Russia is attempting to discredit Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden ahead of the US election, America’s counterintelligence chief has said.
William Evanina, director of the US National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said officials were also concerned about “ongoing and potential activity by China and Iran” in relation to the election.
He accused the Kremlin of conspiring against Mr Biden‘s bid for the White House, while Beijing and Tehran are said to want Donald Trump voted out of office.
In a statement released on Friday, Mr Evanina said officials believed Moscow is working to “denigrate” Mr Biden, who national polls suggest is in pole position to be elected in November.
“Many foreign actors have a preference for who wins the election, which they express through a range of overt and private statements, covert influence efforts are rarer,” he said.
“We are primarily concerned about the ongoing and potential activity by China, Russia and Iran.”
Mr Evanina added: “We assess that Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former vice president Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment’.
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“This is consistent with Moscow’s public criticism of him when he was vice president for his role in the Obama administration’s policies on Ukraine and its support for the anti-Putin opposition inside Russia.”
In the statement, he also referred to Andrii Derkach, a pro-Russia Ukrainian politician who has been active in levelling unsubstantiated corruption allegations against Mr Biden and his son Hunter.
Hunter Biden used to sit on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian natural gas company, which became a key focus of the impeachment trial against Mr Trump last year.
Russia was accused of helping Mr Trump win the 2016 election by discrediting rival Hillary Clinton.
Mrs Clinton’s campaign was targeted in an email hack just days before Americans were due to head to the ballots and cast their votes.
Mr Trump’s campaign was later accused of conspiring with Russia to win the election, which he denied.
Former special counsel Robert Mueller subsequently launched an investigation.
It concluded that Russian interference took place “in a sweeping and systematic fashion”, but “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government”.
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In relation to Iran, Mr Evanina accused Tehran of trying to undermine US democratic institutions, divide America and discredit Mr Trump by “spreading disinformation on social media and recirculating anti-US content”.
For China, Mr Evanina said the country views the president as “unpredictable” and does not want to see him re-elected, referencing Beijing’s criticism of how the US handled the COVID-19 pandemic and Mr Trump’s recent spat with social media company TikTok.
Mr Trump insists he is the “last person Russia wants to be in office” and has suggested China wants Mr Biden to win, claiming that Beijing would “own” the US if his main rival does come out on top.
The White House said it would “not tolerate foreign interference in our electoral processes” and it will “respond to malicious foreign threats that target our democratic institutions”.