WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chairwoman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee with oversight over federal elections, and Jack Reed (D-RI), Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee led 15 of their colleagues urged U.S. intelligence agencies to prepare to combat Russian disinformation campaigns targeting the upcoming 2022 midterm elections.
“As the Russian invasion of Ukraine has led to an increase in Russian disinformation and warnings of potential cyberattacks, we urge you to ensure that your agencies are prepared to quickly and effectively counter Russian influence campaigns targeting the 2022 elections…Experts have warned that the increase in Russian disinformation and cyber threats creates a security concern for U.S. elections and that Russia will likely view the 2022 elections as a “ripe target” for influence operations,” the senators wrote.
“Our democracy has been a shining beacon for the world and as we continue to assist Ukraine and our European allies, we must also be vigilant in guarding against threats to our own system of government,” the senators continued. “With primaries underway for the 2022 midterm election cycle and ongoing preparations for the November general election, it is vital that the federal government does everything in its power to ensure our elections are free and fair. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.”
In addition to Klobuchar and Reed, the letter was also signed by Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tina Smith (D-MN), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI).
The letter was sent to Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Christopher Wray, and Director of the National Security Agency and Commander of U.S. Cyber Command General Paul Nakasone.
As Chairwoman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee with oversight over federal elections, Klobuchar has led efforts to strengthen election security and combat election-related disinformation campaigns.
In December, Klobuchar, Reed, and 11 of their colleagues pressed Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg on the company’s failure to address the increasing amount of election-related disinformation on his platform. Last November, Klobuchar and Senator Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) also called on Zuckerberg to provide an update on Meta’s efforts to combat Spanish language election misinformation.
In December 2020, Klobuchar and Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) pressed Google to improve its ad policies and combat election-related disinformation.
Before the 2020 election, Klobuchar led four colleagues in urging the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to take action to prevent ongoing threats of foreign election interference. In June 2020, Klobuchar, Reed, and 13 of their colleagues called on the country’s top intelligence agencies to take action to combat disinformation campaigns aimed at disenfranchising voters.
In 2019, a provision based on legislation introduced by Klobuchar and Reed to create a Foreign Malign Influence Response Center at ODNI was enacted as part of the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Reauthorization Act. The Center will enable officials from across the intelligence community to collaborate and ensure that agencies and departments work together to assess influence operations with a whole-of-government approach.
The full text of the letter can be found HERE and below:
Dear Secretary Austin, Secretary Mayorkas, Director Haines, Director Wray, and General Nakasone:
We write to you as leaders of agencies charged with combating foreign influence operations and cyberattacks regarding the security of our elections during the 2022 federal election cycle. As the Russian invasion of Ukraine has led to an increase in Russian disinformation and warnings of potential cyberattacks, we urge you to ensure that your agencies are prepared to quickly and effectively counter Russian influence campaigns targeting the 2022 elections.
In the weeks leading up to Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, intelligence officials and disinformation experts began warning about an increase in Russian disinformation and the potential for cyberattacks against targets in the United States. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), Federal Bureau of Investigation, and National Security Agency issued an advisory regarding Russian cyberthreats to critical infrastructure – which includes election infrastructure – and CISA issued a warning that the private sector should be prepared to defend against Russian cyberattacks. Additionally, the Department of State warned “the spread of disinformation and propaganda attempting to paint Ukraine and Ukrainian government officials as the aggressor in the Russia-Ukraine relationship” are intended to sway Western opinion of the conflict.
Experts have warned that the increase in Russian disinformation and cyber threats creates a security concern for U.S. elections and that Russia will likely view the 2022 elections as a “ripe target” for influence operations.
Russia’s history of interfering in our last three federal election cycles underscores the urgency of the current warnings. The intelligence community has confirmed that Russia interfered in previous U.S. elections through influence operations and cyber espionage and that our elections remain a target. In 2016, Russia conducted disinformation campaigns that reached tens of millions of Americans and were designed to divide and mislead voters. Following the 2018 midterm elections, analysis of Russian influence operations indicated that Russia was trying to “aggravate” and divide Americans. During the 2020 election cycle the intelligence community had to counter influence operations authorized by President Putin aimed at undermining candidates and the election, according to intelligence declassified and released in March 2021. Officials from both parties, including Director Haines and former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, have warned about Russia’s ongoing efforts to influence and weaken our democratic institutions, and the 2022 Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community concluded that Russia “views U.S. elections as opportunities for malign influence as part of its larger foreign policy strategy.”
In the lead-up to and since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, government officials have worked to quickly and appropriately declassify and disseminate intelligence on Russian influence operations in an effort to unite Ukraine’s allies and prevent Russia’s disinformation from taking hold. Disinformation experts have reported that this strategy has been effective in countering Russian influence operations, and Congress as well as federal agencies have also supported this strategy for countering election-related threats. It is for these reasons that we urge your agencies to prepare to respond to likely Russian efforts in the 2022 elections quickly and effectively.
Our democracy has been a shining beacon for the world and as we continue to assist Ukraine and our European allies, we must also be vigilant in guarding against threats to our own system of government. With primaries underway for the 2022 midterm election cycle and ongoing preparations for the November general election, it is vital that the federal government does everything in its power to ensure the integrity of our elections against foreign threats. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.