In a newly reported Department of Homeland Security intelligence bulletin, analysts describe a Russian disinformation effort to amplify claims that voting by mail is unreliable and vulnerable to fraud.
“Since at least March 2020, Russian malign influence actors have been amplifying allegations of election integrity issues in new voting processes and vote-by-mail programs,” says the bulletin, obtained by ABC News.
“These outlets also claimed that state election officials and policymakers leveraged the COVID-19 pandemic to justify politically-expedient decisions made on holding primary elections and implementing new voting processes and vote-by-mail programs allegedly designed to benefit specific candidates and influence election outcomes,” it continues, adding that Russian actors were specifically stressing that an influx of mailed ballots would overtax the postal service and local election boards.
The analysts who wrote the memo, which was not intended for public release, said that they had “high confidence” in the assessment.
A new @DHSgov intelligence bulletin warns of Russian disinformation on mail-in voting: “We assess that Russia is likely to continue amplifying criticisms of vote-by-mail and shifting voting processes amidst the COVID-19 pandemic to undermine public trust in the electoral process” pic.twitter.com/mZAUzEKbud
— jonkarl (@jonkarl) September 3, 2020
Another section of the bulletin details how Russian actors tried to sow the seeds of discord around the Democratic primary earlier this year to undermine Joe Biden’s candidacy.
“In the Iowa Caucuses in February, Russian state media and proxy websites claimed that the contest was fixed in favor of establishment candidates and that technical difficulties with the caucusing mobile voting application led to ballot manipulation,” it says. “These outlets continued this narrative into March 2020, claiming that the Democratic Party made a corrupt back-room deal to orchestrate the exit of establishment candidates to consolidate the vote behind former Vice President Biden in advance of the Super Tuesday primary elections.”
Trump has been a consistent and vocal opponent of voting by mail, making frequent evidence-free assertions that the system is rife with fraud and will lead to a “rigged” election. On Wednesday, he encouraged an audience in North Carolina to vote in person and by mail (a felony in the state) — a gambit, he said, that would make sure the mail system actually works. His posture has been echoed by Republicans nationwide, some of whom have employed the specious fraud arguments as they push to bar voting accessibility measures like drop boxes.
For the second time in two days, intelligence leaked from DHS shows that Trump and his campaign have been employing the same tactics as malicious Russian actors trying to undermine the fall election. The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
On Wednesday, ABC News obtained another bulletin detailing a Russian attack plan to target Biden’s mental health and fitness. Trump has been painting Biden as senile and incompetent all campaign long, from labeling him “sleepy Joe” to splicing together clips of the former Vice President stumbling over his words for campaign ads.
In that case, higher-ups in DHS — seemingly including then-acting Secretary Chad Wolf — intervened before the bulletin could be circulated to the agency’s federal, state and local law enforcement partners, effectively suppressing it. It is not clear if the vote-by-mail bulletin was also stymied; DHS did not respond to TPM’s questions.
Read the bulletin, published by ABC News, here: