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Homeland Security steps up warnings about 2020 U.S. election security

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FILE PHOTO: The logo of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is reflected in the spectacles of an analyst working in a watch and warning center of a cyber security defense lab at the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls, Idaho September 29, 2011. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Tuesday stepped up warnings about foreign threats to U.S. election security, affirming other agencies’ concerns regarding Russian interference in particular.

In a 26-page “Homeland Threat Assessment”, DHS said that “Russia is the likely primary covert influence actor and purveyor of disinformation and misinformation within the Homeland.”

The Department said it assessed that “Moscow’s primary objective is to increase its global standing and influence by weakening America — domestically and abroad — through efforts to sow discord, distract, shape public sentiment, and undermine trust in Western democratic institutions and processes.”

DHS’s paper echoed an August assessment by U.S. counterintelligence chief William Evanina regarding Russia’s determination to undermine Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

“Russia uses divisive measures to disrupt the electoral process — including denigrating former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment’ — as part of a broader effort to divide and destabilize America,” the DHS paper said.

DHS’ latest assessment suggests the department’s approach to 2020 election interference issues has evolved since earlier this summer, when Brian Murphy, a whistleblower who headed DHS’ intelligence office, alleged that acting DHS chief Chad Wolf asked him to stop providing assessments on Russian election interference.

DHS’ new paper also warned of possible U.S. election interference by China and Iran. The paper included warnings about Chinese and Iranian efforts to spread misinformation about the COVID-19 virus, and noted Chinese distribution of fraudulent virus test kits and protective gear.

In a video message posted on YouTube, meanwhile, counterintelligence chief Evanina, FBI director Christopher Wray, Chris Krebs, director of the Cyber Security and Infrastructure Security Agency, and National Security Agency director Gen. Paul Nakasone confirmed their agencies’ were on high alert for election interference.

“Our collective posture to neutralize, and expose these activities is unprecedented, robust and unwavering,” Evanina said.

Reporting By Mark Hosenball; Editing by Bernadette Baum

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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