Russia worked to subvert confidence in election systems, cable says

Russia has been working in recent years to undermine confidence in election integrity around the world, according to a declassified State Department cable, which said that the U.S. intelligence community assessed that Russian actors made a concerted effort to attack confidence in election integrity in at least 11 elections across nine democracies between 2020 and 2022.

The intelligence community also found “a less pronounced level” of Russian messaging and social media activity in an additional 17 democracies that tried to amplify preexisting domestic narratives questioning election integrity.

The U.S. intelligence community has repeatedly highlighted what it portrays as ongoing Russian efforts to subvert elections and undermine the stability of democratic countries, but the cable said that its tactics appear to be evolving with a specific focus in undermining trust in the basic administration of election processes.

That is different from tactics employed by the Chinese government, according to the cable, which said that there was little evidence that Beijing was focused on undermining election integrity.

The cable, dated Wednesday and made public Friday, is intended to be shared with the governments of more than 100 democracies, a senior State Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive internal effort. U.S. diplomats and intelligence officials plan to sit down with partner nations to speak in more detail about threats to election systems and Russian tactics, potentially with an eye toward encouraging other countries to expel Russian diplomats or take other measures to try to combat the efforts.

“Our insights suggest that Russia is focused on carrying out operations to break public confidence in election integrity, and that they are doing this on a global scale,” a senior U.S. intelligence official said, also speaking on condition of anonymity. “Our information indicates that senior Russian government officials, including in the Kremlin, see value in this type of influence operation and perceive it to be effective in undermining confidence in the outcomes and legitimacy of the elected government.”

The cable cited an example of one 2020 election in an unidentified European country in which the Russian Federal Service Security Service, also known as the FSB, covertly attempted through proxies to deploy agitators to intimidate campaign workers, organized protests on the election day, and sabotaged overseas voting.

In an election in 2022 in an unidentified South American country, the cable said, Russia used Telegram channels to seed false coverage of alleged fraud, and Russian actors used multiple social media platforms to “amplify concerns about post-election instability.”

The cable did not cite specific countries, and the officials would not provide further specifics, citing their desire to work directly with governments to address the issues.

The Russian government has denied that it seeks to subvert other countries’ elections, although the former head of the Wagner Group, Yegveny Prigozhin, did say last year that he had worked to interfere in U.S. elections. Prigozhin was killed in August when his plane exploded, after leading an uprising against the Russian military’s handling of the war in Ukraine earlier this year.

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