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The nation’s top spies said Russia will attempt to undermine the 2018 midterm elections

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 2/13/2018 Ellen Nakashima, Shane Harris

Video by Reuters

The nation’s top intelligence chiefs testified Tuesday that they fully expect Russia to seek to disrupt the 2018 midterm elections.

Appearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats said that Russia will continue using propaganda, false personas and social media to undermine the upcoming elections.

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“There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts” to disrupt the 2016 presidential campaign “as a success,” and it “views the 2018 midterm elections” as another opportunity to conduct an attack, said Coats, testifying at the committee’s annual worldwide threats hearing.

His assessment was echoed by all five other intelligence agency heads present at the hearing, including CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who two weeks ago stated publicly he had “every expectation” that Russia will try to influence the coming elections.

The committee’s Democratic vice chairman faulted the Trump administration for not preparing for potential Russian interference in the 2018 elections.

“Make no mistake: This threat did not begin in 2016, and it certainly didn’t end with the election,” said Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.). “What we are seeing is a continuous assault by Russia to target and undermine our democratic institutions, and they are going to keep coming at us.”

Mike Pompeo, Dan Coats sitting at a table: Christopher Wray, Mike Pompeo and Dan Coats testify on Capitol Hil on Tuesday. © Jim Lo Scalzo/Epa-Efe/Rex/Shutterstock/Jim Lo Scalzo/Epa-Efe/Rex/Shutterstock Christopher Wray, Mike Pompeo and Dan Coats testify on Capitol Hil on Tuesday.

“Despite all of this, the president inconceivably continues to deny the threat posed by Russia,” Warner continued. “He didn’t increase sanctions on Russia when he had a chance to do so. He hasn’t even tweeted a single concern. This threat demands a whole-of-government response, and that needs to start with leadership at the top.”

The intelligence chiefs also said that North Korea’s presence at the Olympics in South Korea, which saw an historic visit by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, had not changed the intelligence community’s assessment that the regime is trying to build nuclear weapons to threaten its neighbors and the United States.

“The decision time is becoming ever closer in terms of how we respond” to North Korea’s weapons development, Coats said.

Pompeo said his agency has completed an analysis of how North Korea would respond to a U.S. military strike, as well as what it would take to bring the regime to the negotiating table. He offered to describe that analysis only in a closed, classified session.

Pompeo also responded to reporting last week by The New York Times and The Intercept about an intelligence operation to retrieve classified National Security Agency information believed to have been stolen by Russia. The Times reported that U.S. spies had been bilked out of $100,000, paid to a shadowy Russian who claimed to be able to deliver the secrets, as well as compromising information about President Trump.

Pompeo categorically denied that the intelligence agency had paid any money, directly or indirectly. He claimed that the newspaper had been duped by the same person trying to sell the U.S. government information that turned out to be bogus.


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