FBI official warns Russia wants to see US 'tear ourselves apart' ahead of presidential election

A member of the FBI's Foreign Influence Task Force accused Russia of conducting brazen operations aimed at spreading disinformation 

Louise Hall
Tuesday 25 February 2020 00:26 GMT
National security adviser Robert O'Brien disputes Russian meddling to favour Donald Trump's reelection

An FBI official has warned that Russia wants to watch Americans “tear ourselves apart” in the run-up to the US elections.

David Porter, an assistant section chief with the FBI's Foreign Influence Task Force accused Russia of conducting operations aimed at spreading disinformation.

Mr Porter suggested that this was in an attempt to exploit lines of division in society and sow doubt about the integrity of US elections and the ability of its leaders to govern effectively.

"The primary objective is not to create a particular version of the truth but rather to cloud the truth and erode our ability to find it, creating a sentiment that no narrative or news source can be trusted at all," Mr Porter said.

He did not address the briefing or if Russia has a preference for a particular candidate. But he said that Russia was generally engaged in "information confrontation” aimed at blurring facts from fiction and undermining confidence in America’s democratic institutions.

The FBI formed the Foreign Influence Task Force after widespread interference by Russia in the 2016 presidential campaign.

While the task force was meant to focus primarily on Russia, it also covers works to counter influence operations from adversaries including China, North Korea, and Iran.

However, Mr Porter has said that Beijing’s goal is less about creating chaos in the US and more about developing its own economy.

"To put it simply, in this space, Russia wants to watch us tear ourselves apart, while it seems that China would rather manage our gradual economic decline over the course of generations," Mr Porter said.

He was speaking at an election security conference on Capitol Hill just days after conflicting accounts emerged of a closed-door briefing between intelligence officials and House lawmakers on threats from foreign nations on the 2020 election.

Intelligence officials have not commented publicly on the briefing. One intelligence official said lawmakers were not told that Russia was working directly to aid Donald Trump.

However, other people familiar with the meeting said they were told the Kremlin was looking to help Mr Trump's candidacy.

Carrie Cordero, a former Justice Department national security lawyer, lamented the lack of public information about the briefing.

A recent Senate Intelligence Committee report faulted the Barack Obama administration for not being sufficiently transparent about Russian interference ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

"What I have really been encouraging is that the government be more forthcoming of information that is more indicative of the current election threats," Ms Cordero said.

She said it remains unclear from the news reporting exactly what message was communicated to the committee.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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