The U.S. intelligence community believes that Russia will “continue using propaganda, social media, false-flag personas, sympathetic spokespeople, and other means of influence to try to exacerbate social and political fissures in the United States,” according to an assessment it released along with the appearance of top officials at a congressional hearing.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats outlined the intelligence community’s conclusions at an open hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday.
“Foreign elections are critical inflection points that offer opportunities for Russia to advance its interests both overtly and covertly,” the written assessment, released along with Coats’ testimony said.
Coats said in his opening statement that Russia, along with other actors was, “likely to pursue even more aggressive cyber attacks with the intent of degrading our democratic values and weakening our alliances.”
“There should be no doubt that Russia perceived its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations,” he said.
In response to questions from the committee, Coats was direct: “[C]learly in 2016, [the Kremlin] upped their game. They took advantage of social media. They’re doing that not only in the United States, they’re doing it throughout Europe and elsewhere.”
Coats said it would be prudent to expect further attacks from Russia “and maybe other malign actors,” adding that “steps need to be taken to work with state and local officials because many elections will be state and local—governorships, even members of certain houses of representation within the states themselves.”
To that end, he called for greater communication with the general public.
“[W]e need to inform the American public that this is real, that this is going to be happening. And resilience is needed, for us to stand up and say we’re not going to allow some Russian to tell us how to vote and how to run our country. I think there needs to be a national cry for that.”
Sam Thielman contributed reporting