US officials: Putin personally involved in US election hack

U.S. intelligence officials now believe with "a high level of confidence" that Russian President Vladimir Putin became personally involved in the covert Russian campaign to interfere in the U.S. presidential election, senior U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News.

Two senior officials with direct access to the information say new intelligence shows that Putin personally directed how hacked material from Democrats was leaked and otherwise used. The intelligence came from diplomatic sources and spies working for U.S. allies, the officials said.

Putin's objectives were multifaceted, a high-level intelligence source told NBC News. What began as a "vendetta" against Hillary Clinton morphed into an effort to show corruption in American politics and to "split off key American allies by creating the image that [other countries] couldn't depend on the U.S. to be a credible global leader anymore," the official said.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a glass of champagne after a state awards ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow, on March 10, 2016. AFP PHOTO / POOL / PAVEL GOLOVKIN / AFP / POOL / PAVEL GOLOVKIN (Photo credit should read PAVEL GOLOVKIN/AFP/Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA. MARCH 1, 2016. Russia's president Vladimir Putin at the 7th congress of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation (CCI). Mikhail Metzel/TASS (Photo by Mikhail Metzel\TASS via Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu leave Moscow's Red Square on May 9, 2015 after the Victory Day military parade. Russian President Vladimir Putin presides over a huge Victory Day parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Soviet win over Nazi Germany, amid a Western boycott of the festivities over the Ukraine crisis. AFP PHOTO / KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV (Photo credit should read KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) speaks with the leader of Georgia's breakaway province of South Ossetia Leonid Tibilov during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on June 1, 2015. AFP PHOTO / POOL / IVAN SEKRETAREV (Photo credit should read IVAN SEKRETAREV/AFP/Getty Images)
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - FEBRUARY 17: Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) looks on as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban kisses the hand of a member of the Russian delegation during a signing ceremony of several agreements between the two countries on February 17, 2015 in Budapest, Hungary. Putin is in Budapest on a one-day visit, his first visit to an EU-member country since he attended ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasions in France in June, 2014. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi at the Kremlin in Moscow on May 21, 2015. AFP PHOTO / POOL / KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV (Photo credit should read KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - MARCH 16: Russia President Vladimir Putin waves during the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games Closing Ceremony at Fisht Olympic Stadium on March 16, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he speaks during a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, Japan, December 16, 2016. REUTERS/Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool
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Ultimately, the CIA has assessed, the Russian government wanted to elect Donald Trump. The FBI and other agencies don't fully endorse that view, but few officials would dispute that the Russian operation was intended to harm Clinton's candidacy by leaking embarrassing emails about Democrats.

The latest intelligence said to show Putin's involvement goes much further than the information the U.S. was relying on in October, when all 17 intelligence agencies signed onto a statement attributing the Democratic National Committee hack to Russia.

The statement said officials believed that "only Russia's senior-most officials could have authorized these activities." That was an intelligence judgment based on an understanding of the Russian system of government, which Putin controls with absolute authority.

Now the U.S has solid information tying Putin to the operation, the intelligence officials say. Their use of the term "high confidence" implies that the intelligence is nearly incontrovertible.

"It is most certainly consistent with the Putin that I have watched and used to work with when I was an ambassador and in the government," said Michael McFaul, who was ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014.

"He has had a vendetta against Hillary Clinton, that has been known for a long time because of what she said about his elections back in the parliamentary elections of 2011. He wants to discredit American democracy and make us weaker in terms of leading the liberal democratic order. And most certainly he likes President-elect Trump's views on Russia," McFaul added. Clinton cast doubt on the integrity of Russia's elections.

As part of contingency planning for potential retaliation against Russia, according to officials, U.S. intelligence agencies have stepped up their probing into his personal financial empire.

American officials have concluded that Putin's network controls some $85 billion worth of assets, officials told NBC News.

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Oakland County clerks count election ballots during a recount of presidential ballots in Waterford Township, Michigan December 5, 2016. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
Oakland County clerks count election ballots during a recount of presidential ballots in Waterford Township, Michigan December 5, 2016. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
Oakland County clerks count election ballots during a recount of presidential ballots in Waterford Township, Michigan December 5, 2016. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Oakland County clerks count election ballots during a recount of presidential ballots in Waterford Township, Michigan December 5, 2016. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
Oakland County clerks count election ballots as an observer from the Republican Party (R) watches during a recount of presidential ballots in Waterford Township, Michigan December 5, 2016. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
Oakland County clerks count election ballots as a volunteer observer watches during a recount of presidential ballots in Waterford Township, Michigan December 5, 2016. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
Oakland County clerks count election ballots as a volunteer observer (L) watches during a recount of presidential ballots in Waterford Township, Michigan December 5, 2016. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
Oakland County clerks count election ballots during a recount of presidential ballots in Waterford Township, Michigan December 5, 2016. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
Oakland County clerks count election ballots during a recount of presidential ballots in Waterford Township, Michigan December 5, 2016. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
Oakland County clerks count election ballots as a challenger watches over their shoulders during a recount of presidential ballots in Waterford Township, Michigan December 5, 2016. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
Oakland County clerks count election ballots as challengers from the Green Party (2nd L) and the Republican Party (R) watch during a recount of presidential ballots in Waterford Township, Michigan December 5, 2016. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
A sign points the way to the room where Oakland County clerks count election ballots during a recount of presidential ballots in Waterford Township, Michigan, U.S., December 5, 2016. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
Oakland County clerks count election ballots as challengers watch over their shoulders during a recount of presidential ballots in Waterford Township, Michigan December 5, 2016. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
Ballots from the 2016 U.S. presidential election are recounted, following a request by the Green Party, in Madison, Wisconsin, U.S. December 2, 2016. REUTERS/Ben Brewer
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Neither the CIA nor the Office of the Director of National Intelligence would comment.

A former CIA official who worked on Russia told NBC News that it's not clear the U.S. can embarrass Putin, given that many Russians are already familiar with allegations he has grown rich through corruption and has ordered the killings of political adversaries.

But a currently serving U.S. intelligence official said that there are things Putin is sensitive about, including anything that makes him seem weak.

The former CIA official said the Obama administration may feel compelled to respond before it leaves office.

"This whole thing has heated up so much," he said. "I can very easily see them saying, `We can't just say wow, this was terrible and there's nothing we can do.'"

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