US intel: Russia acting against Biden; China opposes Trump

US intel: Russia acting against Biden; China opposes Trump

WASHINGTON — U.S. intelligence officials believe that Russia is using a variety of measures to denigrate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden ahead of the November election and that individuals linked to the Kremlin are boosting President Donald Trump’s reelection bid, the country’s counterintelligence chief said Friday in the most specific warning to date about the threat of foreign interference.

U.S. officials also believe that China does not want Trump to win a second term and has accelerated its criticism of the White House, expanding its efforts to shape public policy in America and to pressure political figures seen as opposed to Beijing’s interests.

The statement from William Evanina is believed to be the most pointed declaration by the U.S. intelligence community linking the Kremlin to efforts to get Trump reelected — a sensitive subject for a president who has rejected intelligence agency assessments that Russia tried to help him in 2016.

It also links Moscow’s disapproval of Biden to his role in shaping Obama administration policies supporting Ukraine, an important U.S. ally, and opposing Russian leader Vladimir Putin. That assertion conflicts with the narrative advanced by Trump, who has made unsubstantiated claims that Biden’s actions in Ukraine were intended to help the business interests of his son, Hunter.

Evanina’s statement, three months before the election, comes amid criticism from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other congressional Democrats that the intelligence community has been withholding from the public specific intelligence information about the threat of foreign interference in American politics.

“The facts are chilling,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., wrote in an op-ed published Friday evening in The Washington Post. “I believe the American public needs and deserves to know them. The information should be declassified immediately.”

The latest intelligence assessment reflects concerns not only about Russia but China and Iran as well, warning that hostile foreign actors may seek to compromise election infrastructure, interfere with the voting process or call into question voting results. Despite those efforts, officials see it as unlikely that anyone could manipulate voting results in any meaningful way, Evanina said.

“Many foreign actors have a preference for who wins the election, which they express through a range of overt and private statements; covert influence efforts are rarer,” said Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence Security Center. “We are primarily concerned about the ongoing and potential activity by China, Russia and Iran.”

Concerns about election interference are especially acute following a wide-ranging effort by Russia to meddle in the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf through both the hacking of Democratic emails and a covert social media campaign aimed at sowing discord among U.S. voters. Trump has routinely resisted the idea that the Kremlin favoured him in 2016, but the intelligence assessment released Friday indicates that unnamed Kremlin-linked actors are again working to boost his candidacy on social media and Russian television.

The White House responded to Friday’s news with a statement saying “the United States will not tolerate foreign interference in our electoral processes and will respond to malicious foreign threats that target our democratic institutions.”

In a separate statement, the Trump campaign said it didn’t want or need foreign assistance and said China and Iran were opposed to Trump because “he has held them accountable after years of coddling by politicians like Joe Biden.”

Tony Blinken, a senior adviser to Biden’s campaign, responded Friday that Trump “has publicly and repeatedly invited, emboldened, and even tried to coerce foreign interference in American elections. … Joe Biden, on the other hand, has led the fight against foreign interference for years.”

Democrats in Congress who have participated in recent classified briefings on the election interference threat have expressed alarm at what they have heard. They have urged the U.S. intelligence community to make public some of their concerns, in part to avoid a repeat of 2016, when Obama administration officials were seen as slow and overly deliberate in their public discussion of active Russian measures in that year’s election.

Pelosi and Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, both California Democrats, said in a statement Friday that they were “pleased that Mr. Evanina heeded our call to make additional details public about Russia’s malign interference campaign.” But they also criticized him for naming Iran and China “as equal threats to our democratic elections.”

Pelosi and Schiff called for the intelligence community to release “specific information that would allow voters to appraise for themselves the respective threats posed by these foreign actors, and distinguish these actors’ different and unequal aims, current actions, and capabilities.”

A bipartisan congressional report released by the Senate intelligence committee earlier this year said the Obama administration was ill-prepared to handle the interference and failed to respond effectively as officials feared getting caught up in a heavily politicized environment and undermining the election.

When it comes to Russia this year, U.S. intelligence officials assess that it is working to “denigrate” Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia “establishment” among his supporters, Evanina said. U.S. officials believe that tracks Moscow’s criticism of Biden when he was vice-president for his role in Ukraine policies and his support of opposition to Putin inside Russia.

