Just days before Donald Trump’s swearing in as American president, a news report has revealed the remarkable breadth of a joint investigation by no less than six US intelligence agencies of claims that Russia helped the Trump campaign – and of the credibility the agencies attach to information that Trump dismisses as “crap”. Attempting to establish a money trail, rather than pursuing lurid, sensational and unsubstantiated claims that Moscow has a sex tape that could be used to blackmail Trump, the agencies are probing allegations that a system for delivering government pensions to Russians living in the US may have been used as a conduit to pay hackers who breached Democratic Party computers to harvest a trove of emails that were leaked through WikiLeaks to embarrass Hillary Clinton. The agencies, according to the McClatchy news service, are the FBI, CIA, National Security Agency, Justice Department, Treasury and National Intelligence Agency. The Senate Intelligence Committee also has launched its own investigation, which will have subpoena power, to investigate Russian interference in the election.
The inter-agency working group is said to have been established early in 2016 – before the FBI received the explosive dossier in which a former senior British intelligence agent reveals the sex-tape allegations – but the dossier also alludes to the Kremlin using the pension payments as cover.
In the first week of January, the director of national intelligence declassified and released a sanitised report on Russian interference in the election, which concludes that Russian President Vladimir Putin authorised a covert campaign to “undermine faith in the US democratic process” – in particular by seeking to damage Clinton’s chances of winning and, at the same time, to give Trump a leg-up, by hacking senior Democrats’ email and running fake news.
Adding to the intrigue, once Trump swears his oath of office at noon on Friday, his newly appointed intelligence and security chiefs will have ultimate control of the inter-agency group.