Leaders of US intelligence agencies warned that Russia will try to interfere in the 2018 US midterm elections by using social media to spread propaganda and misleading reports, much as it did in the 2016 campaign.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told a congressional committee on Tuesday that Russia and other foreign entities were likely to attack US and European elections this year and beyond, adding that Moscow believes similar efforts successfully undermined US democracy two years ago.
Coats, a former senator appointed by President Donald Trump as Washington’s top intelligence official, said he had already seen evidence Russia was targeting US elections in November, when Republican control of the House of Representatives and Senate are at stake, plus a host of positions in state governments.
“Frankly, the United States is under attack,” Coats said at the Senate Intelligence Committee’s annual hearing on worldwide threats.
Coats’ assessment runs counter to statements from Trump, who has cast doubt on the notion of Russian meddling and denied any collusion by his associates with Russia ahead of his surprise November 2016 defeat of Democrat Hillary Clinton, reports Reuters.
US spy agencies concluded more than a year ago that Russia used hacking and propaganda to try to tilt that election in favour of the Republican.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly denied this and Trump has said he believes him.
“There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 US midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations,” Coats said.
Coats described a range of ways in which Russia might try to influence this year’s vote.
“At a minimum, we expect Russia to 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,” he said.
The charge of Russian meddling spawned a federal probe and congressional investigations into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow, throwing a shadow over the first year of Trump’s presidency.