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Intelligence Report Points Blame To Putin For Hacking


We begin this hour with Russia and the new intelligence report on Russia's ambitions in the U.S. presidential election. The headline - they say Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, personally ordered a campaign to try and tip the election. Both President Obama and President-elect Trump have been briefed by U.S. spy agencies on the classified version of the report. Afterwards, Mike Pence, who will soon be vice president, had this to say.


MIKE PENCE: It was a constructive and respectful dialogue. The president-elect has made it very clear that we're going to take aggressive action in the early days of our new administration to combat cyberattacks and protect the security of the American people.

SIMON: Mike Pence, of course. NPR national security correspondent Mary Louise Kelly joins us in our studios. Mary Louise, this is beginning to sound like one - the premise of one of your spy novels and may be someday I suppose.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Scott, I tell you, you can't make up plot twists faster than they're cranking them out.

SIMON: What does the report say about Putin's efforts?

KELLY: It says that Putin personally ordered an influence campaign and that the campaign was originally aimed at denigrating Hillary Clinton, also aimed at undermining faith in U.S. democracy writ large. As the campaign ticked along, the focus sharpened and developed into what U.S. intelligence says was a clear preference for Donald Trump.

SIMON: And according to the report, how did they try and carry this out?

KELLY: Let me answer that two ways. One - the report does describe a range of efforts from covert cyber activities to things in plain sight - fake news, cybertrolling, Russian state-owned media. The second way I would answer it, though, is the expectation, Scott, was that this review would lay out the evidence. It would share some of the why U.S. intelligence agencies are so confident that Russia interfered and did so in order to help Trump. And this review does not do that, at least the public version doesn't. The classified version will of course have more detail. But if you come to this skeptical, wanting to understand how the CIA and other agencies came to their conclusions, this is not a very satisfying report.

SIMON: And we have to - I mean, what judgment can we make about President-elect Trump's reaction given what Vice President-elect Pence said but also some tweets that the president-elect had.

KELLY: Given that President Trump has come to this skeptical. He issued a statement right after he was briefed yesterday saying he has tremendous respect for the intelligence community - his exact words. He did not say whether he was persuaded, and his statement focused on this point - Trump says whatever happened, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election. I will stop you there because that is not what the review actually says. The review doesn't weigh in on this question one way or the other. Whether Russia altered the outcome of the election or whether they succeeded in their efforts is outside the scope of the review.

SIMON: What happens now? You have a president-elect coming into office. You have a president coming into office who arguably has a stake in being skeptical of the report and not acting.

KELLY: It is hard to overstate the drama of what we have watched play out these last few weeks, and I think big picture that's one thing to watch for going forward is how this standoff between Trump and the U.S. spy agencies - who will soon be working for him - resolves itself. You have, on the one hand, leaders of the intelligence community. You have the current White House. You have members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, who all say that they believe Russia interfered with the election. And then you have President Trump - President-elect Trump saying he doesn't buy it. So the question now - he's been briefed. He's seen the full classified version. Will he be persuaded? And I think that's the question reporters will put to him next week. He's going to give his first press conference - maybe his only press conference - as president-elect.

SIMON: NPR's Mary Louise Kelly, thanks so much.

KELLY: You're very welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.