President Barack Obama says he has "underestimated" the impact misinformation and hacking can have on democracies, after intelligence agencies concluded that Russia's president ordered a hacking campaign that aimed to influence the U.S. presidential election.
In an interview with ABC News broadcast on January 8, Obama said he did not think he had underestimated Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"But I think that I underestimated the degree to which, in this new information age, it is possible for misinformation, for cyberhacking, and so forth to have an impact on our open societies, our open systems, to insinuate themselves into our democratic practices in ways that I think are accelerating," he added.
"And so part of the reason that I ordered this report was not simply to relitigate what happened over the last several months, but rather to make sure that we understand this is something that Putin has been doing for quite some time in Europe, initially in the former satellite states where there are a lot of Russian speakers, but increasingly in Western democracies."
The comments come after a U.S. intelligence report concluded that Putin "ordered" a campaign of hacking and media manipulation aimed at influencing the November 8 election.
The report released on January 6 by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said the effort sought to help President-elect Donald Trump, a Republican, by discrediting his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
Russia's Embassy in London called the report a "a pathetic attempt at tainting Americans' vote by innuendo couched in Intel new-speak."
The report’s findings reinforced earlier assessments that hackers backed by Russia's government had intruded on computer servers of U.S. political parties.
The report’s release followed a briefing that Trump, who takes office on January 20, received from top intelligence officials on January 6.
After the briefing, Trump issued a statement saying he had asked his staff to develop a plan in his first 90 days in office to "aggressively combat and stop cyberattacks."
He also said he had "tremendous respect" for the work of the intelligence agencies.
Trump has repeatedly dismissed claims that Moscow meddled in the election on his behalf, saying that those charges are the product of his political opponents trying to undermine his election victory.
But Trump’s incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, told Fox News on January 8 that the president-elect "is not denying that entities in Russia” were behind a hacking campaign that targeted the Democratic National Committee and a top aide to Clinton.
Another Trump adviser, Kellyanne Conway, rejected any notion Russia may have affected the election.
"Any attempt, any aspiration to influence our elections failed," she told CNN on January 8.
Meanwhile, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham urged Trump to punish Russia for trying to interfere in the election.
"He's going to be the defender of the free world here pretty soon," Graham, a frequent Trump critic, said in an interview with NBC broadcast on January 8. ''All I'm asking him is to acknowledge that Russia interfered, and push back. It could be Iran next time. It could be China."
Trump repeated on January 7 past statements about wanting to work with Moscow.
"Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. Only 'stupid' people, or fools, would think that it is bad!" Trump wrote on Twitter.
In the interview with ABC, Obama also said he had talked to his successor about having confidence in the intelligence community.
"There are going to be times where the only way you can make a good decision is if you have confidence that the process is working," he said.
Obama said he had also advised Trump not to attempt to run the White House "the way you would manage a family business."
He said Trump must "respect" U.S. institutions and warned that there was a difference between governing and campaigning.
"There are world capitals and financial markets and people all around the world who take really seriously what he says," the president said.
With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and dpa