"I like Putin, he likes me. We get along." -- Donald J. Trump, Vandalia, Ohio, September 21, 2020
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his top aides are “probably directing” a Russian foreign influence operation to interfere in the 2020 presidential election against former vice president Joe Biden, which involves a prominent Ukrainian lawmaker connected to President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, a top-secret CIA assessment concluded, according to two sources who reviewed it.
On Aug. 31, the CIA published an assessment of Russian efforts to interfere in the November election in an internal, highly classified report called the CIA Worldwide Intelligence Review, the sources said. CIA analysts compiled the assessment with input from the National Security Agency and the FBI, based on several dozen pieces of information gleaned from public, unclassified and classified intelligence sources. The assessment includes details of the CIA’s analysis of the activities of Ukrainian lawmaker Andriy Derkach to disseminate disparaging information about Biden inside the United States through lobbyists, Congress, the media and contacts with figures close to the president.
“We assess that President Vladimir Putin and the senior most Russian officials are aware of and probably directing Russia’s influence operations aimed at denigrating the former U.S. Vice President, supporting the U.S. president and fueling public discord ahead of the U.S. election in November,” the first line of the document says, according to the sources.
Four years ago, when Russian intelligence agencies engaged in a systematic attempt to influence the American presidential election, the disinformation they fed American voters required some real imagination at the troll farms producing the ads.
There was the exaggerated Texas secession movement, a famous ad in which Satan arm-wrestles Jesus while declaring, “If I win, Clinton wins,” and an effort to recruit protesters and counterprotesters to the same, invented rally over the rapid spread of Islamic influence in the United States.
This year, their task is much easier. They are largely amplifying misleading statements from President Trump, mostly about the dangers of mail-in ballots.
In interviews, a range of officials and private analysts said that Mr. Trump was feeding many of the disinformation campaigns they were struggling to halt. And rather than travel the back roads of America searching for divisive issues — as three Russians from the Internet Research Agency did in 2016 — they are staying home, grabbing screenshots of Mr. Trump’s Twitter posts, or quoting his misleading statements and then amplifying those messages.