The nation’s top spy just said Russia will try to influence, and potentially undermine, the 2018 midterms.
Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that Russia believes it did so well trying to influence the 2016 presidential election that it will try to do so again as hundreds of politicians contest for House and Senate seats throughout the year.
“There should be no doubt that Russia perceives that its past efforts have been successful and views the 2018 midterm US elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations,” Coats, the nation’s top spy, said on Tuesday. “Frankly, the United States is under attack.”
Let’s be clear about what Coats just said. First, he reiterated that Russia purposely tried to sway the last presidential election. Recall that President Donald Trump famously denies that Russia tried to interfere, even though American intelligence agencies unanimously believe Moscow wanted Trump to win and worked hard to ensure he did.
Second — and more worryingly — Coats is saying that the Kremlin thought its last influence campaign went so swimmingly that it plans to do it again in November. Here’s how, according to Coats: “We expect Russia to continue using propaganda, social media, false flag personas, sympathetic spokesmen, and other means to influence and try to build on its wide range of operations and exacerbate social and political fissures in the United States.”
Director of National Intelligence Coats: “There should be no doubt that Russia perceives that its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations.” https://t.co/0ufYxa2uu3 pic.twitter.com/adBzmSHMSu— NBC News (@NBCNews) February 13, 2018
When asked by Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) if Trump directed any of the intelligence heads present at the hearing to stop Russia from meddling, FBI Director Christopher Wray said he was “not specifically directed by the president.”
Last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that Russia was already meddling in the midterms, adding that the US was not ready to stop the Kremlin’s campaign.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the committee’s top Democrat, sounded a similar alarm. “Make no mistake: This threat did not begin in 2016, and it certainly didn’t end with the election,” he said at the start of the hearing. “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.”
Republicans, meanwhile, focused more on other issues during the worldwide threats hearing, like China.
What Russia did during the 2016 election was extensive
It’s worth taking a moment to remember the extent of what Russia did during the 2016 election — even if the president denies it happened.
According to the intelligence community’s January 7, 2017, assessment, the order to mess with the Trump-Clinton race came from the very top — and Russian leadership had a clear inclination. “We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election,” the report reads. “We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”
Here are just some of the ways Russia did it:
- A Moscow-connected professor reached out to low-level Trump campaign staffer George Papadopoulos and told him the Russians had “dirt” on Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.”
- Russian hackers targeted the election systems of 21 US states.
- A Russia-backed hacking group stole then-Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s emails in March 2016, and those emails soon appeared on WikiLeaks.
- The Kremlin paid at least 2,700 trolls to take part in conversations on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere online in order to sow divisions.
And here’s what’s terrifying: Russia might do something along these lines again in just a few months.
“This is not going to change or stop,” National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers said at the hearing.