Intelligence Chiefs Warn Of Russian Plans To Interfere In Midterm Elections
Testifying today at a public hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the heads of America’s major intelligence told Senators that there are definite signs from intelligence sources that Russia intends on interfering in the midterm elections in much the same way it did the 2016 Presidential election:
WASHINGTON — As the midterm elections approach, Russia is likely to throw more propaganda at Americans, using people sympathetic to their messages and fake personalities on social media — many of them run by bots — to sow further political and social divisions in the United States, American intelligence chiefs said on Tuesday.
The intelligence officials offered their caution during testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s annual hearing on worldwide threats, and said that Russia believes its interference in the 2016 presidential election largely achieved its chief aim — weakening faith in the American democracy. Moscow now sees the coming Congressional elections as a chance to build on its gains, they said.
“There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations,” said Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence.
“Throughout the entire community we have not seen any evidence of any significant change from last year,” he added.
The warnings were striking in their contrast to President Trump’s views on Russia. He has mocked the very notion of Russian interference in the last election, and lashed out at those who have suggested otherwise. He also said that he believes denials of Russian interference issued by President Vladimir V. Putin.
Russian hackers are already scanning American electoral systems, intelligence officials have said, and using bot armies to promote partisan causes on social media. Russia also appears eager to spread information — real and fake — that deepens political divisions, including purported evidence that ties Mr. Trump to Russia, and its efforts to influence the 2016 election.
“We expect Russia to continue using propaganda, social media, false-flag personas, sympathetic spokespeople, and other means of influence to try to exacerbate social and political fissures in the United States,” Mr. Coats said
This pronouncement from all of the leaders of the nation’s most important intelligence agencies comes just a week after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other Trump Administration officials warned Rusia of the consequences of future interference but admitted that the nation remains vulnerable to interference and that the midterm elections were considered a prime Russian target. Thee reports stated that the interference was expected to via both cyberwarfare and the social media campaigns that Twitter and Facebook accounts linked to Russian sources have used to influence political debate in the United States during the 2016 election an in the year that followed. It also comes just two weeks after President Trump failed to implement the sanctions that Congress had passed in response to the reports about Russian interference in the 2016 election. Despite repeated questions, the Administration has offered no explanation for why the President has chosen not to act as directed by Congress, and there is no indication that he intends to follow through on implementing sanctions at any point in the near future.
These statements by intelligence officials are hardly new, of course. During the election itself, these same agencies became aware of Russian interference and reported the same to President Obama and other officials. At the time, the decision was made to not make this information public due to the concern that it would implicate the ongoing investigation, which had begun back in July 2016 after Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos told an Australian diplomat about Russian offers to provide the Trump campaign with “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, a report that Australia passed along to the United States pursuant long-standing agreements regarding the sharing of relevant intelligence information. It was also around this time, of course, that a lawyer linked with the Kremlin met with Donald Trump Jr. and other Trump campaign insiders at Trump Tower on the premise that she could provide the campaign with damaging information about Clinton. While that ultimately proved to be untrue, the revelation about the meeting caused the Trump Administration to release a statement that claimed that the purpose of the meeting was intended to be about Russian adoptions. As later reported President Trump was involved in drafting what ultimately proved to be a false White House statement about the meeting.
The warnings also come as President Trump continues his efforts to undermine the Russia investigation. These efforts began, of course, early in the Trump Administration. These efforts began early in the Trump Administration when the President asked F.B.I. Director James Comey if he could end the investigation of Flynn. Later, Trump fired Comey just days after Comey had testified about the bureau’s investigation of Russian election interference and the Trump campaign before a Senate committee. Later, Trump admitted that he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation. Trump also contacted the heads of the intelligence agencies and pressured them to bring the investigation to an end and to influence their potential testimony to Congress to state that Trump and his campaign did not collude with Russia or Russian officials.
All of this sends mixed signals from the Trump Administration. On the one hand, we have the intelligence chiefs saying the same thing that their agencies have been saying for roughly the past two years, namely that Russia will undertake efforts to interfere in the political process during an important election year. On the other hand, we have a President who by all indications either does not care about that interference or who is reluctant to say or do anything about it because of the fact that the issue of Russian interference in the political process is inexorably tied to his own campaign for President. As more than one pundit has observed, Trump seems to believe that acknowledging the threat of Russian interference would somehow be a concession regarding any alleged collusion between his campaign and Russian officials and would undermine the legitimacy of his election. The other possibility, of course, is the fact that further investigation will bring to public attention some of the allegations that have so far only been the subject of rumor and whispering regarding the financial ties between his private business affairs and Russian billionaires and oligarchs who are effectively part of Vladimir Putin’s network of influence and control.
Whatever the reason, we’re at the point now where the Trump Administration apparent lack of interest in the issue of Russian interference or taking steps to prevent and counteract any attempted interference is approaching the level of disinterest and a failure to act that borders on failure to fulfill the duties entrusted to the President under the Constitution. Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps the reason that the President isn’t discussing this intelligence and publicly warning the Russians is part of an effort to not tip them off to ongoing counterintelligence operations. Given his history over the past year of trying to undermine the Russia investigation, though, and stating repeatedly in public that the investigation was illegitimate though, it’s difficult to ascribe the President’s indifference to anything other the conclusion that he doesn’t care about the threat, or quite simply does not believe it.