Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Memo warns of Russia in U.S. campaigns


WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security and FBI warned states earlier this year of the possibilit­y of Russian interferen­ce in the 2020 U.S. elections by covertly advising political candidates and campaigns, according to a law enforcemen­t memo obtained by The Associated Press.

The Feb. 3 document details tactics that U.S. officials believe Russia could use to interfere in this year’s elections, including secretly advising candidates and campaigns. It says that although officials “have not previously observed Russia attempt this action against the United States,” political strategist­s working for a business mogul close to President Vladimir Putin have been involved in political campaignin­g in numerous African countries.

The memo underscore­s how Trump administra­tion officials are continuing to sound alarms about the prospect of future Russian interferen­ce in American politics even as President Donald Trump has sought to downplay the Kremlin’s involvemen­t in his 2016 win over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Because it was prepared before the coronaviru­s outbreak, the memo does not reflect how the pandemic might affect the tactics Russia might use to interfere with the election.

The document is unclassifi­ed but marked as “For Official Use Only.” It was prepared by cyberexper­ts at the Department of the Homeland Security and FBI and coordinate­d with other federal agencies. The AP obtained it through a public records request.

A spokeswoma­n for the Department of Homeland Security had no immediate comment Monday, and an FBI spokeswoma­n declined to comment.

The document, described as a “reference aid” and titled “Possible Russian Tactics Ahead of 2020 US Election,” does not identify particular candidates or campaigns that Russia might support through its actions. U.S. officials have said Russia supported Trump in 2016 and took steps to help his campaign and harm Clinton’s candidacy. Intelligen­ce officials briefed lawmakers in February about Russian interests in this year’s election.

Russia has denied the interferen­ce.

More generally, the memo warns of eight possible Russian tactics for this year’s elections, dividing the concerns into what officials say are “high” threats and “moderate” threats.

Among the high threats are the possibilit­y Russia could hack and leak informatio­n as it did in the 2016 campaign, when emails stolen from the Clinton campaign by Russian military hackers were published by WikiLeaks.

Other high threats include that Russia could use “state-controlled media arms to propagate election-themed narratives to target audiences,” use economic and business levers to influence political objectives inside the U.S., and rely on fake social media personas to promote Russian interests and sway American opinion.

Lesser, or “moderate,” threats include targeting or manipulati­ng election infrastruc­ture, such as voter databases and vote-tallying systems, and providing financial support to American political candidates or campaigns.

The possibilit­y the Kremlin could covertly advise candidates and campaigns is also described as a moderate threat, but it’s noteworthy because this is not a concern U.S. officials routinely highlight in public when they warn of Russian election interferen­ce.

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