Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is warning that Russia is already beginning to interfere in the 2018 midterm elections and the U.S. is ill-prepared to combat it.
Without elaborating, Tillerson raised the alarm about new Russian meddling in an interview with Fox News on Tuesday in Bogota. In an earlier stop in Mexico, he advised Mexican officials to be on guard for Russian interference in their elections scheduled for July.
Tillerson’s comments come only three weeks after CIA director Mike Pompeo said he expects the Russians to try to interfere in the November balloting in the U.S.
The Secretary of State said a major problem in countering the Russian threat is their ability to adapt to countermeasures.
Asked about how prepared the U.S. is now compared to the 2016 elections, which experienced massive Russian meddling, Tillerson said, “I don’t know that I would say we are better prepared, because the Russians will adapt as well.”
“The point is, if it’s their intention to interfere, they are going to find ways to do that,” he told Fox News. “We can take steps, but this is something that, once they decide they are going to do it, it’s very difficult to pre-empt it.
“It’s important we just continue to say to Russia, ‘Look, you think we don’t see what you’re doing. We do see it, and you need to stop. If you don’t, you’re going to just continue to invite consequences for yourself.’ “
Speaking earlier in Mexico City, Tillerson said European counterparts already detected signs of Russia involvement in several elections and warned the Mexican government to be on guard.
“We hear this from our European counterparts,” Tillerson said. “My advice would be … pay attention to what’s happening.”
Two weeks ago, the Trump administration declined to impose new sanctions passed by Congress in response to Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
Defending that position, the State Department said implementing the new measures mandated by Congress was not necessary because earlier sanctions already in place were “serving as a deterrent.”
Pompeo, in an interview with the BBC last month, said he still sees Russia primarily as an adversary, sharing the concerns by many European governments about its subversion. “I haven’t seen a significant decrease in their activity,” he said.
Asked if his concerns extended to the U.S. midterms elections, he said, “Of course. I have every expectation that they will continue to try and do that, but I’m confident that America will be able to have a free and fair election (and) that we will push back in a way that is sufficiently robust that the impact they have on our election won’t be great.”
Last year, the director of National Intelligence issued a report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections, saying, among other things, that the campaign was ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The report, viewed as the consensus among U.S. intelligence agencies, said Russia changed its tactics to undermine Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as her chances of winning improved. It also said the covert activities involved “Russian government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or ‘trolls.’ “
While the report said the Russian operatives did not alter the vote count, they gained access to data from some state and local electoral boards.
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