'The United States is under attack': Intel chiefs say Russia targets midterm election

Dylan Stableford
Senior Editor

The heads of six top U.S. intelligence agencies said on Tuesday that Russian interference in American democracy has not diminished since the 2016 presidential race and is continuing in advance of this year’s midterms.

During a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., the directors of the CIA, FBI, National Intelligence, National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency were asked to reaffirm their view that Moscow’s election meddling has continued since the election of President Trump. They did so unanimously.

“Frankly, the United States is under attack,” Dan Coats, the director of National Intelligence, said at the start of Tuesday’s hearing. “Under attack by entities that are using cyber to penetrate virtually every major action that takes place in the United States.”

“Influence operations, especially through cyber means, will remain a significant threat to U.S. interests,” Coats continued. “Russia probably will be the most capable and aggressive source of this threat in 2018.”

The director warned that the Kremlin will continue to use “sympathetic” spokesmen to advance its disinformation agenda, pushing propaganda, social media, “false-flag personas” and other means of influence “to try to exacerbate social and political fissures in the United States.”

“There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past operations as successful,” Coats added.

FBI Director Christopher Wray, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Robert Ashley, National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Director Robert Cardillo testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday. (Photo: Leah Millis/Reuters)

In October 2016, U.S. intelligence officials announced for the first time publicly that the Russian government was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee earlier in the year.

In early January 2017, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report on Russia’s interference in the U.S. presidential election, concluding with “high confidence” that Russian President Vladimir Putin “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election.” Putin’s goals, the report said, were to “undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency” — and to boost Donald Trump’s election chances.

But President Trump has repeatedly refused to accept the conclusion that Russia’s interference tipped the scales in his favor, even as three separate investigations into his campaign’s contacts with Russia — and possible collusion with the Kremlin — continue.

“This Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story,” Trump said last May, shortly after firing FBI Director James Comey, who was overseeing the federal probe. “It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.”

In his testimony, Coats decried those who have dismissed Russia’s election meddling.

“We need to inform the American public that this is real,” he said. “We are not going to allow some Russian to tell us how we’re going to vote. There needs to be a national cry for that.”

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