Two House Democrats are urging the nation’s top intelligence official to make public what they argue is crucial information about the extent to which foreign actors are exploiting recent racial and social unrest in the U.S. to advance their own agendas.
In a September 1 letter obtained by The Daily Beast, Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) and Val Demings (D-FL), members of the House Intelligence Committee, thank the Director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe, for his response to their inquiry on “how foreign adversaries are heightening and exploiting tensions and social unrest in American communities to further foreign interests.”
But the response Ratcliffe delivered, they said, was classified—as is other information that could benefit state and local governments, the news media, and the public as they seek to understand efforts to influence the 2020 election.
“We strongly believe that keeping all of this information classified will severely hinder our ability to combat foreign meddling and will potentially allow the United States government to repeat the same mistakes as 2016,” wrote the lawmakers. They urged the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to “publicly release similar but unclassified material” that will strengthen public awareness of election meddling campaigns.
The lawmakers’ letter comes as Ratcliffe, a staunch Donald Trump ally and former House Intelligence Committee member, moves to limit congressional access to election security briefings, The Daily Beast reported on Tuesday.
Against that backdrop, in late August the Senate Intelligence Committee released its fifth and final report on Russian interference in the 2016 election—which added to the mountain of evidence of Russia’s efforts to influence that contest. A previous chapter of the report laid bare the Kremlin’s playbook of stoking racial tensions in the U.S., saying “no single group of Americans” were more targeted by social media manipulations than Black Americans.
Moscow returned to that well after the 2016 election: in late 2017, reported The Daily Beast, social media accounts associated with the Russian government-backed troll army known as the Internet Research Agency launched a wave of anti-Black Lives Matter tweets when players in the National Football League began protesting police brutality.
In their response to Ratcliffe, Krishnamoorthi and Demings say there’s ample reason to believe those kinds of attacks are underway now, at a moment of acute racial unrest in the U.S., and may increase heading into the home stretch of the general election, as was the case in 2016. They urged Ratcliffe to share “as much unclassified information as possible” with the public by September 15. ODNI did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the lawmakers’ letter.