Russia’s state-sponsored news agency Russia Today “has actively collaborated with” WikiLeaks, the organization that published documents and emails stolen from Democrats by Russian hackers during the presidential campaign, the US intelligence community said in a report released Friday.
The long-anticipated report, which was released in its declassified form to the public, concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin “ordered” the election-related hacking in an effort to undermine Americans’ faith in the election and help elect Donald Trump – and was aided by WikiLeaks and Russia Today.
“RT’s editor-in-chief visited WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in August 2013, where they discussed renewing his broadcast contract with RT, according to Russian and Western media,” the report states.
“Russian media subsequently announced that RT had become ‘the only Russian media company’ to partner with WikiLeaks and had received access to ‘new leaks of secret information.’ RT routinely gives Assange sympathetic coverage and provides him a platform to denounce the United States,” the report said.
Russia Today also gave Assange his own show, “The Julian Assange Show” – also known as “World Tomorrow” – in 2012.
Over the summer, when WikiLeaks was releasing daily batches of emails stolen from Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s inbox, many journalists noted that Russia Today and Sputnik – another state-run Russian news agency – frequently shared the leaked documents on Twitter before WikiLeaks did.
— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) October 13, 2016
WikiLeaks denied that it had leaked the documents to any state-sponsored Russian news agencies prior to releasing them on the WikiLeaks website, noting that “the release was visible to anyone looking at” WikiLeaks’ website “well before” the organization shared them on Twitter.
‘A platform for Kremlin messaging’
In any case, the intelligence community concluded that Russia Today, as part of Russia’s “state-run propaganda machine,” contributed to Putin’s attempt to influence the outcome of the presidential election “by serving as a platform for Kremlin messaging to Russian and international audiences.”
The declassified report devoted seven pages to Russia Today’s “rapid expansion” in the US and around the world, claiming that the news agency “has positioned itself as a domestic US channel and has deliberately sought to obscure any legal ties to the Russian Government.”
— RT America (@RT_America) January 6, 2017
The Kremlin spends approximately $190 million a year on distributing RT programming, the report noted, focusing on hotels and satellite, terrestrial, and cable broadcasting.
Officials said that RT’s attempts to undermine faith in the US election process and democratic institutions began in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, when it “ran numerous reports on alleged US election fraud and voting machine vulnerabilities, contending that US election results cannot be trusted and do not reflect the popular will.”
RT’s “anti-US messaging,” the report continued, was likely informed by RT editor in chief Margarita Simonyan, who has close ties to the Kremlin. Simonyan has characterized RT’s journalism as a form of “information warfare” against US-led interests.
When “the Ministry of Defense was at war with Georgia,” RT was “waging an information war against the entire Western world,” Simonyan said in July, referring to the 2008 Georgia-Russia war.
“The word ‘propaganda’ has a very negative connotation, but indeed, there is not a single international foreign TV channel that is doing something other than promotion of the values of the country that it is broadcasting from,” Simonyan said. “When Russia is at war, we are, of course, on Russia’s side.”