Russia Working to Damage Biden’s White House Bid, Spy Agencies Say

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AUGUST 7, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. intelligence community has assessed that Russia has undertaken a broad effort to damage Democratic Joe Biden’s bid for the presidency, while China prefers that President Trump not win reelection, a senior intelligence official said Friday.

Iran also is seeking to undermine U.S. democratic institutions and President Trump, and to divide the country ahead of the November contest, Bill Evanina, who runs the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, wrote in a brief public report.

The disclosure is the most detailed yet from U.S. intelligence agencies about foreign efforts to interfere in the 2020 election, after months of escalating but generally vague warnings about such activity. It represents the “most current, accurate, and objective election threat information” on behalf of the U.S. intelligence community that can be offered “in an unclassified setting at this time,” Mr. Evanina wrote.

“Ahead of the 2020 U.S. elections, foreign states will continue to use covert and overt influence measures in their attempts to sway U.S. voters’ preferences and perspectives, shift U.S. policies, increase discord in the United States, and undermine the American people’s confidence in our democratic process,” Mr. Evanina wrote.

In his report, Mr. Evanina, a veteran intelligence and law-enforcement official who serves in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, summarized activity that Russia, China and Iran were undertaking to influence the coming vote.

The report described Russia as the most active among the three in its attempts to influence public debate and perception about the campaign by harming Mr. Biden, saying Moscow views him as antagonistic to the Russian establishment.

“This is consistent with Moscow’s public criticism of him when he was vice president for his role in the Obama administration’s policies on Ukraine and its support for the anti-Putin opposition inside Russia,” Mr. Evanina wrote, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Some Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to boost President Trump’s candidacy on social media and Russian television.”

Mr. Evanina’s statement mentioned by name Andriy Derkach, a Ukrainian lawmaker linked to Russian intelligence, saying he was trying to undermine Mr. Biden by publicizing leaked 2015 phone calls between him Petro Poroshenko, then the president of Ukraine.

Mr. Derkach has been a person of interest in a Republican investigation in the Senate into a Ukrainian energy company where Mr. Biden’s son once served on the board. Democrats say the inquiry is a partisan hunt for damaging material about the Bidens and contend it has been tainted by Russian disinformation. Mr. Derkach didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Russia interfered in the 2016 election to boost Mr. Trump’s campaign and harm Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, according to U.S. intelligence agencies. That finding was corroborated by former special counsel Robert Mueller and a bipartisan report by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Russia has denied the attacks.

The activity attributed to China appeared to largely concern public-facing activity rather than covert interference, as in Russia’s case. Beijing views President Trump as unpredictable and has been “expanding its influence efforts” ahead of the election to shape the US. policy environment and deflect criticism of China, Mr. Evanina wrote.

“Although China will continue to weigh the risks and benefits of aggressive action, its public rhetoric over the past few months has grown increasingly critical of the current administration’s Covid-19 response, closure of China’s Houston consulate, and actions on other issues,” he wrote.

Mr. Evanina wrote that Iran “seeks to undermine U.S. democratic institutions, President Trump, and to divide the country,” through an online influence campaign that includes disinformation on social media and anti-U.S. content.

“Tehran’s motivation to conduct such activities is, in part, driven by a perception that President Trump’s re-election would result in a continuation of U.S. pressure on Iran in an effort to foment regime change,” Mr. Evanina wrote.

In a statement, John Ullyot, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said President Trump wouldn’t tolerate foreign interference in the election, pointing to steps taken two years ago to ease bureaucratic restrictions on the military to use disruptive cyber weapons against adversaries.

The Trump administration, Mr. Ullyot said, “stands ready to respond to foreign threats with consequences that leverage the full spectrum of instruments of national power.”

The Trump campaign and the Biden campaign didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Some Democrats in Congress have said intelligence agencies were withholding vital information about continuing attempts to interfere in the election, and have called for the public release of more detailed information. Mr. Evanina has been leading briefings to Congress on election security threats.

In a joint statement, Sens. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Mark Warner (D., Va.), the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, praised Mr. Evanina for sharing the information publicly and urged vigilance against potential interference plots.

“Everyone—from the voting public, local officials, and members of Congress—needs to be aware of these threats,” the senators said. “And all of us should endeavor to prevent outside actors from being able to interfere in our elections, influence our politics, and undermine confidence in our democratic institutions.”


Courtesy/Source: The Wall Street Journal

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