William R. Evanina is the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center. Two weeks ago he published a warning that China, Iran and Russia were all looking to influence the 2020 election:
The intelligence warning on Friday did not accuse the Chinese of trying to hack the vote; instead it said they were using their influence “to shape the policy environment in the United States” and to pressure politicians “it views as opposed to China’s interests.”
Russia, the warning said, was continuing to “spread disinformation in the U.S. that is designed to undermine confidence in our democratic process,” and it described Iran as an emerging actor in election interference, seeking to spread disinformation and “recirculating anti-U.S. content.”
At the time, Democrats in Congress warned that Evanina’s warning, “does not go nearly far enough in arming the American people with the knowledge they need about how foreign powers are seeking to influence our political process.” Pelosi reportedly “chastised” Evanina for not being more specific.
Today, Evanina released a statement which is much more direct. In it he says that China and Iran both want Trump to lose the election and Russia wants Joe Biden to lose.
Many foreign actors have a preference for who wins the election, which they express through a range of overt and private statements; covert influence efforts are rarer. We are primarily concerned about the ongoing and potential activity by China, Russia, and Iran.
CHINA – We assess that China prefers that President Trump – whom Beijing sees as unpredictable – does not win reelection. China has been expanding its influence efforts ahead of November 2020 to shape the policy environment in the United States, pressure political figures it views as opposed to China’s interests, and deflect and counter criticism of China. Although China will continue to weigh the risks and benefits of aggressive action, its public rhetoric over the past few months has grown increasingly critical of the current Administration’s COVID-19 response, closure of China’s Houston Consulate, and actions on other issues. For example, it has harshly criticized the Administration’s statements and actions on Hong Kong, TikTok, the legal status of the South China Sea, and China’s efforts to dominate the 5G market. Beijing recognizes that all of these efforts might affect the presidential race.
RUSSIA – We assess that Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia “establishment.” This is consistent with Moscow’s public criticism of him when he was Vice President for his role in the Obama Administration’s policies on Ukraine and its support for the anti-Putin opposition inside Russia. For example, pro-Russia Ukrainian parliamentarian Andriy Derkach is spreading claims about corruption – including through publicizing leaked phone calls – to undermine former Vice President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party. Some Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to boost President Trump’s candidacy on social media and Russian television.
IRAN – We assess that Iran seeks to undermine U.S. democratic institutions, President Trump, and to divide the country in advance of the 2020 elections. Iran’s efforts along these lines probably will focus on on-line influence, such as spreading disinformation on social media and recirculating anti-U.S. content. Tehran’s motivation to conduct such activities is, in part, driven by a perception that President Trump’s reelection would result in a continuation of U.S. pressure on Iran in an effort to foment regime change.
In a story about the partisan battle over the intelligence, CNN reports that Democrats have been pushing for a clearer statement that Russia is working against Joe Biden:
Democrats are making the case that intelligence reviewed by members of Congress and both campaigns adds up to a broader Russian interference effort intended to damage Biden’s candidacy and, in turn, help President Donald Trump.
However, Republicans argue that there is not clear evidence that foreign actors seeking to interfere in the 2020 race, prefer one candidate over the other.
Meanwhile, intelligence officials caught in the middle see both sides playing partisan games:
Intelligence and law enforcement officials familiar with the briefings have expressed frustration that some lawmakers have sought to politicize the information. Some Republicans appeared to downplay information related to foreign interference while some Democrats homed-in only on information related to Russia, the officials say.
It’s not hard to see what Pelosi and the Democrats were hoping for here. They learned that Russia is working against Biden and they wanted a “neutral” statement from the IC emphasizing that fact so they could once again play the Russian influence card against Trump. To get it they put pressure on Evanina to release a more detailed statement. And now they have it though I doubt it’s what they wanted. Today’s press release will allow them to claim that Russia appears to support Trump’s reelection but only at the cost of acknowledging China (and Iran) would prefer Joe Biden.
We spent two years investigating the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia. Ultimately the Democratic push to drive that investigation into the news every day for years has arguably done a lot more damage to American’s confidence in the system than anything Russia actually did.
My guess is that Democrats, having no shame, will play the Russia card loudly and often and will pretend the rest of today’s press release doesn’t exist. And the media will mostly let them get away with it because it’s election season and most of them are progressives who, like China, want to see Trump lose.