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U.S. 2018 elections ‘below assault’ by Russia: U.S. intelligence chief

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Leaders of U.S. intelligence companies warned on Tuesday that Russia will attempt to intervene within the 2018 U.S. midterm elections by utilizing social media to unfold propaganda and deceptive experiences, a lot because it did within the 2016 marketing campaign.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats advised a congressional committee that Russia and different overseas entities had been prone to assault U.S. and European elections this yr and past, including that Moscow believes comparable efforts efficiently undermined U.S. democracy two years in the past.

Coats, a former senator appointed by President Donald Trump as Washington’s high intelligence official, stated he had already seen proof Russia was focusing on U.S. elections in November, when Republican management of the House of Representatives and Senate are at stake, plus a number of positions in state governments.

“Frankly, the United States is under attack,” Coats stated on the Senate Intelligence Committee’s annual listening to on worldwide threats.

Coats’ evaluation runs counter to statements from Trump, who has forged doubt on the notion of Russian meddling and denied any collusion by his associates with Russia forward of his shock November 2016 defeat of Democrat Hillary Clinton.

U.S. spy companies concluded greater than a yr in the past that Russia used hacking and propaganda to attempt to tilt that election in favor of the Republican. Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly denied this and Trump has stated he believes him.

“There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations,” Coats stated.

Coats stated “persistent and disruptive cyber operations” would proceed “using elections as opportunities to undermine democracy” within the United States and its European allies.

Coats described a spread of how through which Russia would possibly attempt to affect this yr’s vote.

“At a minimum, we expect Russia to continue using propaganda, social media, false-flag personas, sympathetic spokespeople, and other means of influence to try to exacerbate social and political fissures in the United States,” he stated.

The cost of Russian meddling spawned a federal probe and congressional investigations into whether or not Trump’s marketing campaign colluded with Moscow, throwing a shadow over the primary yr of Trump’s presidency.

QUESTIONS ON COUNTERMEASURES

Senators requested the intelligence chiefs throughout the listening to whether or not there was a plan in place to fight extra hacking.

Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo and Chris Wray, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, additionally Trump appointees, stated there have been vital, particular efforts below manner, however didn’t elaborate.

Government countermeasures doubtless embody going public with considerations that Russian hackers will search to affect the 2018 elections, stated John Hultquist, director of intelligence evaluation with the cyber safety agency FireEye Inc (FEYE.O).

”If we talk about this brazenly, then the general public – who’re actually the targets of those operations – will probably be ready and fewer vulnerable to any affect if and when it does occur,” Hultquist stated.

In Germany’s election final September, public dialogue of a feared Russian cyber marketing campaign, and an settlement amongst political events to not exploit data gathered in cyber assaults – an accord unlikely to be replicated within the United States – appeared to assist inoculate the nation towards outdoors meddling.

Executives from social media firms similar to Facebook Inc (FB.O) and Twitter Inc (TWTR.N) have testified in Congress about Russia’s purported disinformation drive geared toward U.S. voters.

Facebook reported that 126 million Americans could have seen Russian-backed political content material on its platform over a two-year interval.

Trump has repeatedly criticized the CIA and FBI, taking to Twitter to accuse the FBI management of bias towards Republicans. At Tuesday’s listening to, a number of committee members expressed assist for the intelligence officers.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is conducting one of many three fundamental congressional investigations into the Russia concern. An investigation by a House intelligence committee has led to partisan squabbling between Republicans and Democrats.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Doina Chiacu, further reporting by Jim Finkle in Toronto and Warren Stroble in Washington; Editing by Frances Kerry and Grant McCool

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