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US intel report says Putin directed cyber campaign aimed at helping Trump

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Russia\'s President Vladimir Putin makes his annual New Year address to the nation in Moscow, Russia

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Reuters, Washington :
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered "an influence campaign" in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election with the goal of undermining the democratic process and denigrating Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, a new, declassified intelligence report said on Friday.
"We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump," the report said.
"We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump's election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavourably to him," it said.
Immediately after Election Day, Russia began a "spear-phishing" campaign to try to trick people into revealing their email passwords, targeting U.S. government employees and think tanks that specialize in national security, defense and foreign policy, the report released on Friday said.
"This campaign could provide material for future influence efforts as well as foreign intelligence collection on the incoming administration's goals and plans," the report said.
That could prove awkward for President-elect Donald Trump. The president-elect wants to warm relations with Russia and has repeatedly denounced the intelligence community's assessment that the Kremlin interfered in the election. The new report goes even further by explicitly tying Russian President Vladimir Putin to the meddling and saying Russia had a "clear preference" for Trump in his race against Hillary Clinton.
The report, which called Russia's meddling the "boldest effort yet" to influence a U.S. election, was the most detailed public account to date of Russian efforts to hack the email accounts of the Democratic National Committee and individual Democrats, among them Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta.
It said that Russian government provided emails to WikiLeaks even though the website's founder, Julian Assange, has repeatedly denied that it got the emails it released from the Russian government. The report noted that the emails could have been passed through middlemen.
"We assess with high confidence that the GRU (a top Russian intelligence agency) relayed material it acquired from the DNC and senior Democratic officials to WikiLeaks," the report said.
Russia also used state-funded propaganda and paid "trolls" to make nasty comments on social media services, the report said. Moreover, intelligence officials believe that Moscow will apply lessons learned from its activities in the election to put its thumbprint on future elections in the United States and allied nations.
The public report was minus classified details that intelligence officials shared with President Barack Obama on Thursday.

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