Senators probe Putin’s election meddling
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s relationship with the west is coming under increasing scrutiny.
Moscow tried to hijack the US democratic process, claims an American senator investigating alleged interference in last November’s presidential election.
The Senate Intelligence Committee opened today (Thursday) to investigate intelligence claims that Russia tried to help Donald Trump win in November by damaging Hillary Clinton.
The Kremlin denies the allegations.
Democrat Senator Mark Warner told the committee that “Russia sought to hijack our democratic process” by employing disinformation on social media, calling it “Russian propaganda on steroids”.
“We simply must – and we will – get this right,” Warner said. “The chairman and I agree it is vitally important that we do this as a credible, bipartisan and transparent manner as possible…Chairman [Richard] Burr and I trust each other.”
He said the committee would examine if Russia used technology to spread disinformation in the US, including the possible generation of misleading “news” in swing states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
The committee leaders said that, while Russia appeared to have favoured Trump as a candidate, its overall strategy was to destabilise rather than promoting one political party or campaign.
“Candidly, while it helped one candidate this time, they are not favouring one party over another,” Warner added, “and, consequently, should be a concern for all of us.”
“Stolen information” was published in Wikileaks, Warner said, at “seemingly choreographed times that would cause maximum damage” to Hillary Clinton.
“They did this with an unprecedented level of sophistication,” the Democrat argued.
The Republican Burr said “we are all targets of a sophisticated and capable adversary” adding that “if we politicise this, our efforts will likely fail”.
Clinton Watts, an intelligence specialist, told the committee that Russian influencing continued presently against both major US parties, arguing that “they win because they play both sides”.
“This past week we observed social media accounts discrediting [the Republican] Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, hoping to further foment unrest inside US democratic institutions,” Watts told the senators.
Roy Godson, a former Georgetown University scholar of US intelligence, told the committee of Russia’s “long history” of meddling with other nation’s domestic politics.
“They actually believe, whatever we think about it, that this gives them the possibility of achieving influence well beyond their economic and social status and conditions in their country,” Godson told the senators. “For many, many decades we did not take this subject seriously and they were able to take enormous advantage.”
The Trump presidency has been unable to silence allegations that members of its team colluded with the Kremlin ahead of November’s divisive election. Trump dismisses the allegations as “fake news” and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin today described the claims as “nonsense”.
Picture credit: Kremlin