A network of Ukraine-linked individuals connected to Russian intelligence relied on “prominent US persons and media conduits to launder their narratives” alleging “corrupt ties” among members of then-candidate Joe Biden’s family and US officials with Ukraine, according to a recently declassified report from US intelligence officials.
Russian-backed operations sought to “denigrate” Mr Biden ahead of the 2020 presidential elections while undermining public confidence in the electoral process and “exacerbating sociopolitical divisions” in the country, according to a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
The assessment reports that Russian president Vladimir Putin “had purview over the activities of Andriy Derkach”, a Ukrainian legislator sanctioned by the US government and an ally to Donald Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani.
Mr Derkach, Konstanin Kilimnik and their associates “met with and provided materials to Trump administration-linked” officials to pursue formal investigations into Mr Biden, hired a firm to petition US officials, and “attempted to make contact with several senior US officials” and established media figures, according to the report.
The men “helped produce a documentary that aired on a US television network in late January 2020”, according to the report.
The network and contents of the segment are not included in the report.
A network of online influence actors also sought to “affect US public perceptions of the candidates” while also undermining public confidence in elections and inflaming the nation’s existing social and political tensions, the report says.
According to the report, “Russia’s online influence actors sought to amplify mistrust in the electoral process by denigrating mail-in voting, highlighting alleged irregularities and accusing the Democratic Party of voter fraud” – claims that were central to Mr Trump’s campaign and legal battle before and after his election loss, as well as a barrage of GOP-sponsored efforts to restrict ballot access.
The network relied on Kremlin-backed “troll farms” and social media, state media and online proxies to publish “disparaging” content about Mr Biden while also amplifying conspiracies and other stories in US media, including misinformation about the Covid-19 crisis, racial justice and allegations of social media censorship, the report found.
Intelligence officials assess that Russian leaders viewed Mr Biden’s presidency as “disadvantageous to Russian interests”, which drove their efforts to undermine his candidacy, according to the report.
“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,” said US Rep Adam Schiff, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee and led impeachment efforts against the former president ahead of his first trial
“Through proxies, Russia ran a successful intelligence operation that penetrated the former president’s inner circle,” he said.
The report also found evidence of a “multi-pronged covert influence campaign” from Iran to “undercut former president Trump’s re-election 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”.
But US intelligence officials did not discern that physical “election interference” took place throughout 2020 elections.
The report defines election influence as including “overt and covert efforts by foreign governments and their agents intended to affect directly or indirectly a US election”, such as wielding influence over certain candidates, political parties, voters and their preferences, or undermining faith in political processes.
“Foreign malign influence is an enduring challenge facing our country,” director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said in a statement on Tuesday. “These efforts by US adversaries seek to exacerbate divisions and undermine confidence in our democratic institutions.”
The Department of Homeland Security, FBI and Justice Department have found “no evidence that any foreign government-affiliated actor prevented voting, changed votes, or disrupted the ability to tally votes or to transmit election results in a timely manner” or otherwise compromised any part of the voting process or voter registrations.
Federal law enforcement agencies have recommended stronger cyber security measures and boosting supply chain security.
The agencies also recommend a stronger public messaging and education campaign “to provide accurate and timely information about cyber threats pertaining to elections”, including “fact checks to control the proliferation of misinformation”.
“However, the resonance of baseless claims concerning foreign interference after the election demonstrates the need to bolster public confidence in reliable sources of information, such as state and local election officials,” the agencies said on Tuesday. “We recommend the US government continue to increase the quantity and quality of public messaging and education.”