The intelligence community’s top brass made one thing clear before a Senate panel on Tuesday: “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,” Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats said. Russia, he continued, sees its past efforts as successful “and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations.” It says a lot that such truth-telling should seem remarkable. But for an administration run by a man who regularly stokes doubt about such facts, this was a refreshing dose of honesty from a group that included several of President Trump’s appointees.
Though Mr. Trump may see talk of 2016 election meddling as a political threat — and, perhaps, further Russian involvement as a potential political benefit — there are many in the government who are appropriately alarmed at the hostile actions of a foreign adversary. The question is whether they will do enough, particularly without strong White House support, to counter the next Russian influence campaign.
Part of the problem was visible in the contretemps over the Nunes memo, propelled in part by Russian social media accounts, which the president ultimately used to issue trumped-up claims about law enforcement malfeasance in its Russia investigation. These tactics mirror other documented Russian influence efforts here and in European democracies aimed at inflaming preexisting social tensions. But the sowing of doubt and division is only one aspect of the threat. Even more alarming is the possibility that Russian cyberintrusions could disrupt voter-registration files, vote counting and election infrastructure, or cast doubt on election results.