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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Russia Is Helping Trump Again

Defying the Odds, we discuss Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign  The update includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

Intelligence officials warned House lawmakers last week that Russia was interfering in the 2020 campaign to try to get President Trump re-elected, five people familiar with the matter said, a disclosure to Congress that angered Mr. Trump, who complained that Democrats would use it against him.
The day after the Feb. 13 briefing to lawmakers, the president berated Joseph Maguire, the outgoing acting director of national intelligence, for allowing it to take place, people familiar with the exchange said. Mr. Trump was particularly irritated that Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the leader of the impeachment proceedings, was at the briefing.
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Under Mr. Putin, Russian intelligence has long sought to stir turmoil among around the world. The United States and key allies on Thursday accused Russian military intelligence, the group responsible for much of the 2016 election interference in the United States, of a cyberattack on neighboring Georgia that took out websites and television broadcasts.
The Russians have been preparing — and experimenting — for the 2020 election, undeterred by American efforts to thwart them but aware that they needed a new playbook of as-yet-undetectable methods, United States officials said.
They have made more creative use of Facebook and other social media. Rather than impersonating Americans as they did in 2016, Russian operatives are working to get Americans to repeat disinformation, the officials said. That strategy gets around social media companies’ rules that prohibit “inauthentic speech.”
And the Russians are working from servers in the United States, rather than abroad, knowing that American intelligence agencies are prohibited from operating inside the country. (The F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security are allowed to do so with aid from the intelligence agencies.)
Russian hackers have also infiltrated Iran’s cyberwarfare unit, perhaps with the intent of launching attacks that would look like they were coming from Tehran, the National Security Agency has warned.
Some officials believe that foreign powers, possibly including Russia, could use ransomware attacks, like those that have debilitated some local governments, to damage or interfere with voting systems or registration database. 
Trump replaced Maguire with Richard Grenell, a political operative with no intelligence background whom Trump previously appointed as ambassador to Germany. Jonathan Stevenson, senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, writes at NYT:
Mr. Grenell’s appointment also makes brazenly obvious what was already quite clear: that the president sees impartial intelligence an impediment to the implementation of his policies unless it caters to his own political biases and often counterfactual contentions.
Among those biases is his sympathy for far-right influences in Europe, which Mr. Grenell publicly and emphatically shares. Neither the president nor his new intelligence chief is likely to focus sufficiently on the rising threat of transnational right-wing extremist groups. The dubious contentions include the president’s view, contrary to U.S. intelligence assessments, that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 U.S. election.

Mr. Grenell has shown perhaps a little more finesse. In a 2016 Fox News opinion piece, he merely minimized Russian meddling in American political processes as a longstanding practice that should come as no surprise and was not especially significant.
The practical upshot, however, is the same: Mr. Grenell, like Mr. Trump, does not rate Russian efforts to manipulate American elections a pressing national security concern. \
From this perspective, Mr. Grenell’s appointment as the country’s highest-ranking intelligence officer looks intended to ensure that any U.S. intelligence assessments and warnings of Russian meddling in the 2020 election are downplayed and withheld from Congress, if not completely suppressed.