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Security

White House officials: Russian election interference is happening again

Four intelligence leaders said it isn't as bad as 2016.

Top National Security Officials Join Sarah Sanders At White House Press Briefing

From left: National Security Adviser John Bolton, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, FBI Director Christopher Wray, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and the commander of the US Cyber Command, Gen. Paul M. Nakasone, attend a briefing at the White House on Thursday.

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The White House wants you to know it's taking threats to US elections seriously. To drive the point home, leaders from four US intelligence agencies and John Bolton, President Donald Trump's national security adviser, addressed Russian election influence campaigns at a press briefing Thursday.

"The president has specifically directed us to make the matter of election meddling and securing our election process a top priority," said Dan Coats, director of national intelligence.

He was followed by Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, as well as FBI Director Christopher Wray and NSA Director Paul Nakasone. The officials all said that Russia is engaged in continued efforts to meddle in US elections with influence and misinformation campaigns, but emphasized that it's not yet at the scale that US intelligence agencies saw in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election.

"It is not the kind of robust campaign that we assessed in the 2016 [elections]," Coats said. He added that while Russia has attempted to influence campaigns in the past, "they stepped up their game in 2016."

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The press briefing comes amidst a flurry of activity by the Trump administration, federal investigators and the tech industry concerning Russian efforts to influence US elections. In July, the US Department of Justice indicted 12 Russians for their role in hacking computer systems in 2016. Three days later, Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and called the Russian leader's denial of election meddling "strong and powerful." And on Tuesday, Facebook said it took down 32 accounts and pages that it says were part of a coordinated influence campaign on the social network.

Wray said the FBI has not seen attackers trying to access election infrastructure as they attempted to do in 2016, when intelligence agencies say Russian hackers probed and accessed voter registration databases.

The intelligence community has upped its collaboration with the tech industry to help tamp down social media-focused misinformation and influence campaigns, Wray said. "We're sharing with them actionable intelligence in a way that wasn't happening before."

When it comes to electronic voting machines, DHS' Nielsen said that the focus is on helping states make sure their machines can be audited after elections.

"Whatever happens, we want to assure Americans their vote was counted and counted correctly," Nielsen said.

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