U.S. spy chiefs insisted on Thursday they have strong evidence that Russia mounted an “unprecedented bid” to disrupt the American election, AFP reported.
One day before the heads of four intelligence bodies brief President-elect Donald Trump on their assessment of Russian meddling in the November election, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told a Senate hearing he had "very high" confidence in their findings.
"The Russians have a long history of interfering in elections, theirs and other people's," he told the Armed Services Committee, according to AFP. "But we have never encountered such a direct campaign to interfere with the election process as we have seen in this case."
"This was a multifaceted campaign. So the hacking was only one part of it, and it also entailed classical propaganda, disinformation, fake news," added Clapper.
Clapper, National Security Agency chief Michael Rogers and Marcel Lettre, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, told the committee in a joint statement that "only Russia's senior-most officials" could have authorized the hacking operation, in which hackers stole Democratic Party files and emails, which were then disseminated via WikiLeaks, embarrassing the party and harming losing candidate Hillary Clinton's White House effort.
"Russia has clearly assumed an even more aggressive cyber posture by increasing cyber espionage operations, leaking data stolen from these operations and targeting critical infrastructure systems," Clapper said, according to AFP.
Trump has dismissed the CIA’s recent assessment that the hacking was carried out by Russia in order to sabotage Hillary Clinton's candidacy.
The President-elect insists that Democrats bitter with the results of the election are inventing excuses for their defeat.
He has also mocked via Twitter past intelligence errors of the CIA, FBI and other agencies, challenging them to prove that the hacking and leaks could be traced up to the top of Putin's government.
Thursday's much-anticipated hearing, which came ahead of the expected release early next week of a comprehensive White House report on Russian election interference, did not offer any new evidence.
When asked by senators to provide more proof, Clapper repeatedly said he could not do so in public, saying it risked damaging the intelligence community's sources and operations.
"We have invested billions, and we have put people's lives at a risk to glean such information," he claimed.
Trump will be briefed Friday by Clapper, Rogers, FBI director James Comey and CIA Director John Brennan on the details of the report.
Asked if the report will ascribe a motive to Putin for allegedly ordering the campaign, Clapper replied, "Yes, we will ascribe motivation."
Last week, in response to the Russian hackings, the Obama administration announced that it is expelling 35 Russian diplomats and shutting down two Russian compounds in the United States.
Trump later reacted to the sanctions by saying he believed the United States needed to “move on to bigger and better things”.