Following a similar statement released by the New York Times and CNN, the Associated Press on Friday clarified that three U.S. intelligence agencies – and not 17, as the news agency repeatedly reported – assessed that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
The AP clarified:
In stories published April 6, June 2, June 26 and June 29, The Associated Press reported that all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies have agreed that Russia tried to influence the 2016 election to benefit Donald Trump. That assessment was based on information collected by three agencies – the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency – and published by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which represents all U.S. intelligence agencies. Not all 17 intelligence agencies were involved in reaching the assessment.
At the time of the assessment, the FBI was led by former Director James Comey, who was fired following controversy over his handling of Hillary Clinton’s email probe; and the CIA was headed by Barack Obama appointee John Brennan.
The third intelligence agency that made the assessment, the NSA, did not share the “high confidence” of the CIA and FBI in the conclusion of a January 6, 2017 U.S. Intelligence Community report alleging the Russian government sought to aid Donald Trump’s “election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”
The NSA only assessed that conclusion with a classification of “moderate confidence.” According to the Washington Post, the NSA’s lower confidence was issued because some of the most important technical intelligence used by the Obama administration to allege that Moscow interfered in the 2016 election came from another country.
Like the AP, scores of news media outlets have perpetuated the falsehood that 17 agencies representing the U.S. intelligence community concluded that Russia attempted to influence the presidential election.
While the U.S. Intelligence Community is indeed made up of 17 agencies, the actual report was the product of only three. Indeed, in his testimony in May, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper made clear the report’s conclusions were the product of those three agencies and not seventeen.
The false anti-Trump talking point was amplified last October, when Hillary Clinton statedthe following at the third presidential debate: “We have 17, 17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military, who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyber-attacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin. And they are designed to influence our election. I find that deeply disturbing.”
In an editor’s note issued on Thursday, the New York Times wrote that the Russia interference conclusion was drawn by “four intelligence agencies” – including Clapper’s Office of the Director of National Intelligence since it issued the January 6 report.