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The next Maria Butina? 2020 campaigns to be briefed on counterintelligence threat

In the wake of cybersecurity attacks and attempted infiltration by foreign nationals in the 2016 election, the FBI has offered defensive briefings to 2020 presidential campaigns, seeking to help them prepare for possible counterintelligence threats, a government official tells CNN.

Additionally, the Democratic National Committee has also scheduled a separate briefing, developed with the help of a former intelligence officer, for this week with Democratic presidential campaigns to provide basic counterintelligence training, a DNC spokesperson tells CNN.

The DNC expects the former intelligence officer to talk about how nation-states target and compromise American people, and steps that can be taken to prevent and detect compromises.

The DNC is also encouraging campaigns to work with FBI field offices to arrange briefings with the agency, the spokesperson added.

A Republican National Committee official confirmed to CNN that its technical staff had received a counterintelligence briefing from the FBI. The RNC maintains regular communication with the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and other agencies, the official said, to share information and discuss best practices.

CNN has reached out to the Trump campaign and all of the major Democratic presidential campaigns to ask if they are going to do a press avail of the counterintelligence briefings.

The Trump campaign confirmed it received the invite and planned to attend the FBI briefing.

News of the briefings come just weeks after a federal judge sentenced Russian national Maria Butina to 18 months in prison after she pled guilty to trying to infiltrate conservative political circles and promote Russian interest in the run-up to, and after, the 2016 US presidential election.

Additionally, special counsel Robert Mueller’s report outlined, in detail, the repeated attempts made by multiple Russian nationals to contact people working on the 2016 Trump campaign and others in Trump’s orbit.

“I do think that Russia poses a very significant counterintelligence threat,” FBI Director Christopher Wray warned last month, “certainly in the cyber arena, certainly what we call the malign foreign influence territory, certainly in their presence of intelligence officers in this country.”

Wray furthered this at a congressional hearing this month, saying campaigns approached by nation-states should contact the FBI.

“I think my view is that if any public official or member of any campaign is contacted by any nation-state or anybody acting on behalf of a nation-state about influencing or interfering with our election, then that’s something that the FBI would want to know about,” he said.

Bob Lord, the DNC’s chief security officer, told CNN this week: “We know our adversaries are already hard at work, and we anticipate that they will use all the tools at their disposal to disrupt campaigns and elections.”

Lord, a former Silicon Valley executive, was hired by the Democratic Party after it suffered widespread cybersecurity attacks before the 2016 election.

“One important defense against these potential attacks is education,” Lord said. “That is why we are working with campaigns and encouraging them to understand how counterintelligence campaigns work, so that they can properly defend against them.”

A government official tells CNN that the FBI is working with DHS and the director of National Intelligence to prepare campaigns and state elections officials for the 2020 elections. This includes briefing officials on how to secure systems as well as how to defend themselves from possible insider threats.

Earlier this month, Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska asked Attorney General William Barr to provide “clarity” to 2020 campaigns on laws around campaign staff interactions with foreign officials.

“I think it would be helpful for us to have a shared understanding as we head into the 2020 election, of what campaign operatives should well understand is beyond the pale,” he told the attorney general during a congressional hearing.

CNN News

CNN News

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