- The Washington Times - Friday, July 24, 2020

With a little more than three months until the November election, hackers are busy targeting U.S. election infrastructure and the communications of political campaigns and candidates, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence warned Friday.

Adversaries have also continued to use social media and other platforms in a bid to influence or otherwise interfere in November’s elections, the ODNI announced in a press release.

William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, cautioned about the conduct in an announcement issued almost 100 days until the election.

Democratic leaders complained his warning “does not go nearly far enough,” and they urged the federal government after to be more forthcoming about the risks at hand.

Roughly four years since the 2016 presidential election was subject to foreign interference, Mr. Evanina said tactics used by Russians to meddle in that race are evident once again.

“Today, we see our adversaries seeking to compromise the private communications of U.S. political campaigns, candidates and other political targets,” said Mr. Evanina. “Our adversaries also seek to compromise our election infrastructure, and we continue to monitor malicious cyber actors trying to gain access to U.S. state and federal networks, including those responsible for managing elections.”

Mr. Evanina, a veteran of both the FBI and CIA, said multiple factors have made it “extraordinarily difficult” for adversaries to broadly disrupt or change vote tallies undetected.

But he said adversaries have also reused other tactics employed by Russians during the last presidential race that target ordinary Americans rather than elections systems.

“In addition, foreign nations continue to use influence measures in social and traditional media in an effort to sway U.S. voters’ preferences and perspectives, to shift U.S. policies, to increase discord and to undermine confidence in our democratic process,” warned Mr. Evanina. “The coronavirus pandemic and recent protests, for instance, continue to serve as fodder for foreign influence and disinformation efforts in America.”

The ODNI is mainly concerned about three countries in particular — China, Russia and Iran — and warned each may try to harm the electoral process, he added.

China is “expanding its influence efforts” to shape U.S. policies, and Iran is spreading disinformation and anti-American content online to “divide the country” before November, said Mr. Evanina; Russia, meanwhile, appears to be copying from its 2016 playbook and repeating tactics deployed during the last U.S. presidential race, according to the ODNI.

“Russia’s persistent objective is to weaken the United States and diminish our global role,” said Mr. Evanina. “Using a range of efforts, including internet trolls and other proxies, Russia continues to spread disinformation in the U.S. that is designed to undermine confidence in our democratic process and denigrate what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment’ in America.”

Mr. Evanina stressed Americans must react to those efforts by “maintaining vigilance against foreign influence” and practicing good cyber hygiene and media literacy.

However, Democratic leaders responded later Friday afternoon by saying the public needs more information to properly arm itself against foreign interference campaigns.

“The statement gives a false sense of equivalence to the actions of foreign adversaries by listing three countries of unequal intent, motivation and capability together. The statement, moreover, fails to fully delineate the goal, nature, scope and capacity to influence our election, information the American people must have as we go into November,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, Senate Democratic Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff of California and Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner of Virginia reacted in a joint statement later Friday.

“We can trust the American people with knowing what to do with the information they receive and making those decisions for themselves. But they cannot do so if they are kept in the dark about what our adversaries are doing, and how they are doing it,” the congressional Democrats said. “When it comes to American elections, Americans must decide.”

Federal intelligence agencies have assessed that Russians interfered in the 2016 race won by President Trump in part by hacking Democratic targets and stealing material leaked online as the election neared. Russians also spread misinformation and propaganda and social media services and tried but failed to compromise election infrastructure throughout the country, according to U.S. agencies. Russia has denied those charges.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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