On August 28, 2020, National Intelligence Director John Ratcliffe sent a letter notifying Congress that in-person briefings would stop
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ranking Member on the Senate Rules Committee with oversight over federal elections, Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Chair of the Committee on House Administration, Representative Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Representative Bennie G. Thompson (D-MI), Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, led a letter to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), urging Director John Ratcliffe to immediately reschedule critical in-person election security briefings ahead of the November general election. On August 28, 2020, Director Ratcliffe sent a letter notifying Congress that in-person briefings would stop.
“There are fewer than 64 days remaining until the election, and your office has confirmed that Russia and other foreign adversaries are actively working to undermine our democracy. As a former Member of Congress, you understand that in order to effectively do our jobs, Congress must receive comprehensive intelligence briefings on critical issues like the security of our elections. In addition to being necessary, these briefings are required by law,” the lawmakers wrote.
In June, Klobuchar led a letter with her colleagues to the Department of Defense, Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), and U.S. Cyber Command urging them to take additional measures to combat influence campaigns aimed at disenfranchising voters, especially voters of color, ahead of the 2020 election. Sophisticated influence campaigns like the one the Russian Internet Research Agency conducted in 2016 were specifically designed to divide Americans and spread disinformation to disenfranchise minority groups.
In February, Klobuchar and Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, sent a letter to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) requesting information regarding the establishment of the Malign Foreign Influence Response Center (the Center) and to ensure that they have the resources necessary to effectively combat foreign influence campaigns ahead of the upcoming elections.
Full text of the letter can be found HERE and below:
We write to express serious alarm regarding your decision to stop providing in-person election security briefings to Congress, and to insist that you immediately reschedule these critical briefings ahead of the November general election.
There are fewer than 64 days remaining until the election, and your office has confirmed that Russia and other foreign adversaries are actively working to undermine our democracy. As a former Member of Congress, you understand that in order to effectively do our jobs, Congress must receive comprehensive intelligence briefings on critical issues like the security of our elections. In addition to being necessary, these briefings are required by law.
The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 established the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). The law requires that the Director of National Intelligence “fully and currently inform” Congress. Under the National Defense Authorization Act of FY 2020, there are also statutory requirements to brief Congress. On August 7, following election security briefings to members of Congress, the ODNI affirmed in a statement that “there will continue to be demand for more information as the election approaches. The IC [Intelligence Community] has and will continue to provide classified election threat briefings to the presidential campaigns, political committees and all Members of Congress.”
The IC acknowledges the importance of these briefings in its own words. Your mission statement explains that the IC “…deliver[s] foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information to America's leaders” including policymakers outside the executive branch. As you know, Congress does not simply provide oversight; these critical intelligence briefings provide important information to inform our policymaking process, as your own mission statement recognizes.
The same day, ODNI issued a public statement providing an unclassified overview of foreign threats to the 2020 election, including efforts to influence voters, shift U.S. policies, increase public discord, and undermine confidence in our democratic process. The ODNI specifically warned that foreign adversaries like Russia “may also seek to compromise election infrastructure by interfering with the voting process, stealing sensitive data, or calling into question the validity of the election results.” Information about these serious threats to our elections must be provided to those elected to represent the American people.
However, on August 28, 2020, you sent a letter notifying Congress that in-person briefings would stop and that “the ODNI will primarily meet its obligation to keep Congress fully and currently informed leading into the Presidential election through written finished intelligence products.” The important dialogue that comes from a briefing cannot be understated, as you’re well aware. This is why the IC has for decades arranged for senior members of every administration to have intelligence briefers who provide regular, often daily, briefings, rather than simply sending written products to review. Intelligence memos are not a substitute for full congressional briefings. It is also unacceptable to fully brief only one Committee on matters related to federal elections.
As Members of the House and Senate with jurisdiction over federal elections, we call on you to immediately resume in-person briefings. We also remind you that the ODNI does not own the intelligence it collects on behalf of the American people, it is a custodian of the information. In addition to the power to establish and fund the ODNI, Congress has the power to compel information from it.
As our nation faces grave threats to our election system from determined adversaries, we must work together to protect our democracy. We are thankful to the brave men and women of the Intelligence Community who do their work without fear or favor to protect our country. We look forward to seeing them in the near future for election security briefings.