Monday 23 April 2018

Trump fires broadside at 'stupid' critics of Russians

President-elect shown evidence of hacking, but still insists Democrats to blame for 'allowing' it

Incoming: The next president of the United States Donald Trump, with his wife Melania Photo: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Incoming: The next president of the United States Donald Trump, with his wife Melania Photo: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Patrick Sawer

Donald Trump said yesterday that it would be "stupid" for the US not to develop a close relationship with Russia, despite claims it tried to influence his election victory.

His comments followed the disclosure that UK spy services had warned their US counterparts as far back as 2015 that the Russians were engaged in hacking Democratic Party computers in an attempt to shape the outcome of the presidential election.

US intelligence agencies have accused Russia's President Vladimir Putin of launching an "influence campaign" to damage Hillary Clinton. The report, issued last Friday, said Russia showed a "clear preference" for Donald Trump and carried out cyber attacks and issued propaganda to both boost his chances and undermine confidence in American democracy.

The report, ordered by Barack Obama, concluded that Putin had "aspired to help President-elect Trump's election chances when possible by discrediting Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavourably to him".

Significantly, it found that UK spy chiefs were among the first to raise the alarm and warn the US that Russia was responsible for the breach of the Democratic National Committee computer servers.

Mr Trump insisted on Friday that foreign meddling had "absolutely no effect" on the outcome of the election, and declined to say whether he believed Russia was behind the hacks. Yesterday he said that only "stupid" people would criticise the US for having a good relationship with Russia.

In the latest of a series of tweets the president-elect wrote: "Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. Only 'stupid' people, or fools, would think that it is bad!"

Another said: "We have enough problems around the world without yet another one. 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 US intelligence report, reflecting the joint assessment of the CIA and the FBI and the National Security Agency, suggested that some of these early tip-offs about Russia's activities came from voice intercepts, computer traffic or human sources outside the US, as British intelligence became aware that emails and other data from the DNC was flowing out of the country.

The US president-elect was briefed by senior intelligence officials for nearly two hours on Friday, describing the briefing in a statement as "a constructive meeting and conversation with the leaders of the intelligence community".

It is unclear whether officials specifically brought the British role to Trump's attention.

Among those identified by US intelligence as taking part in the hacking is a young Russian computer expert identified as Alisa Shevchenko, whose companies Esage Lab and ZOR are among those now included on an American sanctions list.

Alisa Shevchenko, who is currently based outside the Thai capital Bangkok, has denied having knowingly worked for the Russian government.

The report did not draw any conclusion as to what effect the Russian hacking had on the election, saying it was beyond its responsibility to analyse American "political processes" or public opinion.

The issue of Russia's relations with Western Europe became even more fraught yesterday when Sweden's most respected foreign policy institute accused it of using underhand methods in an "information war", including fake news, counterfeit documents, and other disinformation, to influence Swedish decision-making.

The report by Martin Kragh, from the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, said Russia was using 'active measures' in its information war against Sweden, in a bid to steer it away from joining Nato.

Russia has long opposed either Sweden or Finland joining Nato and has threatened to mass troops on the Finnish border if it moves to join the military alliance.

Meanwhile, the former deputy chief of the CIA has warned that MI6 and other allied intelligence agencies may shy away from sharing information with the CIA if they feel the agency does not have the confidence of the incoming US president.

Michael Morell, was the top US liaison to British intelligence between 2003 and 2006 and worked closely with British spy chiefs during the Iraq War and in the aftermath of the July 7 bombings.

In a scathing article in yesterday's New York Times, he warned that Donald Trump's public disparagement of the CIA was likely to damage its relationship with its overseas counterparts.

"Why would a foreign intelligence service take the CIA seriously (and share important information with it) when the American president doesn't?" he wrote.

Telegraph.co.uk

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