Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a press conference following a trilateral meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in Sochi, Russia, October 31, 2022.
Sergey Bobylev | Sputnik | through Reuters
Russia conducted malicious influence operations during the 2022 US midterm elections and is increasingly using clandestine means to “penetrate the Western information environment,” the US intelligence community said in a new report Wednesday.
Moscow will also work to “solidify ties” with Americans in media and politics as it works on “future influence operations,” the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in the latest edition of its annual assessment of global threats for US citizens. security.
The 2023 report came four months after the most recent midterm elections, where concerns about Russian influence efforts were less pronounced compared to the two previous presidential elections in 2016 and 2020.
The intelligence community found that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in the 2016 election with a “clear preference” for then-candidate Donald Trump, who would go on to win that race.
Trump — who had called on Russia during that campaign to find the emails of his then-rival Hillary Clinton — later questioned whether Russia interfered in the 2016 election. In a 2018 meeting with Putin, Trump indicated that he believed the Russian leader’s claim that the Kremlin did not interfere in the 2016 race — essentially siding with Putin’s position on the assessment of his own intelligence community. Trump later backtracked on those comments.
Prior to last November’s midterms, investigators reportedly identified Russian attempts to intervene by using social media accounts posing as Americans to stir partisan anger and undermine confidence in the election process. The FBI and the Justice Department’s Cybersecurity Office had warned ahead of the midterms that foreign actors were likely to try to spread disinformation before and after Election Day.
The agency, which oversees the country’s 18 intelligence agencies, added that this latest warning about Russian meddling in the election was more stark and certain than the previous report.
For example, in 2022, the bureau determined that Russia “almost certainly” sees the US elections as opportunities for malicious influence to influence foreign policy goals. Moscow will also “likely” seek to establish relationships with US figures in politics and the media “in the hope of developing vectors for future influence operations,” it said at the time.
In the 2023 edition, the agency removed the words “almost certainly” and “probably” from its assessment.
The report added, “Russia’s influential actors have adapted their efforts to increasingly hide their hand,” using a “massive ecosystem of Russian proxy websites, individuals and organizations that appear to be independent news sources.”
By creating original content or leveraging pre-existing divisive discourses, Moscow “intensifies that content to further penetrate the Western information environment,” the assessment said. “These activities may include spreading false content and amplifying information seen as beneficial to Russian influence attempts or conspiracy theories.”
Russia’s already tense relations with the US and other Western powers have been put under enormous strain by the country’s invasion of Ukraine. The intelligence services warned in their threat assessment that Russia, which possesses the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear weapons, continues to develop long-range nuclear-capable missiles.