U.S. intelligence agencies do not see Russia as capable of using cyberespionage to alter the outcome of Tuesday’s presidential election, but they have warned that Moscow may continue meddling after the voting has ended to sow doubts about the legitimacy of the result, U.S. officials said. The assessment reflects widespread concern among U.S. spy agencies that a months-long campaign by Russia to rattle the mechanisms of American democracy will probably continue after polls close on one of the most polarizing races in recent history, extending and amplifying the political turbulence. U.S. security officials have not ruled out Russian-sponsored disruption on Election Day. In recent weeks, officials at the Department of Homeland Security have collected evidence of apparent Russian “scanning” of state-run databases and computer voting systems. “Whether they were really trying hard to get in, it’s not clear,” a U.S. official said.
Still, the decentralized nature of U.S. polling would make it extraordinarily difficult to subvert a nationwide race. Instead, U.S. officials said it is more likely that Russia would use hacking tools to expose or fabricate signs of vote-rigging, aiming to delegitimize an election outcome that Republican candidate Donald Trump has said he may refuse to accept if he does not win.
“I think it’s correct to say the Russians don’t think they can dictate the outcome,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. But even as votes are being tallied Tuesday, Schiff said, Russian intelligence services are likely to be “looking through their troves of hacked documents and seeing what they can release.”