DHS bulletin warns that Russia is ‘amplifying’ mail-in voter fraud claims

Report alleges ‘malign influence actors’ have been ‘spreading disinformation’ since March

James Crump@thejamescrump
Friday 04 September 2020 01:59
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Barr: Officials planning mass mail-in voting 'playing with fire'

Russia has reportedly attempted to “amplify” concerns about the legitimacy of mail-in voting, as president Donald Trump has falsely claimed for months that the practice will lead to widespread fraud.

Analysts in the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) intelligence branch issued a warning to federal and state law enforcement officials on Thursday that “Russian malign influence actors” have focused misinformation campaigns around mail-in-voting, according to a bulletin obtained by ABC News.

In the bulletin, analysts wrote that they believe with “high confidence” that the Russian malign actors have been “spreading disinformation” about mail-in-voting since at least March.

“Russian state media and proxy websites in mid-August 2020 criticised the integrity of expanded and universal vote-by-mail, claiming ineligible voters could receive ballots due to out-of-date voter rolls, leaving a vast amount of ballots unaccounted for and vulnerable to tampering,” analysts wrote in the bulletin obtained by ABC.

“These websites also alleged that vote-by-mail processes would overburden the US Postal Service (USPS) and local boards of election, delaying vote tabulation and creating more opportunities for fraud and error,” analysts added.

Due to logistical concerns around the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it is expected that more Americans will vote absentee in November’s presidential election than ever before, according to ABC.

However, Mr Trump has repeatedly spoken publicly against people being able to vote by mail in this year’s presidential election and has claimed without evidence that it will cause a large increase in voter fraud.

In May, the president falsely claimed that mail-in voting will enable “thousands of forgeries”, despite voting by mail in Florida himself in March for the Republican primary.

After months of criticising mail-in voting, the president told Chris Wallace of Fox News in late July that he might not accept a losing result in November’s presidential election, because “mail-in voting is going to rig” it.

Additionally, on Wednesday, Twitter and Facebook flagged a post from the president, after he told North Carolina residents to vote at the polls after voting by mail to “make sure it counted”, despite the practice breaking federal law.

John Cohen, the former undersecretary for intelligence at DHS under president Barack Obama, told ABC that there is a worrying amount of parallels between the Trump campaign and the alleged Russian misinformation scheme.

He added: “This most recent DHS intelligence report along with other recent reporting by intelligence and law enforcement entities should put to rest any doubts that Russia is spreading conspiracy theories and lies in an effort to influence the outcome of the 2020 election by undermining confidence in the election process and influence voter opinion.”

News of the bulletin comes one day after ABC reported that the DHS withheld the publication of an intelligence bulletin, which warned the agency of a Russian scheme to spread misinformation about the mental health of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

The bulletin, titled “Russia Likely to Denigrate Health of US Candidates to Influence 2020 Election,” was sent to the agency’s legislative and public affairs office for review on 7 July, according to internal emails and a draft of the bulletin obtained by ABC.

In the draft, analysts said with “high confidence” that “Russian malign influence actors are likely to continue denigrating presidential candidates through allegations of poor mental or physical health to influence the outcome of the 2020 election.”

The bulletin was not sent out to law enforcement agencies, and a DHS spokesperson told ABC that its circulation was delayed because it did not meet the agency’s standards

The DHS spokesperson added that the agency “generally does not comment on leaked documents, this particular draft product lacked the necessary context and evidence for broader dissemination outside of the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis”.

They added: “After briefing the acting secretary and he asked questions, career leadership decided to delay the product for further review.”

Trump campaign spokesperson Tim Murtagh told ABC about the claims of Russian misinformation schemes: “We don’t need or want any foreign interference [in the 2020 election].” He claimed that “president Trump will beat Joe Biden fair and square”.

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