Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said Tuesday that Russia views the 2018 midterm elections as a "potential target for Russian influence operations."
"We expect Russia to continue using propaganda, social media, false-flag personas, sympathetic spokesmen, and other means to influence to try to build on its wide range of operations and exacerbate social and political fissures in the United States," Coats testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
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"There should be no doubt that Russia perceives that its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations," he continued.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement in October 2016 accusing Russia of interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The intelligence community then released a report in January 2017 assessing that Moscow sought to influence the election through coordinated cyber and propaganda activities.
"With respect to Russian influence efforts, let me be clear: the Russians utilize this tool because it's relatively cheap, it's low risk, it offers what they perceive as plausible deniability, and is proven to be effective at sowing division," Coats told lawmakers on Tuesday.
Coats, who took over as director of national intelligence in March 2017, testified that Vladimir Putin will "continue to rely on assertive foreign policies" to spread Moscow's influence in other countries, adding that the Russian president will use "more authoritarian tactics" to maintain control inside Russia.
Last month, Sens. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.) introduced the Defending Elections From Threats by Establishing Redlines (DETER) Act, which, among other actions, would impose sanctions on Russia if the Kremlin interferes in future U.S. elections.
"We cannot be a country where foreign intelligence agencies attempt to influence our political process without consequences," Rubio said after introducing the legislation. "This bill will help to ensure the integrity of our electoral process by using key national security tools to dissuade foreign powers from meddling in our elections."