F.B.I. Warns of Russian Interference in 2020 Race and Boosts Counterintelligence Operations

Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters

WASHINGTON — The F.B.I. director warned anew on Friday about Russia’s continued meddling in American elections, calling it a “significant counterintelligence threat.” The bureau has shifted additional agents and analysts to shore up defenses against foreign interference, according to a senior F.B.I. official.

The Trump administration has come to see that Russia’s influence operations have morphed into a persistent threat. The F.B.I., the intelligence agencies and the Department of Homeland Security have made permanent the task forces they created to confront 2018 midterm election interference, senior American national security officials said.

“We recognize that our adversaries are going to keep adapting and upping their game,” Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director, said Friday in a speech in Washington, citing the presence of Russian intelligence officers in the United States and the Kremlin’s record of malign influence operations.

“So we are very much viewing 2018 as just kind of a dress rehearsal for the big show in 2020,” he said.

Mr. Wray’s warnings came after the report by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, laid out in hundreds of pages of detail the interference and influence campaign carried out by Russian operatives in the 2016 election.

While American officials have promised to continue to try to counter, block and weaken the Russian intelligence operations, they have complained of a lack of high-level coordination. President Trump has little interest or patience for hearing about such warnings, officials have said.

Mr. Trump views any discussion of future Russian interference as effectively questioning the legitimacy of his 2016 victory, prompting senior officials to head off discussions with him. Earlier this year, the White House chief of staff told Kirstjen Nielsen, then the homeland security secretary, not to raise the threat of new forms of Russian interference with Mr. Trump, current and former senior administration officials have said.

But outside of meetings with Mr. Trump, intelligence officials have continued to raise alarms. Officials including both Mr. Wray and Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, have said Russia has aimed its influence campaigns at undermining faith in American democracy.

“What has pretty much continued unabated is the use of social media, fake news, propaganda, false personas, etc. to spin us up, pit us against each other, to sow divisiveness and discord, to undermine America’s faith in democracy,” Mr. Wray said on Friday. “That is not just an election-cycle threat. It is pretty much a 365-day-a-year threat.”

In response to growing threats from Russia and other adversaries, the F.B.I. recently moved nearly 40 agents and analysts to the counterintelligence division, the senior bureau official said in an interview this month. Many of the agents will work on the Foreign Influence Task Force,…

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