US: Russia behind election meddling
US PRESIDENT Donald Trump’s national security team said on Thursday that Russia is behind “pervasive” attempts to interfere in upcoming US elections, in a rejection of denials of meddling that Russian President Vladimir Putin made directly to Mr Trump.
The top aides, including intelligence director Dan Coats and national security adviser John Bolton, appeared in the White House briefing room to stress that a major effort was under way to protect the integrity of congressional elections in November and the 2020 presidential election.
“We acknowledge the threat, it is real, it is continuing, and we’re doing everything we can to have a legitimate election,” Mr Coats said, adding: “It is pervasive, it is ongoing, with the intent to drive a wedge and undermine our democratic values.”
Mr Trump has voiced scepticism about Russia’s role in US election meddling, drawing accusations from Democrats and Republicans alike that he is ignoring a threat to American democracy.
“I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” Mr Trump said after talks with Mr Putin in Helsinki, Finland, on July 16.
But Mr Coats, Mr Bolton, FBI Director Christopher Wray, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and the director of the National Security Agency, Paul Nakasone, said Russia was to blame, along with other foreign actors.
Mr Coats said the Russian meddling effort reached into the Kremlin itself. He gave no details.
“Russia has used numerous ways in which they want to influence, through media, social media, through bots, through actors that they hire, through proxies . . . all of the above, and potentially more,” he said.
“We also know the Russians tried to hack into and steal information from candidates and government officials alike,” Mr Coats said, adding that Russia was not the only country working to undermine American elections.
Three Senate panels in coming weeks are expected to weigh bills that would tighten the security of US voting stations, which are administered by the states, as well as measures to punish Russia if it is found meddling again in US elections. State and county officials have complained, however, that they lack money and time to make voting systems more secure.
US officials say the illegal activity includes criminal efforts to suppress voting and provide illegal campaign financing, cyber attacks against voting infrastructure, along with computer intrusions targeting elected officials and others. A senior US official said the Russian meddling campaign had accelerated and grown more sophisticated since the 2016 election and was not directed at boosting one political party over another.
“This is about exploiting the fault lines that exist in our society and building on what was done in 2016, and it isn’t confined to the internet. It includes print and television, as well, in some cases using existing platforms that predate the 2016 election,” the official said.
From left, White House National Security Adviser John Bolton, US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and FBI Director Christopher Wray arrive to attend a briefing on election security in the White House on Thursday