FBI Director Chris Wray on Friday said Russia still poses a significant counterintelligence threat to the U.S. and continues to use social media campaigns to try and influence American politics.
“They use social media … to try and spin us up and pit us against each other and to undermine Americans faith in democracy,” Wray said at an event at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. “That’s not just in an election cycle threat. It is pretty much a 365 day a year threat.”
Wray said Russia used those tactics in the 2018 midterms but that his agency saw “no material impact on election infrastructure or campaign infrastructure” during the election.
Wray’s appearance at CFR comes just two weeks after the release of the Mueller report, which outlined in detail the way Russian used cyber tactics to meddle in the 2016 election, and days after news broke that the White House ignored efforts by national security officials to focus on the threat Russia poses to U.S. elections.
Russian cyber intrusion has dominated the conversation among U.S. intelligence officials particularly in the wake of reports that the Department of Homeland Security cut back its task force that protect elections from foreign meddling. But Wray said the FBI is still concerned about Russian meddling in the upcoming 2020 presidential election with social media campaigns, which he described as the “big show”, and is actively working to monitoring all cyber threats.
Beyond the threats Russia poses to American elections, Wray said, the FBI was increasingly focused on the threats posed by China, especially in regard to its attempts to get its hands on American technology and innovation.
“No country poses a broader threat ….than China,” Wray said, adding that there are ongoing investigations in the FBI that lead back to China and span “every industry and sector.”
“[China’s behavior] goes way beyond fair market competition,” Wray said. “This is behavior that violates the rule of law. They have a formal plan in 5 year incriminates … weaving together things like foreign investment together with cyber intrusions and supply chain threats. They’re calculating, they’re focused and they’re persistent.”
Wray’s comments echo those made by President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who have both said publicly that countering China is a top national security focus of the Trump administration. The U.S. has ratcheted up its rhetoric against China particularly in the last six months and has used its competition with Beijing to contextualize its bids for international deals, including the potential for a Saudi nuclear agreement.
“The theft of American intellectual property is a big business [for China] to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars and President Trump is determined to push back against it,” Pompeo said in a recent CBS News interview.
In January, Wray testified with other top intelligence officials behind in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee about their worldwide threat assessment -- a summary of the most critical national security threats facing the U.S. The briefing did not mention threats posed on the southern border.
On Friday in Washington, Wray similarly did not raise the issue of the southern border but when asked said that the threat “is something that needs to be taken extremely seriously.”
Wray did say that the agency was focusing on the rise of domestic terrorism. Echoing his comments from his testimony earlier this month on the FBI’s 2020 budget, Wray said there are “steady and persistent threat across all different types of domestic terrorism”, including white supremacy.