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Hearing Focus on Russia Disinformation 03/30 06:21

   A committee session Thursday will address how the Kremlin allegedly uses 
technology to spread disinformation in the U.S. and Europe. 

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Some tactics Russia used to meddle in last year's 
presidential election would give shivers to anyone who believes in American 
democracy, the Senate intelligence committee's top Democrat says.

   Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia spoke ahead of a committee session Thursday 
that will address how the Kremlin allegedly uses technology to spread 
disinformation in the U.S. and Europe. Warner and the panel's chairman, Sen. 
Richard Burr, R-N.C., provided an update the committee's investigation into 
activities Russia might have taken to alter or influence the 2016 elections and 
whether there were any campaign contacts with Russian government officials that 
might have interfered with the election process.

   "There were upwards of 1,000 paid internet trolls working out of a facility 
in Russia, in effect, taking over series of computers, which is then called a 
botnet," Warner told reporters on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

   Warner said the committee was investigating to find out whether voters in 
key states, such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, might have been 
served up Russian-generated fake news and propaganda along with information 
from their traditional news outlets.

   "We are in a whole new realm around cyber that provides opportunity for 
huge, huge threats to our basic democracy," Warner said. "You are seeing it 
right now."

   Burr added that Russians are trying to influence elections in Europe as well.

   "I think it's safe by everybody's judgment that the Russians are actively 
involved in the French elections," Burr said.

   Scheduled to appear at the committee's open hearing are: Eugene Rumer, 
director of the Russia and Eurasia program at the Carnegie Endowment for 
International Peace; Roy Godson, professor of government emeritus at Georgetown 
University; Clint Watts, senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute 
Program on National Security; Kevin Mandia, chief executive officer of the 
cybersecurity firm FireEye Inc.; and retired Gen. Keith Alexander, former 
director of the National Security Agency and president of IronNet Cybersecurity.

   Pledging cooperation, Burr and Warner said they would steer clear of 
politics in their panel's probe of Russian meddling. They made a point of 
putting themselves at arm's length from the House investigation that has been 
marked by partisanship and disputes.

   Democrats have called for House intelligence committee Chairman Rep. Devin 
Nunes to recuse himself because of his ties to the Trump team, especially 
because the investigation includes looking at contacts that Russians had with 
President Donald Trump's associates. Nunes, R-Calif., met with a secret source 
on the White House grounds last week to review classified material, which he 
says indicates that Trump associates' communications were captured in 
"incidental" surveillance of foreigners. Nunes says he sees no reason to step 
aside.

   Burr said that so far, the Senate committee has requested 20 individuals to 
be interviewed. Five have been scheduled, and the remaining 15 are likely to be 
scheduled within the next 10 days. Additional witnesses could also be 
interviewed.

   Burr identified just one of the witnesses: Trump's son-in-law, Jared 
Kushner. The White House has said that Kushner, a senior adviser to Trump, has 
volunteered to answer questions about arranging meetings with the Russian 
ambassador and other officials.

   Asked whether the committee had spoken to former national security adviser 
Michael Flynn or his representatives, Burr told reporters, "It's safe to say 
that we have had conversations with a lot of people, and you would think less 
of us if Gen. Flynn wasn't in that list."

   An attorney for Flynn said his client had not yet been interviewed by the 
Senate committee. One of Flynn's lawyers, Robert Kelner, said they have had 
discussions with committee staff members, but Flynn has not been contacted 
directly.

   Trump asked Flynn, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, to 
step down last month from his post as national security adviser. The president 
said he made the decision because Flynn had misled Vice President Mike Pence 
and other White House officials about his conversations with Russia's 
ambassador to the U.S.


(KA)

 
 
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