EPIC is seeking the release of the “Complete ODNI Assessment” of the Russian interference with the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, a record in possession of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). The suit follows ODNI’s failure to make a timely decision regarding expedited processing EPIC’s FOIA request. This interference, by a foreign government in the democratic processes of the United States, is under investigation by the U.S. Intelligence community and is of widespread concern to the American public. The activities of the Russian government also pose a risk to democratic institutions in other countries.
During the 2016 election season, there were numerous cyberattacks on both the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee. These cyberattacks resulted in the publication of e-mails from the DNC and fallout from the disclosures mired congressional candidates in accusations of scandal, and led to the resignation of a DNC leader. The New York Times reported that the RNC’s computer systems were also attacked. News outlets report that hackers attempted to penetrate the RNC’s computer network “using the same techniques that allowed them to infiltrate its Democratic counterpart.” “Once inside, [hackers] reportedly were able to access a trove of DNC opposition research on Mr. Trump, then a candidate.”
In October 2016, prior to the outcome of the election, the Obama administration accused the Russian government of perpetrating the attacks on the U.S. election process. “The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of emails from US persons and institutions,” said the Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence in a joint statement, which “intended to interfere with the US election process.” The DHS and ODNI concluded “We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.”
The U.S. Intelligence Community recently reaffirmed in a Declassified ODNI Assessment that the Russian government was responsible for interference in the 2016 Presidential elections. In a January hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper stated “We stand more resolutely on that statement.” At the same hearing, leaders from the intelligence community repeatedly affirmed their belief that Russians had interfered with the 2016 election and had compromised both major political parties.
Investigations undertaken by private security firms, independent from government agencies, indicate that the attacks on the 2016 U.S. Presidential election also threaten democratic institutions in other countries. The private cybersecurity firm hired by the DNC to investigate the hacks has published evidence pointing to the Russian military’s involvement. CrowdStrike “linked malware used in the DNC intrusion to malware used to hack and track an Android phone app used by the Ukrainian army in its battle against pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine from late 2014 through 2016.” CrowdStrike co-founder Dmitri Alperovitch concluded, “we have high confidence” it was a unit of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency.
President Obama ordered the ODNI in December of 2016 to prepare a a comprehensive intelligence report assessing Russian activities and intentions in recent U.S. elections. Yet, when the report was complete, the ODNI only released a limited, declassified version to the public.
Since the declassified version of the report was released, new facts indicating the depth of the Russian interference continue to emerge. On June 21, 2017, nearly eight months after election day, in an open hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, NPPD’s Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Cybersecurity and Communications Jeanette Manfra confirmed for the first time that “election-related systems in 21 states were targeted” by Russian cyber actors during the 2016 election cycle. Nearly half of the United States were targets of Russian activities during the 2016 election cycle. Acting Deputy Under Secretary Manfra did not indicate which states were affected, and, when pressed, would not disclose the states from which data was exfiltrated. On September 13, 2017, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elain Duke issued a Binding Operational Directive to Federal Executive Branch departments and agencies to stop using software made by the Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab. Facebook was forced to reveal to Congress over 3,000 Russia-linked political ads posted to the social media platform during the election cycle. And, finally, investigative reporting exposed that on social media “Russian trolls and automated bots not only promoted explicitly pro-Donald Trump messaging, but also used social media to sow social divisions in America by stoking disagreement and division around a plethora of controversial topics”
EPIC has filed this lawsuit to gain access to the Complete ODNI Assessment in order to provide as much information as possible to the extent of Russian interference. The Congress is in the midst of a critical debate about Russia and the 2016 Presidential Election. This debate continues to be of interest to the American people who should be concerned, not only about interference with the election, but about continuing interference with democratic institutions in the United States and around the world.
As EPIC notes in the Complaint that “There is an urgent need to make available to the public the Complete ODNI Assessment to fully assess the Russian interference with the 2016 Presidential election and to prevent future attacks on democratic institutions.”