The campaigns of President Trump and presumed Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden have turned down offers for counterintelligence briefings on threats to the coming election, a senior U.S. intelligence official has told The Washington Times.
The briefings were offered in the past several weeks and rejected, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“You have the Trump campaign and the Biden campaign not agreeing on much, but one thing they did agree on is they don’t want the FBI briefing them,” the official said.
Such briefings in the past were carried out by the FBI, which is charge of domestic counterintelligence. However, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) announced earlier this month that it had shifted control of the campaign briefings from the FBI to the larger U.S. intelligence community.
Threat briefings on election security are now organized by Bill Evanina, an Obama administration holdover and director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, part of the ODNI.
“U.S. elections are the foundation of our nation’s democracy,” Mr. Evanina, who began his career as an FBI agent, said in an ODNI statement. “We are committed to supporting this administration’s whole-of-government effort to secure the 2020 election.”
Mr. Evanina has come under fire from critics who say that, as the senior U.S. counterintelligence official during the 2016 election, he took no action to counter Russian election interference.
A Biden campaign spokesman declined to comment on the decision not to accept a briefing.
Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh would not say if the campaign turned down the security briefing. “We take security seriously and never comment on our precautions,” he said.
The intelligence official suggested one reason for reluctance by the Biden campaign might be concerns those conducting the briefings could seek information about Mr. Biden’s son Hunter and his business dealings in Ukraine when his father was vice president.
“They’re nervous,” the official said.
Hunter Biden has come under criticism for taking lucrative positions in Ukrainian and Chinese companies while his father was vice president, and a Senate panel last week voted to subpoena the Democratic public relations firm which worked for a Ukrainian company on whose board the younger Mr. Biden sat.
President Trump has urged a wider investigation of the Bidens’ business dealings.
The intelligence official said the campaigns should accept the briefings.
“We need the campaigns to understand the threats — from China, from Russia, from Cuba, from all over,” the official said.
“The fact that both the Trump and Biden campaigns have refused defensive counterintelligence (CI) briefings proposed by the DNI from the FBI is the latest indicator of the depth of distrust for today’s highly politicized FBI,” said Brad Johnson, a former CIA operations officer.
“This should serve as a warning to FBI director Christopher Wray, who has largely ignored the issue and not taken the decisive steps need to reestablish the credibility of the FBI,” added Mr. Johnson, now head of the group Americans for Intelligence Reform.
In October, Republican Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Sen. Ron Johnson, the Wisconsin Republican who chairs the Senate Homeland Security Committee, wrote to FBI Director Christopher A. Wray seeking the bureau’s plans on counterspy briefings for presidential candidates and senior campaign officials. The FBI in 2016 provided such briefings to then-candidate Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as to both running mates.
However, the FBI in 2016 chose not inform the Trump campaign that the Bureau was already investigating allegations of Russian collusion with the campaign.
An FBI inspector general report from December stated that then-FBI Counterintelligence Division Assistant Director Bill Priestap considered a security briefing for the campaign on the probe, but “ultimately decided that providing such briefings created the risk of compromising the secret counterintelligence investigation.” Fired FBI agent Peter Strzok suggested in private texts that the FBI was using post-election with the Trump transition team gather intelligence for the Russian collusion probe.
The IG report said that there was no FBI policy on political campaign security briefings, and Mr. Grassley and Mr. Johnson said the FBI appeared to follow a different procedure for defensive security briefings by not notifying the Trump campaign of the Russian collusion probe.
“An essential part of that process is ensuring that all candidates for office are treated fairly and are fully and equally prepared to address any potential security and counterintelligence concerns,” they wrote. The lack of uniform briefing policies “undermines that process by risking the appearance of bias or, at worst, causing actual prejudice to a candidate for office.”
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