No evidence of midterm vote tampering, but influence operations persisted: US intelligence

The intelligence assessment was mandated by a Trump executive order.

December 22, 2018, 4:20 AM

The intelligence community told the White House Friday that it did not find evidence that votes or vote tallies were tampered with during the 2018 midterm elections, though Russia and others did continue online and social media influence campaigns.

“At this time, the Intelligence Community does not have intelligence reporting that indicates any compromise of our nation’s election infrastructure that would have prevented voting, changed vote counts, or disrupted the ability to tally votes,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said in a prepared statement. “The activity we did see was consistent with what we shared in the weeks leading up to the election. Russia, and other foreign countries, including China and Iran, conducted influence activities and messaging campaigns targeted at the United States to promote their strategic interests.”

Coats' statement indicates the assessment, which has not been made public, largely conforms to an informal analysis made by the Department of Homeland Security days after the November elections.

The intelligence community is made up of some 17 government organizations, including several with investigative or espionage capabilities related to foreign threats like the FBI, CIA, National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.

In the run-up to the midterms, Christopher Krebs, a top election security official at Homeland Security, said the U.S. government was on the lookout for the three major methods of interference: a hack-and-leak campaign, like the one that splashed the contents of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails across the internet; the probing of election infrastructure systems through cyber activity, as U.S. officials say Russia likely did to systems in all 50 states in the last election; and the online influence campaign in which a Russian troll factory purportedly set up hundreds of fake social media accounts, pretending to be Americans in an effort to stoke political divides and sow chaos online.

A view of the four-story building known as the "troll factory" in St. Petersburg, Russia, Feb. 17, 2018.
Naira Davlashyan/AP, FILE

Krebs said that while Russian trolls -- and some Iranian operators –- appeared to remain active online and social media, the department did not see significant evidence of the first two tactics. When it comes to election infrastructure, a DHS official said on election night that there was extensive scanning of election systems, but nothing that was out of the usual or anything that the government could attribute to any foreign power. A DHS official told ABC News in the days after the election that the assessment still stood.

John Cohen, a former senior DHS official and current ABC News consultant, warned Friday that “one doesn’t have to hack an election system to impact the results of an election.”

“If Russia was able to use misinformation to influence the opinion of voters prior to voting, then they influenced the outcome of the election,” he said.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats arrives for a closed senators-only Capitol Hill briefing on election security at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Aug. 22, 2018.
Joshua Roberts/Reuters, FILE

Friday’s report did not attempt to measure what effect, if any, the influence operations had on the vote.

“The U.S. intelligence community is charged with monitoring and assessing the intentions, capabilities and actions of foreign actors; it does not analyze U.S. political processes or U.S. public opinion,” Coats said.

In the Sept. 12 executive order that mandated regular election assessments, Trump declared a “national emergency” to deal with election interference and mandated that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and others in the intelligence community assess any evidence of interference, as “foreign powers have historically sought to exploit America’s free and open political system.”

White House National Security Council spokesperson Garrett Marquis said that the Trump administration is currently reviewing the intelligence community’s assessment and expects another report on election infrastructure integrity from the Department of Justice and Homeland Security.

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