Did the New York Times also cut back on its fact-checker staff?
Just kidding. Sort of.
The Times published a story on Sunday, titled "Trump's Deflections and Denials on Russia Frustrate Even His Allies," overstating the number of U.S. intelligence agencies involved in a Jan. 6 assessment concluding the Russians interfered in the 2016 presidential election to benefit then-GOP nominee Donald Trump.
The Times story originally included the following line [emphasis added]: "The latest presidential tweets were proof to dismayed members of Mr. Trump's party that he still refuses to acknowledge a basic fact agreed upon by 17 American intelligence agencies that he now oversees: Russia orchestrated the attacks, and did it to help get him elected."
That figure is not accurate.
The Jan. 6. hacking assessment was a conclusion drawn by analysts representing three intelligence agencies acting "under the aegis" of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, former DNI chief James Clapper testified on May 8.
He said specifically that the conclusion that Russia meddled in the election to benefit Trump was a "coordinated product" from the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency, "not all 17 components of the intelligence community."
Clapper added that the CIA, FBI and NSA analysts were "hand-picked."
Though the three agencies worked independent of one another, and each came to the same conclusion, it's inaccurate to claim the entire community came up with the agreement, the former ODNI chief testified in response to questions from Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.
"[T]here were only three agencies that directly involved in this assessment plus my office," Clapper said.
Franken pressed, "But all 17 signed on to that?"
"This was a special situation because of the time limits," Clapper said, adding, "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."
Though the director of National Intelligence speaks for his community, his office's assessment doesn't necessarily mean each agency independently reached the same conclusion, as the Times' Sunday report suggested.
To be fair to the paper, however, it's important to note the Department of Homeland Security, the ODNI and the FBI issued a joint statement on Oct. 7, 2016, announcing Russia was responsible for the hacking of email accounts belonging to Democratic National Committee staffers and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. However, unlike the Jan. 6 assessment, which the Times referenced specifically, the U.S. intelligence community did not at that time conclude that the hacks were done for the benefit of Trump.
Lastly, even before Clapper testified in May, the claim that all 17 intelligence agencies were in agreement should have raised red flags for the Times and others. The U.S. intelligence community is comprised of 17 separate groups, including the Department of the Treasury, the CIA, the FBI, Army Intelligence, Marine Corps Intelligence, the DNI, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, the Department of Homeland Security, the NSA and the Department of State. Also included are the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Energy and the Air Force, Coast Guard and Navy Intelligence groups.
What role would the Coast Guard have played in drafting an assessment stating the Russians interfered in the election to help Trump?
On Thursday, the Times attached the following correction to it Sunday report:
A White House Memo article on Monday about President Trump's deflections and denials about Russia referred incorrectly to the source of an intelligence assessment that said Russia orchestrated hacking attacks during last year's presidential election. 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 may seem like a small mistake for the Times to make, but the record was corrected not that long ago by none other than James Clapper. There's no reason why newsrooms should be reporting otherwise.
This article has been updated to provide additional background on the Oct. 7 assessment.