In an interview aired Tuesday on Fox News, WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange reiterated earlier claims that his organization did not receive emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta from an individual or group affiliated with the Russian government. One obvious loophole in Assange’s attestation that Russia wasn’t his “source” for the emails, though, is that it doesn’t rule out the possibility that Russian operators obtained the emails and then handed them to a third party, which then contacted WikiLeaks. And now a Reuters report says that anonymous “U.S. officials” are convinced that this is exactly what happened:
U.S. intelligence agencies obtained what they considered to be conclusive evidence after the November election that Russia provided hacked material from the Democratic National Committee to WikiLeaks through a third party, three U.S. officials said on Wednesday.
The officials declined to describe the intelligence obtained about the involvement of a third-party in passing on leaked material to WikiLeaks, saying they did not want to reveal how the U.S. government had obtained the information.
As Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi pointed out in a piece posted last week, quite a bit of the reporting on the DNC/Podesta hack has this quality: It’s reported via anonymous sources who are passing on vaguely worded conclusions about alleged evidence that no one else has seen. And he notes that “like the Iraq-WMD mess, it takes place in the middle of a highly politicized environment during which the motives of all the relevant actors are suspect.”
At the same time—as Taibbi also observes—the idea that Vladimir “KGB” Putin would direct an underhanded operation to boost the chances of a foreign leader with authoritarian tendencies is eminently plausible, and many of the connections between Trump’s circle of advisers and the Putin regime are entirely out in the open. Still: At some point the U.S. public is owed some more detail on just exactly how all these anonymous officials became so convinced that Putin ordered the hack and did so with the specific goal of helping out Donald Trump. (For what it’s worth, current director of national intelligence James Clapper said Thursday at a Senate hearing that an unclassified version of a report on the hack will be released publicly “early next week.”)