As outrage mounts, with calls for retaliation, over allegations that Russia meddled in the US presidential election by hacking computer networks of the two leading parties, the American intelligence is accusing Vladimir Putin of personally directing it.
Intelligence officials told NBCnews.com that based on new evidence, there was a “high level of confidence” that the Russian president personally directed how the stolen material from the Democratic National Committee was leaked and used.
US intelligence had until now blamed Russia for the hacking saying it was intended to undermine Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump win, as, among other things, hackers had also accessed the Republican Party, but held on to the stolen data.
But now, they are alleging Putin’s personal involvement.
According to the NBC News report Putin was impelled initially by a desire for “vendetta” against Clinton, who as secretary of state had raised “serious concerns” about his party’s victory in the Russian parliamentary elections in 2011.
He moved then, according to the report, to show corruption in American politics and to “split off key American allies by creating the image that [other countries] couldn't depend on the US to be a credible global leader anymore”.
Putin has dismissed allegations of Moscow meddling the elections as “hysteria” and Trump, the intended or unintended beneficiary, has dismissed them as “ridiculous” and his aides have called it an attempt to “delegitimise” his election.
“If Russia, or some other entity, was hacking, why did the White House wait so long to act? Why did they only complain after Hillary lost?” the president-elect wrote in a tweet on Thursday morning, reprising a stated position.
Trump has appeared to be siding with the Russian on this, going against his own country’s intelligence agencies, specially the CIA, which was the source for reports that alleged the hacking was intended to help Trump win the presidency.
His own very public and effusive praise of Putin has reinforced that impression and so has his decision to name ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who has close ties with Moscow and the Russian president, the next secretary of state.
Many Republicans have expressed concern over the president-elect’s obvious affinity for Russia. Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain have joined Democrats Charles Schumer and Jack Reed to call for a congressional probe into the hackings.
US President Barack Obama, who has ordered a “full review” of the allegations and sought a report before his term ends in January, is said to be considering a “proportional” response, according to his spokesman Josh Earnest.
But that was in October, when Russia was first blamed for it. Demand for retaliation has gained ground since, with experts and former spymasters suggesting moves that range from the spectacular, to whet public desire for revenge, to subtle, but sufficient.
Former CIA boss James Woolsey, for instance, has suggested driving down the worldwide prices of oil to slow down the Russian economy, which depends heavily on oil and gas exports, as of other countries not friendly with the US, such as Iran.
Former deputy CIA director Mike Morell has said US could retaliate by supplying arms to Russia’s enemies, such as Ukraine and others have suggested the US could target Putin himself by disclosing his finances and financial ties.