“They identify an issue that they know that the American people feel passionately about on both sides and then they take both sides and spin them up so they pit us against each other. And then they combine that with an effort to weaken our confidence in our elections and our democratic institutions which has been a pernicious and asymmetric way of engaging in affect information warfare.”
— FBI Director Chris Wray, Feb. 5, 2020
On Wednesday, FBI Director Chris Wray said Russia is targeting Americans with an ongoing “information warfare” campaign that is likely to intensify as the nation heads into the 2020 presidential election.
Wray said FBI has not yet spotted election infrastructure attacks by Russia as happened in 2016, but that Russia has greatly intensified its campaign of online disinformation and psychological operations against US voters.
Speaking before the House Judiciary Committee, Wray said just like Russia did in 2016, they're again relying on covert social media campaigns that intend to divide American public opinion and sow discord and distrust.
Even if Russia does not end up targeting our election systems, Wray said, efforts by Vladimir Putin to interfere in the democratic process through disinformation and “fake news” hasn't slowed down since 2016, but rather increased.
Wray said social media injected “steroids” into the ability for Russia to wage information warfare on the U.S.
From the Associated Press's coverage of his remarks on Capitol Hill today, by AP reporter Eric Tucker:
That effort, which involves fictional personas, bots, social media postings and disinformation, may have an election-year uptick but is also a round-the-clock threat that is in some ways harder to combat than an election system hack, Wray said.
“Unlike a cyberattack on an election infrastructure, that kind of effort — disinformation — in a world where we have a First Amendment and believe strongly in freedom of expression, the FBI is not going to be in the business of being the truth police and monitoring disinformation online,” Wray said.
The FBI and Department of Homeland Security are on alert for election-related cyberactivity like what occurred in 2016, when Russians hacked emails belonging to the Democratic campaign of nominee Hillary Clinton and probed local election systems for vulnerabilities. But, Wray said Wednesday, “I don’t think we’ve seen any ongoing efforts to target election infrastructure like we did in 2016.”
[photo: screengrab, CSPAN, public domain]