National Security

US intelligence says Russia seeking to ‘denigrate’ Biden

The top U.S. counterintelligence official announced Friday a series of foreign threats facing the 2020 presidential election, warning in particular that Russia is using a range of measures to “primarily denigrate” former Vice President Joe Biden while China prefers that President Trump not win reelection.

William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, pointed to China, Russia and Iran as the three primary foreign threats to the U.S. presidential race, cautioning that they are seeking to “sway voters’ preferences and perspectives,” sow discord and “undermine the American people’s confidence in our democratic process.”

“Many foreign actors have a preference for who wins the election, which they express through a range of overt and private statements; covert influence efforts are rarer. We are primarily concerned about the ongoing and potential activity by China, Russia, and Iran,” Evanina said in a statement.

Evanina said the U.S. intelligence community has found that China does not want Trump to win reelection because it views him as “unpredictable,” pointing to Beijing’s criticisms of his statements and actions toward Hong Kong, video app TikTok, 5G cellular networks and the legal battle over the South China Sea.

“Although China will continue to weigh the risks and benefits of aggressive action, its public rhetoric over the past few months has grown increasingly critical of the current Administration’s COVID-19 response, closure of China’s Houston Consulate, and actions on other issues,” said Evanina. “Beijing recognizes that all of these efforts might affect the presidential race.”

The top intelligence official said Russia is trying to hurt Biden and others whom it views as an anti-Russia “establishment.”

The official said this is in line with how Russia felt toward Biden during his time in the Obama administration, in particular his role in advancing “policies on Ukraine and its support for the anti-Putin opposition inside Russia.”

“Some Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to boost President Trump’s candidacy on social media and Russian television,” Evanina warned.

“For example, pro-Russia Ukrainian parliamentarian Andriy Derkach is spreading claims about corruption – including through publicizing leaked phone calls – to undermine former Vice President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party,” he said.

Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Mark Warner (Va.), the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, respectively, said in response to Evanina’s statement that they “encourage political leaders on all sides to refrain from weaponizing intelligence matters for political gain,” arguing that doing so “only furthers the divisive aims of our adversaries.”

The intelligence community concluded that Russia sought to interfere in the last presidential election through cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns online. The intelligence community also found that Russia sought to hurt Trump’s political opponent in 2016, Hillary Clinton. 

Evanina warned Friday that Iran is also seeking to undermine Trump and U.S. institutions, all while seeking to divide the U.S. ahead of November. He said Iran will likely focus its efforts with online influence campaigns, such as spreading disinformation on social media. 

“Tehran’s motivation to conduct such activities is, in part, driven by a perception that President Trump’s reelection would result in a continuation of U.S. pressure on Iran in an effort to foment regime change,” Evanina said.

Evanina, who leads a center under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), said he is sharing the information as part of his commitment last month to provide the public with an unclassified overview of the threats facing the election. 

“They may also seek to compromise our election infrastructure for a range of possible purposes, such as interfering with the voting process, stealing sensitive data, or calling into question the validity of the election results,” he said.

But Evanina noted that despite these attempts, he said it will “be difficult for our adversaries to interfere with or manipulate voting results at scale.”

“Aside from sharing information, let me assure you that the IC [intelligence community] is also doing everything in its power to combat both cyber and influence efforts targeting our electoral process and continues to support [the Department of Homeland Security] and FBI in their critical roles safeguarding the election,” Evanina concluded.

“We are all in this together as Americans. Our election should be our own. Foreign efforts to influence or interfere with our elections are a direct threat to the fabric of our democracy.”

Tags 2020 Russia election interference Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Joe Biden Marco Rubio Mark Warner National Counterintelligence and Security Center

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