The US intelligence community has assessed that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2020 election by conducting influence operations aimed at “denigrating President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party, supporting former President Trump, undermining public confidence in the electoral process, and exacerbating sociopolitical divisions in the US,” according to a new report released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence Tuesday.
The landmark intelligence report provides the most comprehensive assessment of foreign threats to the 2020 elections to date, detailing extensive influence operations by US adversaries including Russia and Iran that sought to undermine confidence in the democratic process, in addition to targeting specific presidential candidates.
But while the report concludes that multiple foreign adversaries did attempt to interfere, it also notes there are “no indications that any foreign actor attempted to alter any technical aspect of the voting process in the 2020 US elections, including voter registration, casting ballots, vote tabulation, or reporting results.”
That echoes what the Department of Homeland Security’s cyber arm said the day after the 2020 presidential election. “We have no evidence any foreign adversary was capable of preventing Americans from voting or changing vote tallies,” CISA said at the time.
Influence operations by Russia and Iran
Russia’s efforts to influence the 2020 elections feature prominently in the report, which details how “proxies linked to Russian intelligence” were used to push unsubstantiated claims about Biden to into the American mainstream.
“A key element of Moscow’s strategy this election cycle was its use of proxies linked to Russian intelligence to push influence narratives — including misleading or unsubstantiated allegations against President Biden — to US media organizations, US officials, and prominent US individuals, including some close to former President Trump and his administration,” the report says.
“Unlike in 2016, we did not see persistent Russian cyber efforts to gain access to election infrastructure,” it notes.
Democrats were quick to note that the US intelligence community’s findings underscore what many lawmakers said in the months leading up to November.
“The Intelligence Community Assessment released today underscores what we all knew already — that Russia interfered to support former President Trump, hurt President Biden, and undermine confidence in our electoral process. Through proxies, Russia ran a successful intelligence operation that penetrated the former president’s inner circle,” Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement Tuesday.
The report also describes how Iran carried out a “multi-pronged covert influence campaign” targeting the elections.
Specifically, the report says that Iran’s efforts were “intended to undercut former President Trump’s reelection prospects — though without directly promoting his rivals — undermine public confidence in the electoral process and US institutions, and sow division and exacerbate societal tensions in the US.”
China is also mentioned, but in a very different context than Russia and Iran.
“We assess that China did not deploy interference efforts and considered but did not deploy influence efforts intended to change the outcome of the US Presidential election,” the report states.
While that finding appears to undercut claims by the Trump administration that Beijing was interfering in the election to help Biden win, the report does note there were some conflicting views within the intelligence community about China’s efforts, stating that a senior US cyber official assessed “that China did take some steps to try to undermine former President Trump’s reelection.”
In a statement Tuesday, Biden’s Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines called foreign malign influence an “enduring challenge facing our country.”
“These efforts by U.S. adversaries seek to exacerbate divisions and undermine confidence in our democratic institutions. Addressing this ongoing challenge requires a whole-of-government approach grounded in an accurate understanding of the problem, which the Intelligence Community, through assessments such as this one, endeavors to provide,” she said.