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DNI Coats Calls for 'National Cry' to Resist Ongoing Russian Campaign Ops

WASHINGTON -- Intelligence community leaders told the Senate Intelligence Committee today that Russia's campaign influence operation has not abated heading into midterm elections, while FBI Director Christopher Wray said President Trump has not directed the IC to take steps to stop the election meddling.

"Russian trolls and bots continue to push divisive content, both in the United States, and against all our allies in Europe -- not only the UK, but, as we've talked before, France, Germany, Netherlands. And we've also heard recent indications of Russian activities in Mexico," Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) said at the broad hearing on worldwide threats. "The IC needs to stay on top of this issue, and I'm worried that we don't have a clear line of assignment."

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats -- who, in the wake of the House Intelligence Committee GOP staff memo alleging FISA abuses, began by thanking lawmakers for renewing Section 702 surveillance authorities that the IC considers the "most important collection issue against foreign terrorists and threats to America" -- said that Russia continues to deploy their  influence efforts "because it's relatively cheap, it's low-risk, it offers what they perceive as plausible deniability and it's proven to be effective at sowing division."

"We expect Russia to continue using propaganda, social media, false-flag personas, sympathetic spokesmen and other means to influence, to try to build on its wide range of operations and exacerbate social and political fissures in the United States," Coats added. "There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful, and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations."

Warner asked the leaders at the witness table whether they agreed with the assessment that Russia will "try to continue to intervene in our elections in 2018 and 2020."

"This is not going to change or stop," replied National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers.

Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley agreed: "It is not going to change, nor is it going to stop."

Coats noted that "throughout the entire community, we have not seen any evidence of any significant change from last year."

Asked who is in charge of addressing the threat posed by operations of foreign nations on social media, Coats said that responsibility is spread among "several agencies throughout the federal government that have equities in this, and we are working together to try to integrate that process."

"It clearly is something that needs to be addressed, and addressed as quickly as possible... we are keen on moving forward in terms of not only identification, but relative response and things that we can do to prevent this from happening," the DNI added. "We are gaining more, I think, support -- I guess is the right word -- from the private sector, who are beginning to recognize ever more the issues that are faced with the material that comes through their processes. We cannot, as a government, direct them what to do. But we certainly are spending every effort we can to work with them to provide some answers to this question."