WASHINGTON — Russia is determined to interfere in the November Congressional elections in the United States, top intelligence officials warned on Tuesday.
Dan Coats, Director of National Intelligence, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia sees the midterm elections as “a potential target for influence operations.”
“Foreign elections are critical inflection points that offer opportunities for Russia to advance its interests both overtly and covertly,” Coats said.
“At a minimum, 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,” he added.
“Influence operations” using social media seek to shape the perceptions and behaviors of their targets. Because of their low cost, influence operations “will remain a significant threat to U.S. interests,” Coats warned.
Coats said Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran pose the greatest cyber-threat to the United States.
Mike Rodgers, Director of the National Security Agency, said that Russia’s determination to interfere in U.S. democratic institutions is “not going to change or stop.”
Effort to ‘undermine US democracy’
The intelligence officials, briefing lawmakers on worldwide threats to the United States, said they all agreed with a January 2017 U.S. intelligence community assessment that Russia tried to influence the 2016 election in favor of President Donald Trump.
Robert Cardillo, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, said the “likelihood” of a reprise of the 2016 election meddling remains.
The Senate Intelligence Committee is one of several congressional panels investigating Russian efforts to interfere in U.S. polls.[xyz-ihs snippet=”adsense-body-ad”]Senator Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the panel, said while many questions remain about Russia’s actions in the 2016 vote, there is “broad bipartisan consensus” on the intelligence panel that Moscow engaged in a coordinated attack to undermine U.S. democracy. Russia’s effort included targeting election systems in 21 states and the use of “social media platforms to push and spread misinformation at an unprecedented scale,” said Warner.
“Make no mistake: This threat did not begin in 2016 and it certainly didn’t end with the election,” Warner said. “What we are seeing is a continuous assault by Russia to target and undermine our democratic institutions, and they are going to keep coming at us.”
Asked which U.S. agency was responsible for countering Russian influence operations on social media platforms, Coats said, “there is no single agency in charge.”