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Democrats press Intel chief for answers on foreign efforts to exploit US racial tensions

Democrats press Intel chief for answers on foreign efforts to exploit US racial tensions
© Greg Nash

Reps. Val DemingsValdez (Val) Venita DemingsHouse Judiciary split on how to address domestic extremism Demings on possible Senate, Florida governor run: 'I'm keeping that door open' Lawmakers remember actress Cicely Tyson MORE (D-Fla.) and Raja KrishnamoorthiSubramanian (Raja) Raja KrishnamoorthiHouse panel investigating Trump administration purchases of ventilators There's no excuse for the government to put dangerous cars on the road Democrat rips Sackler family, Purdue doctors during House questioning MORE (D-Ill.) pressed Director of National Intelligence John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeFormer Trump officials eye bids for political office Grenell congratulates Buttigieg on becoming second openly gay Cabinet member Senate confirms Biden's intel chief, giving him first Cabinet official MORE for answers Thursday on whether any hostile foreign actors were attempting to take advantage of recent U.S. protests to spread misinformation.

In a letter to Ratcliffe, the two House Democrats pointed to specific concerns that foreign actors would seek to exploit increased racial tensions in the U.S. following protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month. 

“I am writing you today to request information regarding your plans to ensure that foreign actors do not exploit the current heightened tensions in America by spreading misinformation, inciting violence, or utilize any other means to support a foreign agenda not in the best interests of American national security, public health, and safety,” Demings and Krishnamoorthi wrote.

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The lawmakers, who both serve on the House Intelligence Committee, asked Ratcliffe for details on whether the intelligence community had a plan in place to respond to any foreign efforts to exploit racial tensions and whether there was evidence that foreign adversaries were already doing so.

“The underlying issues that led to these continued protests are based on years of systemic racism and concerns that originated from American policies and American actors,” the lawmakers wrote. “But we do not want foreign state actors to exploit the injustice in America as we try to heal these wounds and rebuild a more equitable and just society for all.”

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment on the letter. 

The concerns come four years after Russian government-backed actors used racial tensions to spread misinformation online to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. 

According to the report on Russian election interference compiled by former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerWhy a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump MORE, some of these Russian agents impersonated Black Lives Matter protesters on social media to spread disinformation. 

The Alliance for Securing Democracy — which tracks efforts by the Russian, Chinese and Iranian government-funded messaging — tweeted Thursday that according to its data, the main aims of these governments were to “undermine” American credibility, not spread violence.

“All 3 countries' messaging on the George Floyd protests & unrest seems targeted at undermining US credibility, at home and abroad,” the group tweeted. “To date, there is little evidence Russia, China or Iran have engaged in mis or disinformation on the topic or attempted to promote violence in the US.”