The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released Friday the unclassified version of a report on Russian election interference efforts that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called “stunning.” The report, however, is devoid of evidence for the allegations that Russia was involved in an effort to hack Democrats and leak information, and focuses more on the Kremlin-funded news network RT.
This means the federal government has yet to produce evidence to the public to back up the claim Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Party figures. The report just rehashes past allegations. Michael Weiss, an editor for The Daily Beast and a senior fellow at the Scrowcroft Center, said on Twitter, “So this declassified intel report is… underwhelming. All open source, old news.” (RELATED: Experts Call Declassified Russia Report ‘Disappointing,’ ‘Underwhelming’)
The “open source, old news” comment by Weiss is evident when looking at the report’s emphasis on analyzing public statements from the Kremlin and their outlets. “Some of our judgments about Kremlin preferences and intent are drawn from the behavior of Kremlin loyal political figures, state media, and pro-Kremlin social media actors, all of whom the Kremlin either directly uses to convey messages or who are answerable to the Kremlin,” the ODNI said in the report.
The state media that the report devoted the most attention to was RT, formerly known as Russia Today. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said during a senate hearing Thursday on cybersecurity that, “RT was very active in promoting a particular point of view, disparaging our system, our alleged hypocrisy about human rights, etc. Whatever crack, fissure they could find in our tapestry, they would exploit it.”
Outside of this mention, most of the focus from the Obama administration on alleged Russian attempts to influence the election has been on the hacking and subsequent leaking of emails of Democratic officials. The report from the ODNI, however, contains about a page on Russia’s alleged hacking and leaking of information and a seven page annex on RT.
“The rapid expansion of RT’s operations and budget and recent candid statements by RT’s leadership point to the channel’s importance to the Kremlin as a messaging tool and indicate a Kremlin directed campaign to undermine faith in the US Government and fuel political protest,” the ODNI report says in the section about RT. The Russian-funded TV channel’s U.S. network RT America claims to be available in 85 million homes, but is not on on DirectTV or on most cable providers.
RT America does have several prominent American liberals as hosts such as Ed Schultz and Thom Hartmann. Veteran TV host Larry King also syndicates his show with the network.
The ODNI report quotes RT as saying their website receives 500,000 unique visitors a day, and according to Alexa it is one of the 300 largest sites in the world. The report claims that RT and RT America channels have received around 800 million more YouTube views than the CNN and CNN International channels, yet data from YouTube certified statistics site SocialBlade puts that advantage by RT at about 500 million.
The seven page annex on RT pays much attention the ideological leanings of the network. The ODNI wrote that RT’s programming focusing on environment concerns is done to hurt US natural gas production and benefit Russian petroleum corporation Gazprom’s profitability. The report also said, “RT is a leading media voice opposing Western intervention in the Syrian conflict and blaming the West for ‘information wars’ against the Syrian Government.”
During the senate hearing Thursday, Clapper said, “We could do with having a USIA on steroids to fight this information war a lot more aggressively than we’re doing right now.”
USIA refers to the United States Information Agency which ran from 1953 to 1999 and broadcasted American propaganda overseas. The U.S. still operates Radio Free Europe and Voice For America.
The recently passed National Defense Authorization Act gives the federal government the ability to spend up to $20 million on media outlets in order to “refute foreign disinformation.”