FBI Director Warns of Russian Interference in 2020 Presidential Elections
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FBI Director Warns of Russian Interference in 2020 Presidential Elections

By IndraStra Global News Team

Cover Image Attribute: FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies before the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 5, 2020. / Source: House Judiciary Committee video

Cover Image Attribute: FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies before the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 5, 2020. / Source: House Judiciary Committee video

On February 5, 2020, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray told the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee that Russia is conducting an "information warfare" operation against the United States ahead of the 2020 presidential election, although he says he has not seen signs that Russian actors have attempted to breach election infrastructure. Also, he mentioned Moscow's use of a covert social-media campaign to divide U.S. public opinion and exploit differences to create discord.

Last year on April 26, while delivering a  speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, Wray warned that Russian operations under the direction of President Vladimir Putin are likely to intensify during the 2020 presidential campaign. “We recognize that our adversaries are going to keep adapting and upping their game,” Wray said. “I do think that Russia poses a very significant counterintelligence threat, certainly in the cyber arena, certainly what we call the malign foreign influence territory, certainly in their presence of intelligence officers in this country.”

However, Wray's appearance (and the comments) came two days after Democratic presidential caucuses in Iowa were marred by a malfunctioning app that caused a delay in the reporting of results. Though Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price, local and federal officials have stressed that the problems weren't caused by a foreign intrusion because the systems had been thoroughly tested by “independent cybersecurity consultants.” The investigation found a "software error" in the app which led data being recorded accurately but the app itself was “reporting out only partial data” due to a coding issue that had since been fixed.

His recent remarks (in front of House of Representatives Judiciary Committee) are in line with conclusions by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia conducted similar operations during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, an assertion Moscow continues to deny despite overwhelming evidence that it did so.

Wray said the current effort includes the use of fictional identities, computer bots, postings on social media, and disinformation. He said the effort may intensify during an election year, but the threat is there at all times, making it more difficult to combat than a specific hacking attack.

"Unlike a cyberattack on election infrastructure, that kind of effort -- disinformation -- in a world where we have a First Amendment and believe strongly in freedom of expression, the FBI is not going to be in the business of being the truth police and monitoring disinformation online," Wray said.

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security are on alert for election-related cyberactivity like what occurred in 2016 when Russians hacked e-mails of the Democratic presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton and probed local election systems for potential vulnerabilities.

"It is that kind of effort that is still very much ongoing," Wray said. "It's not just an election cycle, of course, we're now in an election year, it's an effort to influence our republic in that regard." Wray told the lawmakers, however, that "I don't think we've seen any ongoing efforts to target election infrastructure like we did in 2016." 

Still, Wray said, Russian efforts to interfere in the election through disinformation and "fake news" had not eased since 2016.

"They identify an issue that they know that the American people feel passionately about on both sides and then they take both sides and spin them up so they pit us against each other," Wray said. "And then they combine that with an effort to weaken our confidence in our elections and our democratic institutions which has been a pernicious and asymmetric way of engaging in affect information warfare."

With reporting by AP, ABC News, RFE/RL, The Washington Times, and Wall Street Journal

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