Sunday 8 January 2017

Donald Trump Says It Would Be 'Stupid' For US Not To Build Close Ties With Russia


President-elect Donald Trump has said 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 came after it emerged that British intelligence had warned their US counterparts as far back as 2015 that the Russians were engaged in hacking Democratic Party computers in a bid to shape the outcome of the presidential election.

The report issued on Friday, said Russia showed a "clear preference" for Donald Trump, now president-elect, and carried out cyber attacks and issued propaganda to both boost his chances and undermine confidence in American democracy. Now it has emerged that the British intelligence services became aware of Russia’s involvement as early as autumn 2015.

The report, ordered by President Obama, concluded that Mr. Putin had “aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”

Significantly it found that British intelligence officials 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.

And 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 on the subject Mr Trump said: “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!

“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 United States, as British intelligence became aware that emails and other data from the DNC was flowing out of the country.

One cyber security expert who has been briefed on the report’s findings told The New York Times: “The British picked it up, and we may have had it at about the same time.”

British intelligence has long had a key role in tracking Russian activity on behalf of its US ally, chiefly through the Government’s listening centre, GCHQ.

It would therefore be expected that any sign of hacking activity targeted at US bodies or state institutions would be passed on to the American intelligence community through its normal channels.

It is understood this was what happened with evidence of the hacking of Democratic Party computers as part of a Russian attempt to influence the US election. The 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 Mr Trump’s attention.

According to the report, the assessment from the CIA, FBI and NSA is that Russian efforts showed a "significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations" to interfere in US elections.

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.

The White House says Miss Shevchenko’s firm “provided the GRU [Russian military intelligence agency] with technical research and development”.

Miss Shevchenko, who is currently based outside the Thai capital Bangkok, 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.

It concluded: “We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election”, saying it was beyond its responsibility to analyze American “political processes” or public opinion.

The issue of Russia’s relations with western Europe became even more fraught on Saturday, 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, a Russia expert at 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 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 Mr Trump.

Michael Morell, who stepped down from the CIA in 2013, was the top US liaison to British intelligence from 2003-2006 and worked with closely with MI6 during the Iraq War and the aftermath of the July 7 bombings.

In a scathing article in the New York Times, he warned that Mr 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.

"A strong relationship between the CIA and the president is a key incentive for other intelligence services to work with Langley [the CIA's headquarters]. Take that away, and our foreign relationships — which are absolutely critical in the global fight against terror, proliferation, you name it — will suffer."



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