Merkley and Young Make Bipartisan Push for Briefing Around Possible Foreign Exploitation of U.S. Domestic Divisions

Merkley and Young Make Bipartisan Push for Briefing Around Possible Foreign Exploitation of U.S. Domestic Divisions

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley and Senator Todd Young (R-IN) today requested a briefing from the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe, on information about the U.S. intelligence community’s efforts to monitor and combat foreign interference aimed to exploit divisions within the United States, particularly as the 2020 general election approaches.

Merkley and Young serve as the Ranking Member and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Multilateral Institutions.

“We would like to know whether the intelligence community has seen evidence of social media disinformation campaigns and foreign actors fomenting extremist ideologies or amplifying the message of extremist groups suspected of infiltrating the protests to incite violence,” the senators wrote in a letter to Ratcliffe. “We would also like to hear the intelligence community’s assessment on what such exploitation portends for the upcoming election.”

In recent months, foreign governments have exploited the COVID-19 pandemic and, more recently, protests around the death of George Floyd, to spread disinformation, sow division, and potentially infiltrate grassroots movements in the U.S. This foreign interference poses numerous threats to American democracy and freedom around the world—from potential threats of interference in the upcoming 2020 general election, to health misinformation being spread about COVID-19, to human rights abusers using racial justice protests within the U.S. as a pretext to avoid accountability for human rights violations.

“Our country is currently extremely vulnerable to malign activity and we need to be more vigilant than ever about adversaries exploiting legitimate national issues to sow further discord and foment violence,” the senators continued. “We thank you in advance for your efforts to monitor and address foreign interference, which poses a serious threat to our democratic institutions and national security.”

The full text of the letter is available here and follows below.

 

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June 11, 2020

The Honorable John Ratcliffe

 

Director of National Intelligence

 

Office of the Director of National Intelligence

 

Washington, D.C. 20511

 

 

 

Dear Director Ratcliffe,

We are writing to request a briefing on how foreign adversaries are exploiting current mass protests in the United States to deepen the racial divide and incite civil unrest in an effort to undermine and embarrass the United States. We would like to know whether the intelligence community has seen evidence of social media disinformation campaigns and foreign actors fomenting extremist ideologies or amplifying the message of extremist groups suspected of infiltrating the protests to incite violence. We would also like to hear the intelligence community’s assessment on what such exploitation portends for the upcoming election.

The media has reported on evidence of potential involvement by a network of outside actors seeking to destabilize peaceful protests against police brutality and George Floyd’s murder. For example, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said that state authorities were hit with complex cyberattacks as law enforcement sought to diffuse protests in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The governor said that “a very sophisticated denial of service attack on all state computers was executed,” adding that “that's not somebody sitting in their basement.”

Additionally, state media for China, Iran, and North Korea have each prominently focused on racial tensions in the United States, suggesting an attempt to use discord in the United States to draw attention from critiques of other countries’ treatment of minorities or dissidents. We would like to know if the intelligence community has seen evidence of concerted efforts by these actors to interfere through disinformation campaigns similar to the ones they have conducted throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our country is currently extremely vulnerable to malign activity and we need to be more vigilant than ever about adversaries exploiting legitimate national issues to sow further discord and foment violence. We thank you in advance for your efforts to monitor and address foreign interference, which poses a serious threat to our democratic institutions and national security.

We thank you for your consideration of this request. 

Sincerely,