US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats has claimed that Russia views the 2018 midterm congressional elections as “potential target,” and may try to influence or undermine them.
Coats made the claim before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, saying that "there should be no doubt" about Moscow being a threat to the upcoming US midterm elections.
"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 said in unanimity with other top national security officials.
"There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 US midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations," he added, making an implicit reference to previous claims of the Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.
"Frankly, the United States is under attack -- under attack by entities that are using cyber to penetrate virtually every major action that takes place in the United States. From US businesses, to the federal government, to state and local governments, the United States is threatened by cyber attacks every day," Coats noted.
Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, warned that the US was not prepared to handle the Russian threat to the US midterm elections.
"We've had more than a year to get our act together and address the threat posed by Russia and implement a strategy to deter future attacks. But we still do not have a plan," he said.
Speaking during the Senate hearing on worldwide threats, CIA Director Mike Pompeo told the committee that the CIA had already "seen Russian activity and intentions to have an impact on the next election cycle here."
Pompeo also expressed warning that Washington could respond to possible cases of election meddling with offensive cyber capabilities, saying, "We do have some capability offensively to raise the cost for those who would dare challenge the United States' elections.”
The US midterm elections are scheduled to be held on November 6, 2018, in the middle of the Republican incumbent's term.
All 435 seats in the US House of Representatives and 34 of the 100 seats in the Senate will be contested. Thirty-nine state and territorial governorships and numerous other state and local elections will also be contested.
The Tuesday session comes as Special Counsel Robert Mueller is leading the US Justice Department’s investigation into alleged collusion between President Donald Trump’s election campaign and Russians in the 2016 US presidential race.
Republican lawmakers in Congress say the Justice Department actively sought to undermine Trump and help the election campaign of former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
US intelligence agencies claim Russia-linked hackers provided WikiLeaks with damaging information -- in the form of thousands of hacked emails -- about Clinton to skew the 2016 presidential election in favor of Trump.
Trump has repeatedly denied allegations that his campaign colluded with Russians and has condemned the investigations. Russian President Vladimir Putin has also denied the allegations.