The U.S. statement called out by name Andriy Derkach, a pro-Russia Ukrainian lawmaker who has been active in levelling unsubstantiated corruption allegations against Biden and his son concerning Burisma, the Ukrainian natural gas company on whose board Hunter Biden sat. That effort has included publicizing leaked phone calls.

Democrats, including members of the Senate intelligence panel, have voiced concerns that an ongoing Republican probe into Hunter Biden and his work in Ukraine would parallel Russian efforts and amplify Russian disinformation. That investigation is being led by Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, the chairman of Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Though U.S. officials allege that China has its own preference, the statement Friday did not directly accuse Beijing of election interference or taking action to prop up Biden.

Instead, the statement said, China views Trump as “unpredictable” and does not want to see him win reelection, Evanina said. China has been expanding its influence efforts ahead of the November election in an effort to shape U.S. policy and pressure political figures it sees as against Beijing. The Trump administration’s relationship with China has taken a starkly more adversarial tone, including the closure last month of Beijing’s consulate in Houston and an executive order Thursday that banned dealings with the Chinese owners of consumer apps TikTok and WeChat,

“Although China will continue to weigh the risks and benefits of aggressive action, its public rhetoric over the past few months has grown increasingly critical of the current administration’s COVID-19 response, closure of China’s Houston consulate and actions on other issues,” Evanina wrote.

On Iran, the assessment said Tehran seeks to undermine U.S. democratic institutions as well as Trump and divide America before the election.

“Iran’s efforts along these lines probably will focus on online influence, such as spreading disinformation on social media and recirculating anti-U.S. content,” Evanina wrote. “Tehran’s motivation to conduct such activities is, in part, driven by a perception that President Trump’s re-election would result in a continuation of U.S. pressure on Iran in an effort to foment regime change.”

During a panel discussion later Friday at the DEF CON hacker convention, federal cybersecurity officials were asked which foreign threat they considered most serious. “I don’t think I would say one is scarier than the other per se. Certainly some of these adversaries are at little bit more experienced,” said the National Security Agency’s election lead, David Imbordino.

“I couldn’t agree more,” said Cynthia Kaiser, the FBI’s deputy chief of analysis for national cyber threats. “If if you ask me what the biggest threat is, its the kind of constant drumbeat or influence campaigns that are going to make people feel like they are less confident in our (elections) system.”

____

Tucker reported from Stonington, Connecticut. Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire in Bridgewater, New Jersey, and Frank Bajak in Boston contributed to this report.

Eric Tucker And Deb Riechmann, The Associated Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Anti-racism demonstration was not a ‘peaceful protest,’ as sides spar in Red Deer

Two groups that rallied in Red Deer on Sunday afternoon could only… Continue reading

Addressing anti-mask protests poses a challenge for leaders, experts say

Quebec’s COVID-19 case numbers hit their highest numbers since the end of May

Canada’s Kennedy to yesterday’s man: former PM John Turner dead at 91

Politicians and other public figures immediately began sharing memories

QUIZ: A celebration of apples

September is the start of the apple harvest

Five things to watch for in the Canadian business world in the coming week

The 2020 Global Business Forum in Banff, Alta., will be held as a special hybrid event

New tools, ideas needed to speed up housing strategy funding, CMHC president says

Slow turnaround time on some of its national housing strategy programs

Letter containing ricin sent to White House may have come from Canada: RCMP

The letter contained ricin, a toxic substance found naturally in castor beans

Nunavut reports first confirmed COVID-19 cases, saying both are mine workers

The territory says at this time, there is no evidence of transmission within site

B.C. migrant, undocumented workers rally for permanent residency program

The pandemic has shown how heavily Canada relies on migrant and undocumented workers

Wetaskiwin RCMP make arrests for Hit and Run to residence

Damage estimates are expected to be in excess of $20,000.

Former prime minister John Turner dead at 91

TORONTO — Former prime minister John Turner, whose odyssey from a “Liberal… Continue reading

Hay’s Daze: Happy to be left out of the picture

Talk about being out of the loop. Head in the sand. Uninformed,… Continue reading

Most Read