Feb 13, 2018, 3:19 PM ET

Intel chiefs warn Congress Russia intent on interfering with 2018 midterms

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The head of U.S. intelligence told Congress Tuesday that Russia, just as it did in the 2016 presidential election, is determined to meddle in the 2018 midterms in order “to undermine democracy, sow discord and undermine our values.”

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Officials tell ABC News that the Russians plan not only to use social media to sow discord through “fake news” but are probing state election systems to see if they can be infiltrated.

"We’ve seen some activity (directed) at state elected officials that were attempts to electronically to search those individuals," Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr told ABC News. "So we assume that there’s still the intent and we certainly know there’s the capability."

Intelligence agencies are already seeing hard evidence that the Russians will perhaps act more aggressively than in 2016.

“Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “Throughout the entire community we have not seen any evidence of any significant change from last year.”

PHOTO: Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats testifies on worldwide threats during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 13, 2018. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats testifies on worldwide threats during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 13, 2018.

Coats was joined by the heads of the CIA, FBI, Defense Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency. Asked by committee vice chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., whether they agreed that Russian activity is undiminished, all agreed with Coats. “This is not going to change or stop,” said NSA director Admiral Mike Rogers.

Democrats expressed concern that President Donald Trump’s anger over the investigation into whether his campaign concluded with the Russians in 2016 will undercut the government’s ability to respond forcefully to continued Russian interference.

PHOTO: Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., left, and Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., second from left, speak together following a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on worldwide threats, Feb. 13, 2018, in Washington.Andrew Harnik/AP
Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., left, and Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., second from left, speak together following a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on worldwide threats, Feb. 13, 2018, in Washington.

The president, said Warner, “continues to deny the threat posed by Russia. He didn't increase sanctions on Russia when he had a chance to do so. He hasn't even tweeted a single concern. This threat, I believe, demands a whole-of-government response, and that response needs to start with leadership at the top.”

“All morning we've heard the story of Russia influencing our campaigns and indeed in the current campaigns for the midterms,” said Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, before asking FBI director Chris Wray: “Has the president directed you and your agency to take specific actions to confront and blunt Russian influence activities that are ongoing?

“We're taking a lot of specific efforts to blunt…” responded Wray.

“Directed by the president?” Reed interrupted.

“Not as specifically directed,” said Wray.

None of the other agency heads could say that the president had directed them to counter Russian meddling, and while senators probed for a detailed plan on how to counter Russian active measures, the witnesses made clear that there is no comprehensive plan in place or being developed.

“The president has made very clear we have an obligation from our perspective from the foreign intelligence perspective to do everything we can the make sure there is a deep and thorough understanding of every threat including threats from Russia,” said CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

Beyond Russian election interference, the hearing detailed a series of serious threats to the United States, including North Korea’s continued drive to develop a nuclear arsenal capable of annihilating the U.S. and the possibility that Pyongyang may conduct an atmospheric nuclear detonation over the Pacific after the Olympics, and the potential threat from Chinese technology embedded in U.S. products.

“Frankly, the United States is under attack,” said Coats, “under attack by entities that are using cyber to penetrate virtually every major action that takes place in the United States. From U.S. businesses, to the federal government, to state and local governments, the United States is threatened by cyber attacks every day.”

As for the Intelligence committee's own investigation into Russia’s 2016 activities, committee chairman Richard Burr, R.-N.C. said he hopes to wrap up before the next round of elections begins.

“Before the primaries begin we intend to have an overview of our findings that will be public,” Burr said. “It is the committee’s intent to make recommendations that will enhance the likelihood that security processes for our elections will be in place.”

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  • DEM-Castballot

    I guess this means Trump voters will be cheering Putin on again.

  • Sonora Nomad

    “Frankly, the United States is under attack,” said Coats. This statement is stunning, and the Republican response is?.....meh...

  • Im_with_the_banned

    badly written, far fetched, news articles will be the end of the United States? We need to act now! Quick, to the grocery store to burn the tabloids in the check out lines.

  • NeoKong

    So what...?
    The media does the same thing only worse.

  • will Russell

    What an upside down world we live in where the GOP president is weak on defense. Its time for the GOP leadership to step up and admit it. Right now they are complicit in our surrender to Russia. Ronald Reagan must be turning over in his grave. To think we spent a fortune to defend ourselves against the USSR only to surrender now to Russia.

    Trump makes Neville Chamberlain look tough.

  • John Kimel

    If Repubs lose the house in the mid terms this year, then Donnie will acknowledge outside interference, not necessarily Russian, and he will officially abuse his power...again, and try to order those elections to be voided...but he can't...'cause they're state elections.

  • hkzombie1

    Russia has been empowered by their greatest and most faithful ally, tRump.

  • John Rettinger

    Microsoft removed most support from Windows OS 8.1 on January 09, 2018. They plan to end all support for Windows OS 10 during this year and 2019. Technology Customers must upgrade their digital systems for the improved security.

  • Ronald

    First it was "the Russians did it" and now its "the Russians will do it" ,
    These are paid representatives !

  • Skippy3504

    Is Russia the only foreign country that meddles in our affairs?

