Updated at 11:36 a.m. ET
Russian influence operations in the United States will continue through this year’s midterm elections and beyond, the nation’s top spy warned Congress on Tuesday.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Senate intelligence committee that Moscow viewed its attack on the 2016 election as decidedly worthwhile given the chaos it has sown as compared to its relatively low cost.
That’s why such interference is likely to continue, he said.
The top intelligence officials in America are on Capitol Hill Tuesday as the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has convened its annual hearing on “worldwide threats.”
The hearing takes place every year, but this year’s installment takes place amid an ongoing counterintelligence investigation into whether President Trump’s campaign might have conspired with the Russians who attacked the 2016 election. It also follows reports about the losses of U.S. agents overseas, the theft of the NSA’s secret spying software and other major setbacks in the intelligence business.
More broadly, the world itself is also getting more dangerous.
“The risk of inter-state conflict is higher than any time since the Cold War,” Coats told senators in his opening statement.
Along with Coats, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, FBI Director Christopher Wray and National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers are also answering questions from lawmakers, as well as the heads of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Robert Cardillo.
The heads of the intelligence agencies were asked to restate their support for the 2017 report that concluded Russia had waged a campaign of what spies call “active measures” against the 2016 election. All of them did.
President Trump goes back and forth about whether he accepts there was such an attack or whether it was a “hoax” waged by sore-loser Democrats.
Members of the Senate committee differed about how well they thought the United States is preparing for continued influence operations against the democratic process.
Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., said he was frustrated at what he called a lack of action and a lack of coordination inside the intelligence agencies.
“We’ve had more than a year to get our act together and address the threat posed by Russia and implement a strategy to deter further attacks,” Warner said. “But I believe we still don’t have a comprehensive plan.”
Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, on the other hand, said extensive discussions in Congress and in the press since 2016 meant that Americans now know better what to expect.
“I think the American people are ready for this,” Risch said. “I think they’re going to look askance a lot more at the information attempting to be passed out through social media.”
Facebook and Twitter and other online platforms have become key conduits for disinformation that originates in Russia and attempts to amplify political division between Americans.
Warner and committee chairman Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., also used their opening statements to focus more generally on the peril from cyberattacks.
“Cyber is clearly the most challenging threat vector this country faces,” Burr said. “It’s also the most concerning, given how many aspects of our daily lives in the United States can be disrupted by a well-planned, well-executed cyberattack.”