WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Russia is likely to pursue more cyber attacks on elections in the United States, U.S. intelligence community leaders said on Tuesday, with just months to go before U.S. congressional and local elections in November.
U.S. spy agencies said last year they had determined Russia used hacking and propaganda in an effort to tilt the 2016 U.S. presidential election in favor of the Republican candidate, Donald Trump. Russia has repeatedly denied this.
At a Senate hearing, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said Russia, as well as other foreign entities, were “likely” to pursue more cyber attacks on U.S. and European elections.
“Persistent and disruptive cyber operations will continue against the United States and our European allies using elections as opportunities to undermine democracy,” he told the annual Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats.
In prepared testimony, 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,” Coats said.
The charge of Russian meddling in the 2016 election spawned a federal probe and congressional investigations into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow, casting a shadow over the first year of Trump’s presidency.
Coats and other U.S. intelligence community leaders testified that Russia believes its interference in the 2016 campaign achieved its aim of undermining U.S. democracy, and that it sees the November elections as another chance.
Republican control of the House of Representatives and Senate is at stake in November.
“There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations,” Coats said.
He and other people testifying to the panel, including Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo and Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Chris Wray, said they had seen no change in Russia’s strategy since 2016.
Trump has cast doubt on the notion that there was Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign, presenting it as sour grapes from supporters of defeated Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. He has denied any collusion by his campaign, and has also denied any attempt to obstruct the federal probe.
The Senate Intelligence panel is conducting one of the three main congressional investigations into the Russia issue.
Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Frances Kerry