  • CatBIRD2

    Donald Trump & the Republicans NEED Russian election meddling to have any chance in elections going forward.
    Dems are turning red States blue already, and we'll continue to do so.

    And there is only ONE reason Trump with all his 'tough talk' has NO spine w/Russia, won't enforce sanctions, and won't protect Democracy...
    Trump used Russia for the win!!
    He must've... There is no other explanation for Trump leaving the USA open for continued attacks!!!

    This is horrible for American democracy. Trump is not worthy of the office!

    Mueller, got all that? Good, I trust that you do!!

  • Realpshep

    Trump can't even think about enacting Russian sanctions until after midterms...by then his debt to Putin should be paid off

  • Terry Stein

    You do realize that Trump has done everything the Russians required of him in exchange for their manipulation of the election. Trump isn't about to interfere with that.

  • Eteamer

    And the Republicans will do nothing because the Russians want them in power.

  • victor vestal

    So chump's own appointed FBI director contradicted him yesterday and now his own appointed national intelligence chief has done the same today. I feel sorry for any and all WH TV sets this week.

  • SMRT

    They never stopped!

    That whole “Release the memo” crap was supported by a known Russia agitprop group. And that’s what Donald and his dopey thrall want. They giggle and snicker because “their side” is “winning”, despite GOP candidates also being targets.

    Really dumb people finally got the representative they sorely lacked, when they voted for Donald.

  • mtntrek3

    We have opportunities to send Donald back to his tower right and left side in the next two years. I sincerely hope we do so as Americans. .....

  • Freedom of speech rider

    Not good

  • mollydtt

    Russia interfered. The Congressional GOP don’t care. They love them their Trump.

  • Life's a River

    All our intelligence agencies say the same thing--Russia has interfered with our elections and will continue to do so. Only trump denies it. You would have to be completely blind to not know what's going on. This whole trump affair has opened my eyes to how many Americans call themselves "patriots" but they put partisan politics and personal profit ahead of our country. I'm ashamed for us.

  • mtntrek3

    Lindsey Graham said some time ago Donald has a blind spot when it comes to Putin/Russia. Yep, he does.... . I do feel badly for the people of Russia under Putin's de facto dictatorial rule. Hopefully they can find a way to a better leader and times. Hopefully we in our country can do the same in the near future. ...

  • doubledouble

    Russians, what Russians, just because all our national security agencies say it’s so, doesn’t mean you can believe them. I have the biggest and best brain and the many voices in it tell me that my friend Vladimir would never do anything to harm us. You can’t believe those security agencies, I mean they lie all the time - but you sure can believe me, I mean when have you ever heard me lie.
    Besides, I’m real busy with important things. Like I have a 1000 mile wall to build on a 2000 mile border and it’s going to cost 60b - oops shhhh don’t tell anybody I said that out loud I mean, - what was the last figure I said - oh ya, 24 b, that’s right it’s going to cost 24b. It’s going to be a big beautiful wall , and it will stop those bad hombre butterflies from flying here from Mexico.

    If this suppressed issue wasn’t so critical, it would be funny.

  • DEM-Castballot

    As long as Trump promises not to enforce any sanctions,Putin will do what he can to get Trump Red Square Republicans elected.

  • Your Worst Nightmare

    Did the GOP members stand up and applaud when they learned Russia is continuing and planning to help them win in Nov?

  • wilmers13

    Wrong kind of globalisation perhaps?

    Time magazine bragged in 1996 about having helped in the Yeltsin election. And why did the Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra resign?I have forgotten how to spell credobility.

  • Your Worst Nightmare

    Anyone who believes one man is more important than America doesn't deserve to call himself a patriot.

  • rightened

    The greatest irony of all is that I honestly don't believe that Trump is associating with Russians on that big of a level.

    He is definitely doing it for business purposes, of course--just as he's done for decades. He's been holding the door for Russia at least since Sotheby's International Real Estate started looping in Russians to rent Trump Tower in 1983. He's also doing it through associates who can get things out of Russia and bring them to him like Caesar on the throne, without him getting his hands dirty.

    But in all honesty, I don't think he's either smart enough or trusted enough by Putin to be an active, daily part of such plans. His ego is so big that he honestly believes that he won the election based on his charming personality and boasting, and that everything "negative" (i.e. the "alternative facts") is what keeps him on top and gives him an advantage. And that's all Putin, literally the smartest man in any room, needs to work with. Neither man needs to get directly in the others' business to pull this off.

  • Dukedaddy

    I can't believe how America has changed. Before Trump came along, Russia was our enemy and the Americans who said otherwise were considered to be anti American and a danger to our nation. But since Trump started to brainwash a substantial number of Americans, the view of Russia has changed.

    The people who side with Trump and think the talk of Russian interference is "Fake News" are the same people who use to despise Russia and anything associated with the country. How can this be? Are these people blind to the truth, or their allegiance to Trump so strong they choose to ignore it.

    The change in many Americans view of Russia is very disturbing to say the least. If they don't come to their senses soon it may be too late.

  • Eteamer

    Of course the Pro Russian Republicans are all for it. They Russians only help them get elected.