On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., and U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., both members of the U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), wrote U.S. Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe about the possibility that foreign powers could be looking to help divide the U.S. during the protests which have grown more prominent after the death of George Floyd through false information and other efforts.
The letter is below.
Dear Director Ratcliffe:
America is currently in a state of unrest as we battle systemic racism and violence. For years, minority communities seeking justice have had their voices silenced. Now, Americans across the country are speaking out and demanding reforms to combat racism, race-related violence, and police brutality, and we are experiencing unprecedented levels of civic and social action, both in person and on social media. While the Intelligence Community (“IC”) may not be directly involved in the discussions regarding the above policy reforms, I am writing you today to request information regarding your plans to ensure that foreign actors do not exploit the current heightened tensions in America by spreading misinformation, inciting violence, or utilize any other means to support a foreign agenda not in the best interests of American national security, public health, and safety.
Unfortunately, we know that foreign actors have historically sought to exploit tensions in American communities during times like these. As has now been widely confirmed by the IC, the Russian government took various steps to exploit tensions in America in an effort to influence the 2016 Presidential Election. These actions included falsifying accounts from across the political spectrum, such as impersonating the Tennessee GOP party and even Black Lives Matter protestors.
In light of the above information and as a Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, I am concerned that the current situation could give foreign actors the opportunity to advance their strategic agendas by interfering in our domestic affairs. In doing so, they could use the current situation to add to any efforts to interfere in the upcoming 2020 elections, as happened in 2016 with Russia.
Therefore, I am calling on the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to ensure foreign actors do not take adverse actions to spread disinformation, incite violence, and further divide Americans. Let me be clear: the underlying issues that led to these continued protests are based on years of systemic racism and concerns that originated from American policies and American actors. But we do not want foreign state actors to exploit the injustice in America as we try to heal these wounds and rebuild a more equitable and just society for all.
Specifically, I request the following information:
1. Has the IC developed a plan to prevent and track actions taken by foreign actors to exploit heightened tensions in America by spreading misinformation, inciting violence, or utilize any other means to support a foreign agenda?
- If so, who have you delegated this responsibility to within the IC?
- If so, does this plan include preventing and tracking foreign interference related to current tensions that could be used to manipulate the outcome of the 2020 election?
- If so, how is the intelligence community working with the private sector to ensure foreign actors are not sharing disinformation?
2. What actions, if any, have hostile foreign powers already taken to exploit current tensions in American to further a foreign agenda, spread misinformation, or to incite violence or stir violent unrest in America?
- If so, what practices and procedures have been successful in this effort?
- If so, what practices and procedures have not been successful in this effort?
I look forward to hearing about the steps your office, and the IC as a whole, are taking to keep the United States free from malicious foreign influence during this challenging time.
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