When the news first emerged during the 2016 presidential campaign that “17 intelligence agencies” had all agreed that Russia had hacked the election, a lot of people didn’t believe it. But then Hillary Clinton quoted the news during a debate against Donald Trump, and the news started to spread. Now, a retraction quietly slipped into a New York Times article has shown that the public’s immediate reaction was actually correct. All 17 agencies never did reach that consensus.
Here’s what you need to know.
In October, the news spread like wildfire that 17 federal intelligence agencies had all agreed that Russia was behind the DNC hacking that exposed emails during the presidential campaign. The information got public attention when Hillary Clinton shared the news during the final presidential debate. She said: “We have 17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military, who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyberattacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin, and they are designed to influence our election. I find that deeply disturbing.”
At the time, the public was divided. Some felt that the evidence for Russia being behind the hack wasn’t compelling enough. And even some who did believe Russia was behind the whole thing still doubted that all 17 agencies had reached a consensus about it.
USA Today posted an article on October 21, 2016 with the headline: “Yes, 17 intelligence agencies really did say Russia was behind hacking.” They were just one of many who ran with the story. On October 19, Politifact announced that the information was true, based on a statement released by Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The statement read that “the U.S. Intelligence Community is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of emails…”
Politifact concluded that 17 agencies had, indeed, agreed on this because “the U.S. Intelligence Community is made up of 17 agencies.” However, the 17 agencies had not independently made the assessment, as many believed. Politifact mentioned this in the story, but still said the statement was correct.
On June 29 The New York Times issued a retraction to an article published on Monday, which originally stated that all 17 intelligence organizations had agreed that Russia orchestrated the hacking. The retraction reads, in part:
The assessment was made by four intelligence agencies — the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency. The assessment was not approved by all 17 organizations in the American intelligence community.”
It should be noted that the four intelligence agencies are not retracting their statements about Russia involvement. But all 17 did not individually come to the assessment, despite what so many people insisted back in October.
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had already essentially admitted to this when he testified in May in front of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee. He said the Russia hacking finding came from a special intelligence community assessment, formed by hand-picked analysts from the NSA, FBI, and CIA.