The U.S. homeland security chief says the country’s intelligence officials are seeing “persistent Russian efforts” to use social media and other resources to create divisions among the American people.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, speaking on July 14 at a gathering of U.S. secretaries of state in Philadelphia, said the Russians are using social media, “sympathetic spokespeople, and other fronts to sow discord and divisiveness amongst the American people.”
She added, however, that the efforts are not “necessarily focused on specific politicians or political campaigns."
Nielsen also contended that there are no signs Russia is targeting this year's midterm elections with the same "scale or scope" it attacked the 2016 presidential election.
Her comments came a day after a U.S. grand jury charged 12 Russian intelligence officers for their roles in hacking into the Democratic party and leaking stolen emails and other information during the 2016 campaign.
The 12 were identified as officers with the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian General Staff. Known as the GRU, the directorate is one of Russia’s primary intelligence agencies, along with the Federal Security Service (FSB).
GRU officers "in their official capacities engaged in a sustained effort to hack into the computer networks of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic National Committee and the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton," a Justice Department statement said.
The indictments, announced by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, were released just days before President Donald Trump was set to meet Russian leader Vladimir Putin in their first one-on-one summit meeting on July 16 in Helsinki.
Asked whether he will confront Putin about the allegations, Trump -- who has regularly downplayed the allegations against Russia -- said, "All I can do is say, 'Did you? And, 'Don't do it again.' But he may deny it."
The Kremlin has regularly rejected any suggestion that it meddled in the U.S. election. The Foreign Ministry called the indictments "a shameful comedy" and said they were aimed at disrupting the Helsinki summit.
In her comments, Nielsen said her agency will help officials in U.S. cities and states prepare their electoral systems for cyberattacks from Russia or elsewhere.
"Though votes were not changed" during the 2016 election, she said, "any attempt to interfere in our elections — successful or unsuccessful — is a direct attack on our democracy.”
Some of the state officials at the Philadelphia gathering said it was important for Trump to take a tougher stance against Russia to help ensure public confidence in upcoming elections.