US intelligence chiefs say Russia meddling threatens 2018 vote

FBI Director Christopher Wray CIA Director Mike Pompeo DNI Dan Coats and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Robert Ashley

America's leading intelligence agencies concluded past year that Russian President Vladimir Putin had directed a broad intelligence effort to influence the 2016 presidential election to undermine the campaign of Democrat Hillary Clinton and boost Donald Trump's chances.

Officials tell ABC News that the Russians plan not only to use social media to sow discord through "fake news" but are probing state election systems to see if they can be infiltrated.

"We do have some capabilities, offensively, to raise the cost for those who would dare challenge the United States' elections".

Intelligence agencies are already seeing hard evidence that the Russians will perhaps act more aggressively than in 2016.

A top United States intelligence official has expressed caution, saying that Russian Federation views USA mid-term elections slated for November as a potential target for its influence operations, including cyber attacks. "In recent years, we've seen major technologies firms whose rise is attributed in part to the illicit access of USA technology and IP", Warner said.

"The decision time is becoming ever closer in terms of how we respond to this", Coats said in remarks to the Senate Intelligence Committee, quoted by AFP.

Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., said he wanted the report to appear before this year's primaries and to convene another open hearing focusing on the tasks involved with safeguarding elections.

National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers warned that "this is not going to change or stop".

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The disconnect between Trump and his senior-most intelligence advisers has raised concerns that the US government will not be able to mount an effective plan to beat back Russian influence operations in the upcoming midterm election. He didn't increase sanctions on Russian Federation when he had a chance to do so. "I think there needs to be a national cry for that".

"All morning we've heard the story of Russian Federation influencing our campaigns and indeed in the current campaigns for the midterms", said Sen.

"Has the president directed you and your agency to take specific action to confront and blunt Russian influence activities that are ongoing?" Sen.

"Directed by the president?" Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island, asked FBI Director Christopher Wray.

Officials also basically guaranteed the Russians are going to continue meddling in USA elections this year.

Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo said: "We have seen Russian activity and intentions to have an impact on the next election cycle here".

Pakistan is developing new types of nuclear weapons, including short-range tactical weapons, Coats told lawmakers during a Congressional hearing on worldwide threats organised by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He said al-Qaida "will remain a major actor in global terrorism" and will remain "intent on attacking the United States and USA interests overseas". "From U.S. businesses, to the federal government, to state and local governments, the United States is threatened by cyber attacks every day".

So the next milestone in the inquiry into Russian election interference - at least in the Senate - could be the release of the intelligence committee's long-awaited report finally giving the full story about what happened in 2016.

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