Biden says Russia spreading misinformation ahead of 2022 elections
President Biden said Tuesday that he has been briefed on Russian efforts to spread misinformation related to the 2022 midterm elections.
“Look what Russia is doing already about the 2022 elections and misinformation,” Biden said during a speech at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), referencing information he said was contained in his President’s Daily Brief. “It’s a pure violation of our sovereignty.”
Biden said the intelligence community needs to “take on the rampant disinformation that is making it harder and harder for people to assess the facts, be able to make decisions.”
Biden repeatedly referenced Russian President Vladimir Putin during his remarks, suggesting at one point that he believes Russia’s weakened economy makes Putin “more dangerous” in the cyber realm.
The intelligence community previously assessed that Russia sought to interfere in both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections on orders from Putin. A report made public earlier this year said Russia acted to boost former President Trump and damage Biden’s candidacy. Russia has denied interfering in U.S. elections.
During his remarks Tuesday, Biden reflected on the evolving and growing threats in the cyber realm. The president revealed that he believes that if the U.S. becomes involved in a war in the future, it will have been triggered by a cyberattack.
“We’ve seen how cyber threats, including ransomware attacks, increasingly are able to cause damage and destruction in the real world,” Biden said. “I can’t guarantee this, and you’re as informed as I am, but I think it’s more likely we’re going to end up, if we end up in a war, a real shooting war with a major power, it’s going to be as a consequence of a cyber breach of great consequence.”
Biden met with Putin in Geneva last month — their first face-to-face meeting since Biden took office — and the conversation focused in part on cyberattacks and particularly ransomware attacks perpetrated by cyber criminals in Russia.
Biden said he warned Putin there would be consequences for continued Russian aggression in cyberspace and pressed Putin to hold cyber criminals in Russia accountable.
In April, the Biden administration imposed sanctions on Russia over 2020 interference efforts and the massive SolarWinds cyberattack that the U.S. attributed to Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service.
Biden met with Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Christine Abizaid prior to delivering remarks to roughly 120 intelligence officials. His visit to ODNI headquarters in McLean, Va., represented his first visit to the intelligence community since taking office in January.
Haines, who introduced Biden, called him an “avid consumer of intelligence.”
“In those briefs, you always ask hard questions, pushing us to do better, to bring the best expertise to bare and to explain our views,” Haines said. “But as you do so you also always make clear that what you want from us is the unvarnished truth as we see it. You even like it, I think, when we provide an alternative or a dissenting view, and you push us because you want to have the best information with which to make the tough decisions that you are faced with every day.”
In his remarks, Biden sought to draw a sharp contrast with his predecessor, without mentioning Trump by name.
Trump was criticized for politicizing the intelligence community and damaging the relationship between the White House and intelligence chiefs when he was in office.
Trump publicly chastised his director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, and former CIA Director Gina Haspel when they delivered testimony contradicting him on foreign policy. Trump also publicly doubted the U.S. intelligence assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election with a goal of helping him defeat Hillary Clinton.
Biden on Tuesday praised the intelligence professionals for their “vital” work and pledged not to politicize intelligence while he is president.
“I promise you, you will never see a time while I’m president of the United States where my administration in any way tries to affect or alter your judgments about what you think the situation we face is,” Biden told his audience. “I’ll never politicize the work that you do. You have my word on that. It’s too important for our country.”