Russia likely to focus on voter suppression in 2020, feds warn states

WASHINGTON – The federal government warned state election officials Thursday it suspects Russia may focus on voter suppression as a means to interfere in the 2020 presidential election.

The joint FBI and Department of Homeland Security document, obtained by CNN and marked For Official Use Only, is titled “Russia May Try to Discourage Voter Turnout and Suppressing Votes in 2020 US Election.”

It warns of three potential ways the Russian government “might seek to covertly discourage or suppress US voters from participating in next year’s election.”

Russia may try to recruit Americans to protests and intimidate voters, sow discord online within political parties and try to hack voter registration sites or knock them offline, the report warns.

“We have high confidence in this assessment based reports by firms with expertise in social network analysis, open source press reporting, and observed activity of Russian-linked social media actors,” the document reads.

The warnings reflect a common view among election security experts that while successful cyberattacks against elections can’t be ruled out as a threat, an adversary like Russia would likely find it more efficient to meddle in elections by dissuading people from voting or attacking online systems that manage voter registration.

The document cites multiple press reports and is a downgraded version of a more sensitive intelligence report from August 21. It was disseminated after a classified video conference briefing that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence had planned with state election officials, but canceled Wednesday, citing scheduling conflicts.

The US intelligence community has been unwavering in its assessment that the Kremlin sought to meddle in the 2016 election, with the aim of hurting Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and helping Republican Donald Trump, as well as undermining Americans’ confidence in the democratic process. Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on that assessment.

The report released on Thursday does not say if the Russians are likely to attempt to suppress turnout from any particular group of voters.

In an email sent to individual states Wednesday that explained the change, the National Association of Secretaries of State said that the downgraded version “reflects what we briefed at the classified level during the August secure VTC .” The canceled meeting with ODNI will be rescheduled, NASS told the states.

A spokesperson for NASS confirmed the email was genuine. DHS and ODNI declined to comment. The FBI didn’t immediately respond to request for comment.

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