The Biden administration is receiving regular intelligence reports indicating Russian efforts to interfere in US elections are evolving and ongoing, current and former officials say, and in fact, never stopped, despite President Joe Biden’s warnings to Russian President Vladimir Putin over the summer and a new round of sanctions imposed in the spring.
Biden made deliberate mention of Russia’s operations two weeks ago when he revealed in public remarks to the intelligence community that that he had received fresh intelligence about “what Russia’s doing already about the 2022 election and misinformation” in his daily intelligence briefing that day.
“It’s a pure violation of our sovereignty,” Biden said at the time.
One of the people familiar with the matter confirmed that there have been recent intelligence reports about what the Russians are up to, particularly their efforts to sow disinformation on social media and weaponize US media outlets for propaganda purposes. There are some indications that Moscow is now attempting to capitalize on the debate raging inside the US over vaccines and masking, other sources told CNN.
Sources closely tracking Russian activity say that Moscow’s tactics are evolving and are more sophisticated than their early 2016 efforts, which included easy-to-trace efforts like buying Facebook ads. They also emphasize that elections are not Moscow’s only target.
“There’s definitely a spike in activity around elections — they do take an interest in down-ballot races — but the activity is sustained,” said Emily Harding, who was the deputy staff director for the Senate Intelligence Committee until this spring. “It never really stopped, and we should not be linking our attention or efforts to the election cycle, because they’re not.”
In April the Treasury Department sanctioned a total of 32 Russian groups and individuals, including Russian intelligence services, in retaliation for what the US intelligence community has charged was a deliberate scheme to influence the 2020 presidential election by spreading false information about Biden during his campaign against then President Donald Trump.
In June, during his summit with Putin in Geneva, Biden warned Putin to rein in his country’s malicious cyber activities, including ransomware attacks and interference in US politics. But given the new reports, it’s clear the message didn’t stick — at least not yet. Biden following the summit sought to temper expectations.
“We’ll find out within the next six months to a year whether or not we actually have a strategic dialogue that matters,” Biden said at the time. “We’ll find out whether we have a cybersecurity arrangement that begins to bring some order.”
Bill Evanina, who was the senior intelligence official in charge of briefing the presidential candidates on threats to the 2020 election, said the Russians “will