(CNN)A US official familiar with the US intelligence assessment of the Russia election-related hacking said the understanding is that the operation was carried out with sophisticated hacking tools, the equivalent of those used by the US National Security Agency.
The use of the advanced tools suggests Russian President Vladimir Putin was involved in the hacks, a person familiar with the matter said, adding that it was more than a US intelligence assumption at this point.
But neither of the sources said they knew of specific intelligence that directly ties Putin to the attack. US officials briefed on the investigation say the hacking has continued largely unabated since last month’s election, and President Barack Obama on Thursday vowed to take action against Russia.
“We don’t have Putin’s fingerprints on anything or a piece of paper that shows he signed the order, but the nature of the operation was such that this had to be approved by top levels of the Russian government,” a senior administration official with access to the intelligence on the hacking told CNN.
“The intelligence community has assessed that in order for this operation to have been executed, it could not have been done without the highest levels of the government, including the President himself.”
The US official said there are two entities in Russia capable of doing this kind of work, but would not name either one. The tools the Russians used are understood by the US and have a unique “signature.”
The official said the sophistication of the tools used means that a higher-level Russian government authority would have been required to carry the prolonged effort to steal emails and data from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, among other targets.
The US believes Putin most likely gave his cyberexperts broad direction to attempt to hack US political institutions. The US believes once the hackers got into the DNC system, they would have instantly reported back to the Russian leader, who would weigh in on what to do with the data.
WikiLeaks, which distributed the hacked information, may well not even know it came from Russia. But under Russian command and control procedures that US intelligence understands, it would be expected that Putin would be the final authority to decide on giving it to WikiLeaks.
The sources did not say when the US came to this analysis of the cybertools used. CNN reported Wednesday that US intelligence believed Putin was involved when they issued their public statement in October.
Multiple national security, intelligence and congressional sources told CNN that the US intelligence assessment continues to be based on the analysis of intelligence, not any evidence directly linking Putin to the effort.
Analysis of the digital footprint and intelligence, including from human sources, has led to the thinking in the intelligence community to conclude that Russians carried out the cyberhack and that it would not have happened without Putin’s consent, according to intelligence, congressional and other administration sources.
That belief was alluded to in the October 7 statement from the Director…