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National Security & Defense

Intel Officials Warn Russia Will Try to Influence 2020 Election

FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies to the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing about “worldwide threats” on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., January 29, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/REUTERS)

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, FBI director Christopher Wray, and CIA director Gina Haspel told Congress on Tuesday that Russia and China will likely continue to try to influence U.S. elections in 2020.

The two powers are in “a race for technological and military superiority” with the U.S., and are “more aligned than at any point since the mid 1950s,” Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee. He added that the two countries “probably already are looking to the 2020 U.S. elections as an opportunity to advance their interests.”

The U.S. intelligence community has long believed that Russia conducted successful online-disinformation campaigns in an effort to divide the American public and undermine confidence in election integrity during the 2016 presidential campaign. American election infrastructure was not compromised, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be in the future.

“U.S. adversaries and strategic competitors almost certainly will use online influence operations to try to weaken democratic institutions, undermine U.S. alliances and partnerships, and shape policy outcomes in the United States and elsewhere,” Coats said. He added that bad actors trying to influence the U.S. public will likely “refine their capabilities and add new tactics as they learn from each other’s experiences, suggesting the threat landscape could look very different in 2020 and future elections.”

This time around, however, U.S. intelligence officials are working more closely with tech companies such as Facebook and Twitter to protect against nefarious activity, Coats told the committee.

Facebook, which was excoriated by users and the media for failing to prevent Russian-influence campaigns from infiltrating its platform during in 2016, has since deleted hundreds of accounts linked to Russia.

Wray was quick to point out on Tuesday that during the recent 2018 midterm elections, social-media companies were able to “take action much more effectively and much more quickly against the information warfare that the Russians were engaged in.”

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