WASHINGTON D.C. (CBSNewYork) – Russia is still trying to meddle in United States elections, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
Now, the White House is outlining its plan to fight back against the Kremlin.
“Our democracy itself is in the cross-hairs,” said Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
Top U.S. intelligence officials at the White House say they are ready to defend the U.S. elections from Russian attacks, both on the midterms and in 2020.
“Our focus here today is simply to tell the American people we acknowledge the threat, it is real, it is continuing and we are doing everything we can to have a legitimate election that the American people can have trust in,” said National Intelligence Director Dan Coats.
The extraordinary gathering of intelligence chiefs is designed to reassure Americans that agencies are ready to do whatever it takes to stop cyberattacks, and perhaps to promote the notion that everyone in the administration is on the same page.
“As I have said consistently, Russia attempted to interfere with the last election and continues to engage and malign influence operations to this day,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray.
This announcement comes less than three weeks after President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Helsinki, Finland. Despite Trump’s public comments downplaying Russian interference, national security advisor John Bolton says the president is committed to their efforts.
“I think the President has made it abundantly clear to everybody who has responsibility in this area that he cares deeply about it and that he expects them to do their jobs to their fullest ability and that he supports them fully,” said Bolton.
Intelligence officials say while they don’t believe the threat to the upcoming elections is as strong as the one in 2016, they feel that could change almost immediately.
“Any moment is just a moment before the dial can be turned up one, much as we saw in 2016. Again not in terms of affecting the vote count, but in terms of potential penetration of voter registration databases or something like that,” said Wray.
At least two U.S. Senators, Claire McCaskill and Jeanne Shaheen, say they have been the target of Russian cyberattacks.
In the meantime, officials say that Russia has been planting misinformation into American social media year-round, even outside of election season.