Updated Aug 30, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Intel chief cancels future election security briefings for Congress

Director Of National Intelligence John L. Ratcliffe during his confirmation hearing in May.
National Intelligence Director John L. Ratcliffe during his confirmation hearing in May. Photo: Gabriella Demczuk -Pool/Getty Images

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has canceled future in-person briefings on election security issues to the congressional intelligence committees and will only provide written updates, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) announced in a statement on Saturday.

Why it matters: The National Counterintelligence and Security Center said in early August that the Russian government is actively "using a range of measures" to "denigrate former Vice President Biden" before the November election.

  • The center's director, William Evanina, added that Kremlin-linked actors are trying to support President Trump’s candidacy on social media and Russian television, while others are spreading false claims about corruption to undermine Biden and the Democratic Party.
  • The counterintelligence chief in July warned that China, Russia and Iran all pose threats for election interference in the 2020 presidential race.
  • The National Counterintelligence and Security Center is part of ODNI.

What they're saying: 'This is a shocking abdication of [ODNI's] lawful responsibility to keep the Congress currently informed, and a betrayal of the public’s right to know how foreign powers are trying to subvert our democracy," Pelosi and Schiff said.

  • "This intelligence belongs to the American people, not the agencies which are its custodian.  And the American people have both the right and the need to know that another nation, Russia, is trying to help decide who their president should be."
  • Biden accused Trump of hoping Russian President Vladimir Putin "will once more boost his candidacy."
  • "This is not how democracy works," Biden said. "But it is how American national security and sovereignty are violated."
  • Acting Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said, "Congressional oversight of intelligence activities now faces a historic crisis," criticizing both Ratcliffe's decision and alleged leaks by Democrats that put the intelligence community in this situation.

The other side: Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe "is committed to meeting our statutory responsibilities and keeping Congress fully and currently informed," an ODNI spokesman, Matthew Lahr, said in an email.

  • "For clarity and to protect sensitive intelligence from unauthorized disclosures, we will primarily do that through written finished intelligence products. We are concerned with unauthorized disclosures of sensitive information following recent briefings," Lahr said.

Of note: Counterintelligence director Evanina made a commitment in July to provide "robust intelligence-based briefings on election security" to Congress, political parties and presidential campaigns.

  • The cancelation does not apply to the so-called Gang of Eight, the group of congressional leaders who receive sensitive classified briefings, according to Politico.

The White House has not responded to a request for comment.

Editor's note: Updates with comment from ODNI, Biden and Rubio.

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