Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, questioned FBI Director Christopher Wray at a hearing to review the Administration’s fiscal year 2020 funding request and budget justification for the FBI.
During the hearing, Senator Collins expressed her concern regarding Russia’s and other foreign states’ ongoing attempts to meddle in our elections.
“We know that the Russians were relentless in their efforts to influence the 2016 campaign and to further divide and polarize our society. We know that this effort did not end with the 2016 campaign. It both preceded it and continues to this very day. We know that it's not just the Russians, that other foreign states and other malicious actors are targeting our democratic society,” said Senator Collins. “There are 17 intelligence agencies, and each of them seems to have a piece of this. It concerns me that there is not one agency that is in charge of the overall strategy—should that be the FBI?”
“Senator Collins, first let me say I agree with your framing of the predicament that we face in terms of the threat itself,” responded Director Wray. “In terms of coordination, I think the FBI has a lead role to play in aspects of that. I think the [National Security Council] provides a useful construct for us to coordinate. I have not found a significant impediment to our coordination with Department of Homeland Security, NSA in particular, and [the Office of the Director of National Intelligence].”
Following up on the topic of election security, Senator Collins asked, “What key lessons has the FBI learned to date that we should be implementing right now?”
Director Wray noted that the FBI has now focused more on the way foreign adversaries use social media to influence elections in the United States.
“There is enormous value to be had in our cooperation with the tech sector and social media in particular on the foreign influence threat,” said Director Wray. “What is different right now is the incredible amplification that our adversaries get through social media. And so one of the things that changed dramatically from 16 to 18 was our coordination with social media in terms of blunting and mitigating that effect. What we saw in 2018, which I think we're going to need to do even more of in 2020 in terms of lessons, is that when we supply leads and information to the social media companies, there's all kinds of ways they can leverage their own tools and kick some of these accounts off of their platforms very, very quickly in a way that would be hard for any agency of government to do.”
As a member of the Intelligence Committee, Senator Collins is committed to securing our elections. Last month, Senator Collins cosponsored the Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines (DETER) Act, a bipartisan bill that would use key national security tools to dissuade hostile foreign powers from meddling in our elections.
In March, Senator Collins joined Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) in introducing the Protect Our Elections Act, which would prohibit foreign adversaries from owning and controlling the companies supporting American elections.