U.S. intelligence assesses that Russia will continue targeting the American media and political spaces with cyber attacks and leaks aimed at creating “wedges that reduce trust and confidence in democratic process,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said Tuesday.
Mr. Coats offered the assessment as part of the intelligence community’s annual testimony to U.S. lawmakers on the worldwide status of threats facing the United States.
“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,” according to the “Worldwide Threat Assessment” Mr. Coats submitted to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Tuesday morning.
The assessment comes amid biting politics surrounding ongoing federal investigations into what intelligence officials say was an expansive Russian meddling operation designed to disrupt the 2016 U.S. presidential election. While former intelligence agency chiefs of the Obama administration asserted last year that Moscow aimed to give Donald Trump an edge of Hillary Clinton in the election, several lawmakers, analysts, intelligence sources and foreign diplomats have argued the Kremlin’s actual goal was to create disruption on both sides of the American political spectrum to undermine the American public’s faith in democracy.
From mid-2015 until the presidential election, the disinformation targeted Confederate flag sympathizers and tea party activists on the right and Black Lives Matter campaigners on the left. Women wearing veils were depicted as extremist advocates of Shariah law. Bogus gay and gun rights organizations, and even a phony dog lovers group, all went to war online — with social media posts often amplified by Russian cyberbots.
The 2018 threat assessment presented by Mr. Coats on Tuesday says U.S. intelligence expects Russia’s activities could be a factor in the upcoming American midterm elections. “The 2018 U.S. mid-term elections are a potential target for Russian influence operations,” it says.
“Moscow seeks to create wedges that reduce trust and confidence in democratic processes, degrade democratization efforts, weaken U.S. partnerships with European allies, undermine Western sanctions, [and] encourage anti-U.S. political views,” the assessment says.
Beyond the U.S. media and political space, the document asserts that the Moscow is particularly focused on such former Soviet republics as Ukraine, with a desire to counter “efforts by Washington and its allies “efforts to bring Ukraine and other former Soviet states into European institutions.”
“We expect that Russia will conduct bolder and more disruptive cyber operations during the next year, most likely using new capabilities against Ukraine,” the assessment says.
At the same time, it says Moscow “will seek cooperation with the United States in areas that advance its interests.”
But, U.S. intelligence officials believe the Russians will simultaneously “employ a variety of aggressive tactics to bolster its standing as a great power, secure a ‘sphere of influence’ in the post-Soviet space, weaken the United States, and undermine Euro-Atlantic unity.”
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