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FBI’s Wray warns opportunity ‘ample’ for US election meddling

FBI director Christopher Wray, testifies at the House Committee on Homeland Security during a hearing on 'worldwide threats to the homeland' in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill September 17, 2020 in Washington, DC. (John McDonnell - Pool/Getty Images)
September 19, 2020

Foreign adversaries including Russia and China have “ample opportunity” to interfere in the U.S. presidential campaign, primarily through disinformation, FBI Director Christopher Wray warned Thursday.

“This year’s election cycle, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, provides ample opportunity for hostile foreign actors to conduct disinformation campaigns and foreign influence operations in an effort to mislead, sow discord and, ultimately, undermine confidence in our democratic institutions and values,” Wray said in prepared testimony for a House Homeland Security Committee hearing on threats to the nation.

Wray said U.S. agencies previously focused on “efforts to combat malign foreign influence focused solely on the threat posed by Russia.” But he said the FBI is “widening its aperture” leading into the Nov. 3 election “to confront malign foreign operations of China, Iran, and other global adversaries.”

The hearing opened with controversy, as Acting Homeland Secretary Chad Wolf declined to appear even after the Democratic-led committee subpoenaed him. Wolf has cited his pending nomination for the secretary’s position and the tradition of nominees not commenting before their Senate confirmation hearings.

In a statement on Wednesday, Ken Cuccinelli, who’s serving as Wolf’s deputy, denounced “this transparent and brazen attempt at Beltway political theater.”

Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the committee’s chairman, called Wolf’s absence “an appropriate metaphor for the Trump administration’s dereliction of duty” on homeland security issues. He noted Wolf has made public comments, including in appearances on Fox News.

Brian Murphy, who was the Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence chief until he was demoted, has filed a whistle-blower complaint asserting that Trump administration officials suppressed intelligence on Russian election interference and the threat from white supremacists.

Murphy said the department’s chief of staff send him an email directing him to stop dissemination of intelligence products about Russian disinformation efforts because it “made the president look bad,” according to the complaint filed with the DHS inspector general. President Donald Trump dismisses as a hoax the intelligence community’s findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help him win.

Wolf has said Murphy fabricated his allegations after he was demoted for conducting surveillance of reporters covering protests.


© 2020 Bloomberg News

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