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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, a former Indiana senator, speaks Tuesday at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Russia's meddling in U.S. elections and other worldwide threats.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018 1:00 am

Coats: Election meddling 'ongoing'

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

National Intelligence Director Dan Coats called Tuesday for a “national cry” against Russian meddling in this year's federal, state and local elections.

Coats told members of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee that they “need to assume that there might be interference” after Russia “upped their game” by manipulating social media ahead of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

“We need to inform the American public that this is real, that this is going to be happening and resilience (is) needed for us to stand up and say we're not going to allow some Russian to tell us how to vote and how to run our country. I think there needs to be a national cry for that,” the former Indiana senator said in remarks broadcast by C-SPAN.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., pressed Coats and other intelligence leaders on whether President Donald Trump has directed them “to take specific actions to confront and blunt Russian influence activities that are ongoing.”

Coats replied, “We take all kinds of steps to disrupt Russian activities in terms of what they're trying to do.” CIA Director Mike Pompeo said there is a “significant effort” by intelligence agencies “to do our best to push back against this threat.”

Coats, a former member of the Intelligence Committee, guided a virtual tour Tuesday of security threats faced by the United States and its allies. He mentioned North Korea's nuclear weapons, China's growing influence, terrorist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Russia's ever-increasing authoritarianism, Iran's ambitions for dominance in the Middle East, unrest in Turkey and Syria, conflict in Iraq and war in Yemen.

He told members that if they were to fly around the Earth “and stopped at every hot spot in this world, you would make multiple dozens of stops. That's the kind of threat that we face.”

He outlined several threat assessments:

Cyber espionage and warfare. Coats said foreign governments, terrorist groups, criminal organizations and individuals “are using cyber to penetrate virtually every major action that takes place in the United States.” He said Russia, China, Iran and North Korea “pose the greatest threats” to the electronic operations of U.S. government and commerce.

Weapons of mass destruction. North Korea's nuclear, biological and chemical warfare programs make it “the most volatile and confrontational WMD threat in the coming year,” Coats said. He added: “Russia will remain the most capable WMD power and is expanding its nuclear weapon capabilities. China will continue to expand its weapons of mass destruction options and diversify its nuclear arsenal.”

Terrorism. The threat of terrorist attacks “is pronounced,” Coats said, including from the Islamic State, al-Qaida, Hezbollah and Iran-sponsored activities. “U.S.-based, homegrown violent extremists, including inspired and self-radicalized individuals, represent the primary and most-difficult-to-detect Sunni terrorism threat in the United States,” he said.

Space. Russia and China will launch more reconnaissance, communications and navigational satellites, Coats predicted, and their “counterspace weapons will mature over the next few years as each country pursues anti-satellite weapons.”

Transnational organized crime. Global criminal organizations “will supply the dominant share of illicit drugs”  and “will continue to traffic in human life,” Coats forecast.