In an interview at this year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Da Nang, Vietnam, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke about President Vladimir Putin’s offer to President Donald Trump to cooperate with the U.S. on cyber security.
“It is true that during their meeting in Hamburg the two presidents discussed the possibility of resuming cooperation on cybercrime.” Lavrov said. “We proposed creating a group on cyber security, which would also consider the sides’ concerns about each other’s activities. President Trump thought this initiative held promise. It was announced that the sides had reached a preliminary agreement.”
Lavrov said the U.S. Congress “raised a hue and cry” over the proposal amid allegations that Russians had hacked into the email accounts of Democratic Party campaign officials and interfered with the U.S. presidential election campaign.
“The established facts show that not a single Russian connection has been found,” Lavrov said in the interview. “All the connections that have been found are internal, including at the Democratic National Committee, where an insider interfered with the process and leaked information to the rivals.”
Lavrov’s further claim that “established facts show not a single Russian connection has been found,” is incorrect. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, on January 6, released a declassified version of a U.S. intelligence community assessment detailing Russian cyber and information operations relating to the 2016 presidential election. The report was compiled by three US intelligence agencies --- the CIA, FBI, and NSA.
“We assess with high confidence that Russian military intelligence (the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, or GRU) used the Guccifer 2.0 persona and DCLeaks.com to release US victim data obtained in cyber operations publicly and in exclusives to media outlets and relayed material to WikiLeaks,” the report states in its introduction.
The report also states that the Department of Homeland Security detected Russian cyber-intrusion into the computer systems of multiple state and local electoral boards, but found no evidence of tampering with vote tallies.
In his first year in office, President Trump has clashed with U.S. intelligence officials over the question of Russian interference in the election. Following a brief encounter with Putin at the APEC summit on November 11,Trump said the Russian leader once again denied meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
“He (Putin) said he didn’t meddle,” Trump told reporters. “I asked him again. You can only ask so many times. I just asked him again. He did not do what they say he did.”
Former intelligence officials almost immediately disagreed. “The intelligence assessment with regard to Russian election meddling has not changed,” former CIA and NSA Chief Michael Hayden wrote on Twitter.
Senator John McCain accused the commander-in-chief of placing national security at risk.
Trump later appeared to retreat, “As to whether I believe it or not, I’m with our agencies, especially as currently constituted. As currently led, by fine people, I believe very much in our intelligence agencies.”
Even Russian President Vladimir Putin, while denying any state involvement, in June suggested the hack could have been the work of “patriotic” Russian hackers.
While Putin’s statement wasn’t an admission of the Kremlin’s guilt, it contradicts Lavrov’s claim about “established facts” not finding any Russian connection at all. In his interview this week, Lavrov also claimed that all the evidence surrounding the DNC hack was found to be internal, and leaked by an insider. While some fringe media outlets have promoted such a conspiracy theory, so far there has been no evidence to support the claim that the DNC’s emails were stolen and leaked by an employee.