No sign Russia is targeting US midterms with same scope of 2016: Washington

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There are no signs that Russia is targeting this year’s US midterm elections with the same “scale or scope” as it targeted the 2016 presidential election, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has said.

She was speaking at a convention of state secretaries of state, an event that’s usually a low-key affair highlighting voter registration, balloting devices and election security issues, but which came amid fresh allegations into Russia’s attempts to sway the 2016 election.

Ms Nielsen said her agency will help state and local election officials prepare their systems for cyber-attacks from Russia or elsewhere.

She said US intelligence officials are seeing “persistent Russian efforts using social media, sympathetic spokespeople and other fronts to sow discord and divisiveness amongst the American people, though not necessarily focused on specific politicians or political campaigns”.

Kirstjen Nielsen
Kirstjen Nielsen attended a convention of state secretaries of state ahead of the upcoming midterms (Oliver de Ros/AP)

Mr Trump has never condemned Russia over meddling in the 2016 election despite the findings of all top US intelligence agencies. In the past, Mr Trump has reiterated Mr Putin’s denials, but this week he said he would bring up the issue when they meet on Monday in Finland.

“All I can do is say, ‘Did you?’” Mr Trump said this week in Brussels. “And, ‘Don’t do it again.’ But he may deny it.”

Some of the state officials who run elections say it is important for Mr Trump, a Republican, to take a tougher stance to avoid having the public’s confidence in fair elections undermined.

“I believe as commander in chief he has an obligation to address it and, frankly, put Putin and any other foreign nation that seeks to undermine our democracy on notice that the actions will not be tolerated,” California secretary of state Alex Padilla, a Democrat, said in an interview this week.

Mr Trump portrays the investigation as a partisan attack, but not all Republicans see it that way. This month, the Republicans and Democrats on the US Senate Intelligence Committee backed the findings of an assessment from intelligence agencies that Russia tried to interfere in the 2016 election and acted in favour of Mr Trump and against his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

As part of that effort, Russian hackers targeted at least 21 states ahead of the election and are believed to have breached the voter registration system in at least one, Illinois, investigators say.

Without naming the state, Friday’s indictment said the Russian intelligence officers stole information on about 500,000 voters from the website of one board of elections, a breach that went undetected for three weeks.

There is no evidence they altered any results, but the attempts prompted the federal government and states to re-examine election systems and tighten their cyber-security.

Federal officials also say it’s possible that malware might have been planted that could tamper with voting or paralyse computer systems in future elections.

The Kremlin has insisted it did not meddle in the US election. Mr Putin’s foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov reaffirmed “the Russian state has never interfered and has no intention of interfering in US elections”.

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