A New Report Raises Big Questions About Last Year’s DNC Hack

The Democratic National Committee headquarters, October 27, 2016. (Sipa via AP Images)

Editor’s note, 9/1/2017: For more than 150 years, The Nation has been committed to fearless, independent journalism. We have a long history of seeking alternative views and taking unpopular stances. We believe it is important to challenge questionable conventional wisdom and to foster debate—not police it. Focusing on unreported or inadequately reported issues of major importance and raising questions that are not being asked have always been a central part of our work.

This journalistic mission led The Nation to be troubled by the paucity of serious public scrutiny of the January 2017 intelligence-community assessment (ICA) on purported Russian interference in our 2016 presidential election, which reflects the judgment of the CIA, the FBI, and the NSA. That report concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered the hacking of the DNC and the dissemination of e-mails from key staffers via WikiLeaks, in order to damage Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. This official intelligence assessment has since led to what some call “Russiagate,” with charges and investigations of alleged collusion with the Kremlin, and, in turn, to what is now a major American domestic political crisis and an increasingly perilous state of US-Russia relations. To this day, however, the intelligence agencies that released this assessment have failed to provide the American people with any actual evidence substantiating their claims about how the DNC material was obtained or by whom. Astonishingly and often overlooked, the authors of the declassified ICA themselves admit that their “judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact.”

That is why The Nation published Patrick Lawrence’s article “A New Report Raises Big Questions About Last Year’s DNC Hack.” The article largely reported on a recently published memo prepared by Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), which argued, based on their own investigation, that the theft of the DNC e-mails was not a hack, but some kind of inside leak that did not involve Russia.

VIPS, formed in 2003 by a group of former US intelligence officers with decades of experience working within the CIA, the FBI, the NSA, and other agencies, previously produced some of the most credible—and critical—analyses of the Bush administration’s mishandling of intelligence data in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The most recent VIPS memo, released on July 24, whatever its technical merits, contributes to a much-needed critical discussion. Despite all the media coverage taking the veracity of the ICA assessment for granted, even now we have only the uncorroborated assertion of intelligence officials to go on. Indeed, this was noticed by TheNew York Times’s Scott Shane, who wrote the day the report appeared: “What is missing from the public report is…hard evidence to back up the agencies’ claims that the Russian government engineered the election attack…. Instead, the message from the agencies essentially amounts to ‘trust us.’”