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Spy chief warns Russia intends to meddle in 2018 elections

Spy chief warns Russia intends to meddle in 2018 elections

WASHINGTON — The nation’s spy chief said Tuesday that Russia has not slowed down aggressive cyberattacks and political meddling and warned that Vladimir Putin has set his sights on the 2018 midterm elections.

“There should be no doubt that Russia perceived that its past efforts (in the 2016 election) as successful and views the 2018 midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said Tuesday.

Russian operatives continue to publish fake news stories, spread misinformation on social media and sow discord — because it’s working.

“Let me be clear. The Russians utilize this tool because it’s relatively cheap, it’s low-risk, it offers what they perceive as plausible deniability, and it’s proven to be effective at sowing division,” Coats said.

“We expect Russia to continue using propaganda, social media, false personas, sympathetic spokesmen, and other means to … exacerbate social and political fissures in the United States.”

Speaking before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Coats said that Russia, China, Iran and North Korea pose the greatest cyberthreats to the nation’s security.

“Frankly, the United States is under attack,” Coats said.

The hearing featured testimony from Coats and other President Trump appointees — including CIA Director Mike Pompeo and FBI Director Chris Wray — on worldwide threats.

The intelligence leaders reiterated their support for the intelligence report issued under the Obama administration that found Putin ordered an influence campaign in the 2016 presidential election to undermine democracy, denigrate Hillary Clinton and help Trump win the election.

The intelligence leaders said they already have evidence of Putin trying to meddle in the 2018 elections, but declined to go into detail in the open hearing.

“Yes, we have seen Russian activity and intentions to have an impact on the next election cycle here,” Pompeo said.

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