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Julian Assange: US intelligence report on alleged Russian hacking was a politically-motivated press release

Julian Assange has denounced last week's US intelligence report on alleged Russian hacking, calling it a politically-motivated "press release" that provided no evidence.

In an online news conference (audio below), the WikiLeaks founder and editor said the report is vague and that US intelligence officials should be embarrassed by the 25-page, declassified document.

"This is a press release," he said. "It is clearly designed for political effects."

The report accuses Russia of trying to interfere with the US political process, with actions that included hacking into the email accounts of the Democratic National Committee and individual Democrats like Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta.

The report said Russia also used state-funded propaganda and paid "trolls" to make nasty comments on social media services, although there was no suggestion Russia affected the actual vote count.

The report, for the first time, explicitly tied Russia President Vladimir Putin to the allegations. It called Russian activities the "boldest effort yet" to influence a US election, and said the Russian government provided emails to WikiLeaks - something Mr Assange denied again on Monday.

The report said Russian intelligence agencies gave leaked DNC emails to WikiLeaks, which then released them to the public.

"As we have already stated, WikiLeaks' sources with relation to the John Podesta and DNC leaks are not state parties," Mr Assange said. "They do not come from the Russian government."

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The report lacked details about how the US learned what it says it knows, such as any intercepted conversations or electronic messages from Russian leaders, including Mr Putin, or about specific hacker techniques or digital tools the US may have traced back to Russia in its investigations.

A still-classified version of the report was shared late last week with President Barack Obama, incoming president Donald Trump, and top politicians in Congress.

In Moscow on Monday, Mr Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the Kremlin still believes the accusations made in the report have no substance.

"They are amateurish and are hardly worthy of the high professional standards of top intelligence agencies," he said.

"We categorically rule out the possibility that Russian officials or official bodies could have been involved. We are tired of such accusations. This is beginning to remind us of a full-fledged witch-hunt."

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Margarita Simonyan, the editor of the TV channel RT that is frequently mentioned in the US report, said in a weekend blog post: "Dear CIA: You get a total F for this thing you wrote.

"You don't cover the subject sufficiently, the sources are unnamed, out of date or simply incorrect, and it is written like a school homework assignment."

Editor of Defense and Foreign Affairs Gregory Copley said: "This is a highly politically motivated and a subjective report which was issued by the intelligence community. And it is not surprising that it rushed to this report whilst the Obama administration is still in office because there was no question that it was politically induced this report"

"The report does not present evidence of successful or even an attempt to actually actively manipulate the election process. The question is, did the Obama administration, did the failed candidacy of Hillary Clinton, seek to blame the Russian government for the failure of Democrats to win the election? Almost certainly!

"If the Russian government was itself trying to influence the election then it did a very poor job of doing it because Hillary Clinton won the popular vote."

WikiLeaks published more than 19,000 internal emails from the DNC, days before the Democratic convention was starting.

In one thread of correspondence from August 2014 Mrs Clinton sent an eight-point plan to John Podesta, at the time a counsellor to President Barack Obama, outlining a strategy on how to defeat terror group Isis which involved supporting Kurdish forces in Syria and Iraq with military advisers.

The Obama administration ended up taking similar action to that described as desirable by Mrs Clinton. The exchange also showed the presidential candidate identify the Gulf states of Saudi Arabia and Qatar as “clandestine” “financial and logistic” supporters of the terrorist group Isis. Both countries have donated to the Clinton Foundation.

“While this military/para-military operation is moving forward, we need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL [Isis] and other radical Sunni groups in the region,” Clinton reportedly wrote.

“This effort will be enhanced by the stepped up commitment in the [Kurdish Regional Government]. The Qataris and Saudis will be put in a position of balancing policy between their ongoing competition to dominate the Sunni world and the consequences of serious US pressure.”

The emails also showed DNC staffers actively supporting Mrs Clinton when they were publicly promising to remain neutral during the primary elections between Mrs Clinton and her then-rival for the candidacy, Bernie Sanders.

The head of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, resigned over the disclosures.

CNN also severed ties with Donna Brazile, a paid commentator and a top DNC official, after leaked emails revealed she shared debate questions with Clinton’s campaign.

Mr Trump said at the time that blaming Russia was deflecting attention from the embarrassing material contained in the emails - although he had previously challenged Russia to "find the 30,000 emails that are missing" from Mrs Clinton's private server.

In an interview with Sean Hannity last week, Mr Assange said: "Our publications had wide uptake by the American people, they're all true. But that's not the allegation that's being presented by the Obama White House.

"So, why such a dramatic response? Well, the reason is obvious. They're trying to delegitimise the Trump administration as it goes into the White House.

"They are trying to say that President-elect Trump is not a legitimate president."

Mr Assange denied the information from the emails was obtained by Russia.

He said: " Our source is not a state party, so the answer for our interactions is no.

"But if we look at our most recent statement from the US government, which is on December 29, OK, we had five different branches of government, Treasury, DHS, FBI, White House, presenting their accusations to underpin Obama's throwing out 29 Russian diplomats.

"What was missing from all of those statements? The word WikiLeaks. It's very strange."

Asked if he thought WikiLeaks had changed the course of the US election, Mr Assange told Fox News channel: " Who knows? It's impossible to tell.

"But if it did, the accusation is that the true statements of Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager, John Podesta, and the DNC head Debbie Wasserman Schultz, their true statements is what changed the election."

Craig Murray, the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, who is a close associate of Assange, has already dismissed the CIA's claims that Russia was the source of the emails as "bulls***".

The accounts by Murray also contradict the story advanced by the CIA.

Mr Murray said: "I know who leaked them. I’ve met the person who leaked them, and they are certainly not Russian and it's an insider. It’s a leak, not a hack; the two are different things.

“If what the CIA are saying is true, and the CIA’s statement refers to people who are known to be linked to the Russian state, they would have arrested someone if it was someone inside the United States.

“America has not been shy about arresting whistleblowers and it’s not been shy about extraditing hackers. They plainly have no knowledge whatsoever.”

Mr Trump's inauguration as US President is due to take place on January 20.

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