FBI Director Wray: Russia "Upping Their Game" With Election Interference; 2018 Was "Dress Rehearsal For Big Show In 2020"

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FBI Director Christopher Wray commented on the Mueller report and Russian interference in the 2016 election Friday at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Wray told CFR President Richard Haass that "enormous strides have been made since 2016" by federal agencies, election officials, and social media companies, "But I think we recognize that our adversaries are going to keep adapting and upping their game, and so we are very much viewing 2018 as just kind of a dress rehearsal for the big show in 2020."





"That is not just an election cycle threat, it's pretty much a 365 days a year threat. And that has absolutely continued. We saw that therefore continue full speed in 2018 in the midterms," Wray also said.

RICHARD HAASS, CFR: And I wanted to begin with the special counsel, Mr. Mueller, who described Russian interference in the 2016 election, to use his phrase, sweeping and systematic. Is that a view you subscribe to?

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: Well, I think everybody has their own adjectives. I do think that Russia poses a very significant counterintelligence threat, certainly in the cyber arena, certainly what we call the maligned foreign influence territory, certainly in their presence of intelligence officers in this country, so in a lot of ways, yeah.

HAASS: Did we see any change from your vantage point between Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and the 2018 midterms? Did you see any evolution in the scale or nature of the Russian threat of interference?

WRAY: Well, I think it's important to distinguish between two categories. Sometimes the word interference and influence get, even by us, kind of get bandied about a little interchangeably, and I'm not sure that's quite the right analogy for each. Foreign influence, malign foreign influence, we usually used to describe the fairly aggressive campaign that we saw in 2016 and that's described in the special counsel's report and that has continued pretty much unabated is the use of social media, fake news propaganda, phosphorus photos, et cetera to--to spin us up, pit us against each other sow divisiveness and discord, undermined Americans faith in democracy.

That is not just an election cycle threat, it's pretty much a 365 days a year threat. And that has absolutely continued. We saw that therefore continue full speed in 2018 in the midterms. What we did not see in 2018 was any material impact or interference with election infrastructure or you know campaign infrastructure.

HAASS: Since you raise that, I assume though you don't--you don't assume that won't be an issue in 2020. So do you feel that we either nationally or locally, how comfortable are you with what is being done to protect our election infrastructure?

WRAY: Well, I think--on the one hand I think enormous strides have been made since 2016 by all different federal agencies, state and local election officials, the social media companies, et cetera. But I think we recognize that our adversaries are going to keep adapting and upping their game, and so we are very much viewing 2018 as just kind of a dress rehearsal for the big show in 2020.

HAASS: You talked in a slightly different context about public-private partnerships. What about the public-private partnership between you were--the FBI and law enforcement more broadly and social media companies? What do you see is the--the division of labor and are you comfortable with the nature and level of effort by the social media countries to make sure they're not exploited?

WRAY: You mean on this foreign influence threat?

HAASS: Yes, sir.

WRAY: So that's one of the places where I've seen the most dramatic change from 2016 to the midterms in 2018. The flow of information back and forth between law enforcement and the intelligence community and Silicon Valley I think has gotten dramatically better. I think those companies recognize that there is a need for them to take action so that their own platforms are not abused. And so there was--there were a lot of success stories in the midterms where some of these companies were taking pretty aggressive action on their own voluntarily, not at our behest for requirement to enforce terms of use and so forth on their platforms and shutting down and taking off various accounts that fit into the kind of category that we're talking about.


Watch Wray's full conversation at the CFR:

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