During an interview Wednesday with the tech news outlet Recode, former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton discussed at length her belief that Russian interference in the 2016 election harmed her chances of winning.
“Read the declassified report by the intelligence community that came out in early January,” said Clinton. “Seventeen agencies, all in agreement – which I know from my experience as a senator and secretary of state is hard to get – they concluded with ‘high confidence’ that the Russians ran an extensive information war against my campaign to influence voters in the election.”
While the intelligence report she mentions does express ‘high confidence’ that Russia sought to undermine her campaign, it only represents the views of three agencies – the FBI, CIA and NSA. Clinton incorrectly claims this report shows consensus among 17 intelligence agencies.
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper himself appeared in front of Congress and explicitly pushed back on the idea that “17 intelligence agencies agreed,” stating flatly that it was just three.
The intelligence community is comprised of 17 civilian and military agencies including the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI). Another of these agencies – the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) – speaks on behalf of the intelligence community and orchestrated the January report.
“The [intelligence community assessment] was a coordinated product from three agencies: CIA, NSA and the FBI, not all 17 components of the intelligence community,” said former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper during a congressional hearing in May. “Those three under the aegis of my former office.”
A handful of experienced analysts were chosen from the three agencies to investigate and draw independent conclusions. Each agency reached the same verdict about Russian interference.
So while the DNI published the report as an intelligence community assessment, Clapper clarified at the hearing that the report reflects the views of those three agencies alone. In fact, when questioned by Democratic Senator Al Franken, Clapper resisted the notion that all 17 agencies had reached a consensus.
Franken: The intelligence communities have concluded, all 17 of them, that Russia interfered with this election. And we all know how that’s right.
Clapper: Senator, as I pointed out in my statement, Senator Franken, it was- there were only three agencies that directly involved in this assessment plus my office.
Franken: But all 17 signed on to that?
Clapper: Well, we didn’t go through that process. This was a special situation because of the time limits and […] the sensitivity of the information, we decided – it was a conscious judgment – to restrict it to those three. I’m not aware of anyone who dissented, or disagreed when it came out.
DHS published a joint statement with the DNI back in October expressing the same verdict about Russian interference, so it’s fair to say a handful of agencies have publicly drawn conclusions. But simply because the DNI speaks for the intelligence community as a whole doesn’t mean all 17 agencies reached independent conclusions, let alone conducted independent investigations. Clinton overstates her case.