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Spies: Russia Still Targeting U.S.

  • FBI Director Christophe Wray, CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Feb. 13. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Melina Mara



The Washington Post
Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Washington — The nation’s top intelligence chiefs were united on Tuesday in declaring that Russia is continuing efforts to disrupt the U.S. political system and is targeting the 2018 midterm election, following its successful operation to sow discord in the most recent presidential campaign.

Their assessment stands in contrast to President Donald Trump, who repeatedly has 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.

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, which is conducting an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

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.” And Pompeo added that Trump “has made very clear we have an obligation” to make sure policymakers have a deep understanding of the Russia threat.

Coats also said the intelligence agencies “pass onto the policymakers, including the president,” relevant intelligence.

Reed pressed on his question: “Passing on relevant intelligence is not actively disrupting the operations of an opponent. Do you agree?”

Coats said, “We take all kinds of steps to disrupt Russian activities.”