Russia spreading disinformation about Biden's mental health: DHS

A previously planned release was withheld by DHS.

September 8, 2020, 3:54 PM

The Department of Homeland Security has found that Russia is spreading disinformation regarding former Vice President Joe Biden’s mental health, according to a DHS bulletin obtained by ABC News.

ABC News previously reported that DHS withheld publication of an intelligence bulletin warning law enforcement agencies of a Russian scheme to promote “allegations about the poor mental health” of Biden. The draft bulletin, titled “Russia Likely to Denigrate Health of US Candidates to Influence 2020 Election,” was submitted to the agency’s legislative and public affairs office for review on July 7. The analysis was not meant for public consumption, but it was set to be distributed to federal, state and local law enforcement partners two days later, on July 9, the emails show. It was not -- and after an uproar in the media an updated version of the bulletin was released Tuesday, providing details on what the Russian operation looks like.

Russian actors are spreading "unsubstantiated allegations" that former Biden is of "ill-health," the DHS bulletin says, and speculates that "this narrative will resonate with some American voters and reduce their confidence in him as a candidate."

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with winners of the Leaders of Russia contest outside Moscow, Sept. 8, 2020.
Mikhail Klimentyev/AP

"Russia is using both covert proxy websites and overt state media to amplify these allegations, often in conjunction with other election-related malign influence narratives, which is consistent with their tactics in 2016 to undermine a former presidential candidate," it continues.

The bulletin says the current effort has been ongoing since September 2019.

"Russian covert and covert influence actors posted negative commentary and unsubstantiated allegations about the poor mental health of Biden. For example, proxy websites have claimed that the candidates gaffes are symptoms of dementia, that he is mentally unfit for the presidency, and that he is unlikely to serve his full term due to his age," the bulletin reads.

PHOTO: Democratic U.S. presidential nominee  Joe Biden discusses the economy during a speech in Wilmington, Del., Sept. 4, 2020.
Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Joe Biden discusses the economy during a speech in Wilmington, Del., Sept. 4, 2020.
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President Donald Trump's campaign has also maintained an effort to depict Biden, who turns 78 shortly after Election Day, as mentally unfit for office.

One such example came in July, when the Trump campaign aired an ad in 12 states that questioned Biden’s fitness for office.

"Joe Biden is slipping," a narrator in the ad says. "Now at the age of 77 years old and running for president for the third time, Biden is clearly diminished. Joe Biden does not have the strength, stamina and mental fortitude required to lead this country."

A Department of Homeland Security flag is displayed outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in Washington, July 17, 2020.
Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

Last week on Fox News, DHS Acting Secretary Chad Wolf refuted critics quoted in the ABC story who characterized the initial bulletin as being withheld for political reasons, calling the story “inaccurate.” Instead, he said, the bulletin's release was delayed for quality control reasons.

"The report that you referenced was, at the end of the day, a very poorly written report. I had questions about it when I talked to career officials in I&A [Intelligence and Analysis] in the office that produced the report,” Wolf said. “They also had questions about it. They're hard at work on rewriting that report, putting it in better context. I hope to see that record out soon."

That updated bulletin also refers to China and Iran raising questions about Trump’s mental health but "these efforts probably fall short of Russia’s more sustained, coordinated malign influence operations across multiple overt and covert platforms to undermine other US politicians" it reads.

The bulletin says DHS has “high confidence” in the assessment that was eventually released.

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