2/14/2018 – Excerpts from The Washington Post
Top U.S. intelligence officers were united in their opinion that Russia is continuing efforts to disrupt the U.S. political system and is targeting the 2018 midterm election, following its successful efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election. Their assessment stands in contrast to President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly voiced skepticism of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
At a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats, Democrats demanded to know what the intelligence community is doing to counter Russia’s actions and whether Trump has given explicit directions to them to do so. “We cannot confront this threat, which is a serious one, without a whole-of-government response when the leader of the government continues to deny that it exists,” said Sen. Angus King, I-Maine.
The disconnect between Trump and his senior-most intelligence advisers has raised concerns that the U.S. government will not be able to mount an effective plan to beat back Russian influence operations in the upcoming midterm election. And Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats said there is “no single agency in charge” of blocking Russian meddling, an admission that drew the ire of Democrats. “The fact that we don’t have clarity about who’s in charge means, I believe, we don’t have a full plan,” said Mark Warner, D-Va., the vice chairman of the committee. He also said social media companies, whose platforms have been fertile turf for Russian bots seeking to stoke divisions among Americans, have been “slow to recognize the threat” and that “they’ve still got more work to do.”
Coats said that Russia will continue using propaganda, false personas and social media to undermine the upcoming election. “There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts” to disrupt the 2016 presidential campaign “as successful and views the 2018 midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations,” said Coats, the leader of the U.S. government’s 17 intelligence agencies.
His assessment was echoed by all five other intelligence agency heads present at the hearing, including CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who two weeks ago stated publicly that he had “every expectation” that Russia will try to influence the coming election.
The intelligence community’s consensus on Russia’s intentions led Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., to press officials on whether Trump has directed them to take “specific actions to confront and to blunt” Russian interference activities. FBI Director Christopher Wray said the bureau is undertaking “a lot of specific activities” to counter Russian meddling but was “not specifically directed by the president.”
Trump has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, called Moscow’s election interference a “hoax” and dismissed investigations of it by Congress and by special counsel Robert Mueller as a political “witch hunt.”