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Questions arise after US Intelligence agencies suggest Russia hacked DNC in retaliation for Olympic doping scandal

Kremlin.ru via Wikimedia Commons

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report suggesting Russian president Vladimir Putin “ordered” the cyber-attack on the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in part as a retaliatory measure for the Olympic doping scandal.

According to a 25-page declassified intelligence report released on Friday – a joint effort from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and The National Security Agency (NSA) — the DNC hacks that led to claims of Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election “reflect a pattern of Russian intelligence using hacked information in targeted influence efforts against targets such as Olympic athletes and other foreign governments.” This is in reference to the Fancy Bear hacks that released private medical records on select Olympic athletes from the WADA database. The hacking group is said to be connected to Russian military intelligence, though that is yet to be proven.

The Olympic doping scandal took form back in November 2015 when Canadian law professor Richard McLaren released a report for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) which detailed a state-sponsored doping program. The report concluded that hundreds of Russian athletes had taken banned substances with impunity based on a strategy designed by the Federal Security Service (FSB). Whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, the director of one of Russia’s anti-doping laboratories, later revealed that the FSB strategy included sneaking into the facility during the Sochi Olympics to swap out tainted urine samples. This led to a widespread call from pundits and athletes to ban Russia from the 2016 Olympic Games.

However, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided not to ban Russia from the event despite WADA’s damning evidence of state-sponsored doping within the country. The decision to not “reverse the presumption of innocence” for Russian athletes shocked the international community which believed Russia’s ban was inevitable given the mounting evidence. McLaren has since released a second more damning report confirming over 1000 Russian athletes were involved in the scandal. The New York Times later published a story where a Russian doping official admit to the doping scandal, though the Kremlin has since claimed that the official was misquoted.

While the Russian doping scandal was one of the more controversial sports stories of 2016, US intelligence agencies now claim that it is related to the pre-election hack that helped WikiLeaks publish private emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta. According to the report, “Putin publicly pointed to the Panama Papers disclosure and the Olympic doping scandal as US-directed efforts to defame Russia, suggesting he sought to use disclosures to discredit the image of the United States and cast it as hypocritical.” Yet while the declassified intelligence report does make various broad suggestions, it fails to give direct examples to support its conclusions.

The lack of evidence remains a consistent problem throughout the briefing. It should be noted that the intelligence agencies had redacted the supporting information from the declassified file. The majority of the document was dedicated to the supposed significance of the state-run Russia Today (RT) television network and its role in electoral “interference.” Yet some of the references were about domestic shows targeted at a domestic audience, such as “chief propagandist Dmitriy Kiselev,” whom the report claims “used his flagship weekly newsmagazine program this fall to cast President-elect Trump as an outsider victimized by a corrupt political establishment.” While it shows that state-run media disliked Hillary Clinton, it hardly counts as an example of electoral interference or as supporting evidence to hacking claims.

President-elect Donald Trump, who was given a closed briefing by the intelligence agencies, issued a statement that framed the meeting as “constructive.” He also added that he has “tremendous respect for the work and service done by the men and women” of the intelligence agencies, despite publicizing his doubts for weeks on his twitter account.

As for the potential correlation between the DNC hack and the WADA doping scandal, it remains a possibility based primarily on the importance the Russian government places on sports diplomacy. When a government attempts to use sports to increase state prestige and enhance international relations, it is likely that it would retaliate when that tactic is undermined in such public fashion as the WADA doping scandal. Whether the Russian Federation would go so far as to avenge a sporting disgrace through electoral interference is yet to be proven.

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