Russia is actively working to “denigrate” presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, while China views President Donald Trump as “unpredictable” and prefers that he not win re-election, according to a new U.S. intelligence assessment.
The analysis, published Friday by the chief of the National Counter-Intelligence and Security Center, also concluded that Iran is working to foment division and undermine Trump in advance of the 2020 election.
“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,” the analysis concluded, adding that Iran also feared that the Trump administration would push for regime change.
Friday’s threat assessment went further than a general warning issued last month that U.S. democratic institutions remained a prime target of its most formidable adversaries.
In accounting for Russia’s efforts, the report not only identified its goal – picking up on the interference effort waged in 2016 – but also put a name to the campaign.
“Pro-Russia Ukrainian parliamentarian Andriy Derkach is spreading claims about corruption – including through publicizing leaked phone calls – to undermine former Vice President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party,” the report said. “Some Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to boost President Trump’s candidacy on social media and Russian television.”
Derkach had leaked fragments of years-old phone conversations between Biden and former Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko, which sought to connect then-Vice President Biden to a discredited effort to protect his son’s business dealings in the country.
In China, officials have been “expanding its influence efforts” ahead the election “to shape the policy environment in the United States [and] pressure political figures it views as opposed to China’s interests.”
“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,” the analysis said.
The U.S. analysis noted China’s harsh criticism of the administration’s actions related to Hong Kong and the president’s efforts to ban Chinese-owned apps TikTok and WeChat.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin Friday announced a new round of sanctions on Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam along with 10 other top officials. The action is related to Beijing’s sweeping national security law aimed at curbing Hong Kong’s autonomy.Get the Coronavirus Watch newsletter in your inbox.
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The moves mark a continued deterioration of U.S. relations with Beijing in recent months as Trump waged a months-long trade war with Beijing and accused Chinese officials of allowing the coronavirus to spread into a pandemic.
the U.S. intelligence analysis gave a warning:
“Ahead of the 2020 U.S. elections, foreign states will continue to use covert and overt influence measures in their attempts to sway U.S. voters’ preferences and perspectives, shift U.S. policies, increase discord in the United States, and undermine the American people’s confidence in our democratic process. They may also seek to compromise our election infrastructure for a range of possible purposes, such as interfering with the voting process, stealing sensitive data, or calling into question the validity of the election results.”
The report determined, however, that it would be “difficult for our adversaries to interfere with or manipulate voting results at scale.”
The Trump campaign responded to the warning Friday, claiming that the president had no need for foreign interference.
“We don’t need or want foreign interference, and President Trump will beat Joe Biden fair and square,” spokesman Tim Murtaugh said. “The intelligence community’s assessment that both China and Iran are trying to stop President Trump’s re-election is concerning, but clearly because he has held them accountable after years of coddling by politicians like Joe Biden.”
In a joint statement, the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee said election interference warnings underscored “some of the most serious and ongoing threats to our election.”
“Everyone — from the voting public, local officials, and members of Congress — needs to be aware of these threats,” said Acting Chairman Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va.
In recent weeks, the lawmakers said that NCSC chief William Evanina, along with FBI and Homeland Security officials, had been providing more extensive briefings to members of Congress.
“We believe more of the information that was made available in these briefings can, and at the appropriate time should, be shared with the voting public,” Rubio and Warner said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff applauded the more detailed assessment lamented that intelligence officials suggested that three foreign adversaries posed equal threats.
“Unfortunately, today’s statement still treats three actors of differing intent and capability as equal threats to our democratic elections,” Pelosi and Schiff said in a joint statement. “Members of Congress have now been briefed on the specific threats facing the 2020 election, and we have been clear with the Intelligence Community that the American people must be provided with 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.”