Top US intel officials warn Russia still meddling
U.S. intelligence officials continued to warn Thursday of an ongoing campaign by Russia to meddle in U.S. elections and sow division in American society.
“Our democracy itself is in the crosshairs,” Homeland Security Director Kirstjen Nielsen said alongside the heads of American intelligence agencies at the White House.
“Free and fair elections are the cornerstone of our democracy, and it has become clear that they are the target of our adversaries who seek, as the DNI just said, to sow discord and undermine our way of life,” Nielsen added.
Nielsen was referring to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who like Nielsen, was at the White House to speak to reporters about election security ahead of November’s midterm polls.
He warned of an ongoing “pervasive messaging campaign by Russia to try to weaken and divide the United States,” but said the extent of the campaign has so far been assessed to be less extensive than the Russian effort U.S. intelligence agencies determined had sought to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.
“We’re only one keyboard click away from finding something that we haven’t seen up to this particular point in time. But right now we haven’t seen that,” Coats said.
He said President Donald Trump has “specifically directed” the agencies to ensure that countering prospective election meddling is a top priority.
Trump’s public comments over the matter during the past couple of weeks have drawn widespread criticism, particularly remarks he made during a summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Trump appeared to back Putin’s denials of any role in the effort during their meeting before reneging on his comments after he returned to Washington.
Putin acknowledged at the summit that he favored the then-Republican nominee because Trump wanted to normalize relations with Russia, but has consistently maintained the Kremlin had no part in interfering in the election.
Coats said that while Moscow is continuing its efforts to interfere in the U.S.’s elections, which he called a “pervasive messaging campaign” other nations “may be considering influence activities.”
“We know there are others who have the capability,” he said. “We will continue to monitor and warn of any such efforts.”
In addition to Coats and Nielsen FBI Director Chris Wray, National Security Agency Director Paul Nakasone and National Security Adviser John Bolton briefed reporters.
Nakasone said the U.S. stands ready to “conduct operations” against those who may seek to meddle in the upcoming midterm elections, which will see roughly one-third of Senate seats up for grabs as well as all seats in the House of Representatives.
“Our forces are well trained, ready and very capable,” said Nakasone, who also heads U.S. Cyber Command. He declined to address specifics of what the operations might entail.