- The Washington Times - Monday, March 2, 2020

The heads of the FBI, Homeland Security, Justice Department, State Department and the intelligence community issued an extraordinary alert Monday warning of foreign meddling in elections, just as millions of voters prepare to vote in the Super Tuesday primaries.

The officials didn’t reveal any specific plots but said “foreign actors continue to try to influence public sentiment and shape voter perceptions,” just as Russia did in the 2016 presidential election.

“They spread false information and propaganda about political processes and candidates on social media in hopes to cause confusion and create doubt in our system,” the officials said. “We remain alert and ready to respond to any efforts to disrupt the 2020 elections. We continue to make it clear to foreign actors that any effort to undermine our democratic processes will be met with sharp consequences.”

It’s not clear what those consequences are — and Democrats complain that the Trump administration has been weak in its response to the meddling from the last presidential election.

The warning comes a day before voters in 14 states and American Samoa vote in presidential primaries. Texas and California, the most populous states, are among the slate of contests that account for about a third of the country.

On Capitol Hill, Democratic leaders have pushed legislation that would require use of paper ballots that can be verified by the voter to ensure they were cast correctly. That bill passed the House on a near-party line vote but has not gained traction in the Republican-led Senate.

Congress did include $425 million in election security grants to states in the 2020 spending bill that cleared late last year. That follows an initial $380 million Congress approved in 2018.

But the Senate has derailed a bill that would require campaigns to report foreign nationals who they learn are seeking to influence an election.

Donald Trump’s team in 2016 took a meeting with a Russian operative the Trump campaign believed was going to offer dirt on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, while the Clinton campaign paid a former British spy to dig up dirt on Mr. Trump — producing the now infamous Steele dossier, which some analysts have argued was likely fueled by Russian misinformation.

FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, who signed onto Monday’s statement, said last month that Russia never stopped its attempts to spread misinformation and propaganda since 2016.

But he said they have not detected efforts to foul up the country’s actual voting systems.

A top intelligence official reportedly told Congress that Russian disinformation efforts this year are aimed at boosting President Trump, while Sen. Bernard Sanders, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, has been briefed that Moscow is also trying to boost him.

In addition to Mr. Wray, the Trump officials who joined in the statement Monday are Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Attorney General William Barr, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, National Security Agency Director Gen. Paul Nakasone and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Christopher C. Krebs.

The officials said they have been working with states, which have the responsibility to run elections, to help them harden their defenses against tampering.

But defeating misinformation on social media has proven far more tricky.

The Trump officials said voters themselves must play a role in defending elections against interference.

“We encourage all voters going to the polls to check your voter registration and know ahead of time when to vote, where to vote, what’s on your ballot, and whether your state requires identification,” the security officials said. “A well-informed and vigilant republic is the best defense against disinformation.”

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