Russia is not only country with interest in influencing US political environment: US spymaster

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Washington | Published: August 3, 2018 7:32:43 AM

Top US intelligence agencies, in a January 2017 assessment, had concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

russia, US spymaster, Donald Trump, political environment, US political environment, United States, world newsTrump Administration was taking concrete steps to prevent such efforts, both for the mid-term elections in November and for the 2020 presidential polls. (Reuters)

Russia is not the only country that has an interest in trying to influence American domestic political environment, a top United States spymaster has said, while asserting the Trump Administration was taking concrete steps to prevent such efforts, both for the mid-term elections in November and for the 2020 presidential polls. Top US intelligence agencies, in a January 2017 assessment, had concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

“We are aware that Russia is not the only country that has an interest in trying to influence our domestic political environment. We know there are others who have the capability and may be considering influence activities. As such, we will continue to monitor and warn of any such efforts,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told reporters at a White House news conference yesterday. Making an unannounced appearance at the White House press briefing room along with FBI Director Christopher Wray, National Security Advisor John Bolton and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Coats claimed that regarding Russian involvement in the mid-term elections, the US continues to see a pervasive messaging campaign by Russia to try to “weaken and divide” the United States.

“These efforts are not exclusive to this election or future elections, but certainly, cover issues relevant to the election. We also know that Russians try to hack into and steal information from candidates and government officials alike,” he said. The US intelligence community, Coats said, has incorporated the lessons learned from the 2016 election and implemented a broad spectrum of actions to share more information across the federal government, as well as with state and local governments, and with the public and the private sector. He said the intelligence community continues to be concerned about the threats to upcoming US elections, both the mid-terms and the presidential election of 2020. Noting that adversaries have shown that they have the willingness and the capability to interfere in the US, Nielsen said the government has and continues to work closely with state and local election officials throughout the country, by offering a range of services, to help identify weaknesses in their election systems.

FBI Director Wray said the Federal Bureau of Investigation has instituted a new foreign influence task force designed to identify and counteract the “full range of malign foreign influence operations”, targeting US democratic institutions and values. “The task force now brings together, across the waterfront of FBI expertise. So we’re talking counter-intelligence, cyber, criminal and even counter-terrorism, designed to root out and respond to foreign influence operations,” he said.

America’s adversaries are trying to undermine it on a persistent and regular basis, whether it is election season or not, Wray claimed, adding, “There is a clear distinction between activities that threaten the security and integrity of our election systems and the broader threat of influence operations designed to manipulate and influence voters and their opinions.” The Foreign Influence Task Force works with FBI personnel in all the 56 field offices of the agency and there are ongoing investigations into a foreign influence nexus spanning FBI field offices across the country, he said. Responding to questions, Coats claimed that Russia used numerous ways in which they want to influence domestic political environment, through media, social media, bots, actors they hire and through proxies.

“I can’t go into any deep details of what is classified, but it is pervasive, it is ongoing with the intent to achieve their intent, and that is, drive a wedge and undermine our democratic values,” he said. “What we see is the Russians are looking for every opportunity, regardless of party, regardless of whether or not it applies to the election, to continue their pervasive efforts undermine our fundamental values,” Coats said when asked which party the Russians are targeting.

According to Bolton, since January last year, President Donald Trump has taken “decisive action” to defend the election systems from meddling and interference. This includes measures to heighten the security and resilience of election systems and processes, to confront Russian and other foreign malign influence in the United States, to confront such aggression through international action and to reinforce a strong sanctions regime, he said. This was one of the topics that Trump took up with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, last month, Bolton said.

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