, or reporting results.”

The report is the latest official affirmation of the integrity of the election, as Trump supporters continue to make false claims of interference, from foreign or domestic actors, and refuse to accept Biden’s victory.

Multiple courts and Trump’s own Justice Department refuted claims of widespread fraud.

The document makes clear that even while Trump has cried foul about the legitimacy of the election, intelligence officials believe Russia sought to influence people close to Trump as a way to tip the election in his favour.

The report says Russia sought to undermine Biden’s candidacy because it viewed his presidency as opposed to the Kremlin's interests, though it took some steps to prepare for a Democratic administration as the election neared.

The report also says Putin authorised influence operations aimed at denigrating Biden, boosting Trump, undermining confidence in the election and exacerbating social divisions in the US.

Central to that effort was reliance on proxies linked to Russian intelligence “to launder influence narratives" by using media organisations, US officials, and people close to Trump to push “misleading or unsubstantiated" allegations against Biden.

Notably though, Russia was not as aggressive as in past election cycles in trying to hack election infrastructure.

The report says the country's cyber operations that targeted state and local government networks last year were probably not election-focused and were instead part of a broader effort to target US and global entities.

Iran, meanwhile, carried out its own influence campaign aimed at harming Trump's re-election bid, an effort US officials claimed was probably approved by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The 15-page document is a declassified version of an election interference report that was provided to Trump on January 7, one day after a riot at the US Capitol that occurred as Congress was gathering to certify the election results.

A separate document released on Tuesday from the departments of Justice and Homeland Security reached a similar conclusion about the integrity of the election, saying there was no evidence any foreign actor had changed votes.