The assessment of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that hackers aligned with the Russian state handed over thousands of stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to WikiLeaks is "utter bulls**t", according to a former UK ambassador.
Craig Murray, who was the British ambassador to Uzbekistan between 2002 and 2004, now a close confidante of WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange, said in a blog post on 11 December that the CIA's assertion was "a blatant lie" that had little evidence to support it.
On 9 December, a CIA assessment said the agency had "high confidence" covert Russian forces interfered with the 2016 presidential election with the ultimate aim of seeing Donald Trump in the White House, reported the New York Times and Washington Post, citing anonymous sources.
According to the Post, intelligence experts had "identified individuals with connections to the Russian government" who reportedly provided WikiLeaks with nearly 20,000 emails from the DNC and tens of thousands from the personal inbox of Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta.
The intelligence sources, who remain unnamed, said the individuals were known to US agencies and that it was a "consensus view" that adversaries were conducting a sophisticated campaign to seed doubt in the election process while ultimately boosting Trump's chances of election.
"A little simple logic demolishes the CIA's claims," Murray countered. "The CIA claim they 'know the individuals' involved. Yet under Obama the USA has been absolutely ruthless in its persecution of whistleblowers and its pursuit of foreign hackers through extradition.
"We are supposed to believe that [...] even though the CIA knows who the individuals are, nobody is going to be arrested or extradited, or, if in Russia, made subject to yet more banking and other restrictions against Russian individuals? Plainly, it stinks."
Murray, in an interview with The Guardian, claimed he knows the source of the DNC leaks – but like in his blog post (falling victim to the same argument he makes about US intelligence) provides no hard evidence - apart from his word - to show why his assertions should be believed.
"I know who leaked them," Murray said. "I've met the person who leaked them, and they are certainly not Russian and it's an insider." Arguing the entire case should be based on "access" and "truthfulness" Murray noted only a small number of people had "access to the source of the leak."
He wrote: "The continued ability of the mainstream media to claim the leaks lost Clinton the election because of 'Russia', while still never acknowledging the truths the leaks reveal, is Kafkaesque." Murray decried media reporting on Russian links as buying "utter bulls**t from the executive."
As President-elect Trump's administration approaches, sources – again anonymous – told the New York Times there was also a high degree of confidence that Kremlin-linked hackers had infiltrated the Republican National Committee's computer systems but did not release the stolen data.
The varying assessments have showcased divisions between the CIA and its FBI counterparts, the latter of which remains unconvinced the Kremlin has as much clout as many believe. "It's not clear that [the hackers] have a specific goal or mix of related goals," noted one US official.
Meanwhile, President-elect Trump has consistently refuted allegations of Russian involvement. In an interview with Fox News on 9 December, he called the notion of a covert Kremlin-led hacking campaign as "ridiculous" and "just another excuse."
Trump's transition office, currently working to appoint relevant officials to positions of extreme power, denied the numerous media reports by attacking the intelligence agencies, saying they were made up of "the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction."
President Barack Obama on Friday (9 December) requested US intelligence agencies conduct a "full review" into the allegations of nation-state election tampering. Despite the accusations from the US government, both Julian Assange and Russian president Vladimir Putin have brushed off reports of Russian involvement.