The nation’s top spy agency has begun work to establish a hub to combat hostile foreign meddling in U.S. affairs, following multiple assessments that Russia and other countries have sought to sway elections and sow chaos among the American people.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence will create the Foreign Malign Influence Center “in light of evolving threats and in support of growing policy and congressional requirements,” an agency spokesperson said Monday in a statement to POLITICO.
The center will be a clearinghouse for intelligence related to malign influence from multiple government agencies and provide assessments and warning of such activities.
Its creation comes after repeated warnings by American officials and congressional lawmakers that foreign efforts to influence the U.S. are likely to continue in coming years.
Last month the clandestine community released a declassified report that marked the most comprehensive intelligence assessment of foreign meddling in the 2020 election. The report found that Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized efforts to damage Joe Biden’s candidacy and mounted operations to influence people close to President Donald Trump.
Other nations, including Iran, also sought to affect the election as well, the report said. China considered launching its own efforts but did not go through with them.
The assessment was the latest in a series of findings dating back to January 2017, when intelligence agencies concluded the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election with the goal of putting Trump in the Oval Office — a finding that the Senate Intelligence Committee later reaffirmed during its probe of Moscow’s influence operations.
A Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee concluded that the Kremlin had made attempts to sway the election but raised questions on the tradecraft about Putin’s preference for Trump.
ODNI was directed to establish the new center in a recent intelligence authorization bill. That legislation required that the hub be “inclusive of analysts from all” intelligence elements and serve as the federal government’s “integrator to all intelligence pertaining to foreign malign influence and provide appropriate assessments to policymakers.”
The legislation directed that the center cover malign influence activities by Russia, Iran, North Korea and China.
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines began emphasizing the need to create the center after being sworn into office in January, according to an ODNI official.
Testifying before the House Intelligence Committee earlier this month, Haines acknowledged that work on the center had begun, calling efforts to stem influence operations an “incredibly important issue.”
“I do believe that we [are] on the way to the right infrastructure to actually address these issues from an intelligence community perspective in order to be able to identify things and share them,” she said.
She later promised to brief lawmakers on the center’s design before finalizing any plans.
A House Intelligence Committee official said several options for the center had been provided to Haines for her consideration but that it was their understanding that reviews on the development of the most effective structure and size for the hub are still in progress.
The ODNI official said the agency “expects to stand up the center as soon as possible” but declined to give an approximate timeline.
It’s unclear what the center’s budget will ultimately be, as ODNI doesn’t disclose specific intelligence community budget figures.
Lawmakers welcomed the center’s creation.
Senate Intelligence Chair Mark Warner (D-Va.) said last month’s declassified assessment “further underscored the threat posed by foreign adversaries who continue to exploit American social media in order to interfere in our elections and cause chaos and division.”
While the spy community has “dramatically improved its game since 2016, it makes sense to have one location within it to integrate all of the various threat streams in one place,” he added.
House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) expressed hope that the center “can accomplish the mission Congress intended — arming US officials and the American people with information that they need to recognize and respond to foreign influence and interference campaigns that undermine our democracy,” Schiff said.
Read more: politico.com