Intel leaders warn of Russian influence threat ahead of 2020

Intel leaders warn of Russian influence threat ahead of 2020
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Intelligence officials on Tuesday warned that foreign adversaries are continuing to utilize social media platforms to try and influence the American public, but said the intelligence community is working more closely with tech giants to combat those threats.

Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsHillicon Valley: Tim Cook visits White House | House hearing grapples with deepfake threat | Bill, Melinda Gates launch lobbying group | Tech turns to K-Street in antitrust fight | Lawsuit poses major threat to T-Mobile, Sprint merger Hillicon Valley: Tim Cook visits White House | House hearing grapples with deepfake threat | Bill, Melinda Gates launch lobbying group | Tech turns to K-Street in antitrust fight | Lawsuit poses major threat to T-Mobile, Sprint merger House Intel to take first major deep dive into threat of 'deepfakes' MORE told the Senate Intelligence Committee that U.S. adversaries like Russia and China “probably already are looking to the 2020 U.S. elections as an opportunity to advance their interests.”

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“U.S. adversaries and strategic competitors almost certainly will use online influence operations to try to weaken democratic institutions, undermine U.S. alliances and partnerships and shape policy outcomes in the United States and elsewhere,” Coats said.

He added that the U.S. intelligence community expects those adversaries "to refine their capabilities and add new tactics as they learn from each other’s experiences, suggesting the threat landscape could look very different in 2020 and future elections.”

The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russia successfully interfered in the 2016 election. However, Coats said late last year that while Russia and others launched influence campaigns ahead of the midterm elections, individual races were not compromised.

Tech giants like Facebook and Twitter have faced intense criticism for not doing enough to combat Russian misinformation campaigns that emerged on their platforms during the 2016 election.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said foreign countries are continuing to use social media to influence American opinion.

However, both Wray and Coats said social media companies are now working far more closely with the intelligence community in attempting to cut down those efforts.

Wray said that during the 2018 midterm elections there were “a number of success stories” when social media companies have been able to “take action much more effectively and much more quickly against the information warfare that the Russians were engaged in.”

He said that now that the relationship has “some momentum, we’re looking forward to growing that partnership.”

Coats also said that many intelligence officials have been able to sit down “eyeball to eyeball” with different social media leaders and that he is also optimistic about their future efforts to fight the influence campaigns.