General Nakasone has vowed to take steps to knock such disinformation offline, as he did in the 2018 midterm elections, when Cyber Command attacked the Internet Research Agency, the digital propaganda shop that operates from St. Petersburg, disabling its systems for a number of days. One veteran of Cyber Command noted that the general’s mission in the next six weeks may involve taking down Russian posts that are quoting his boss.
Intelligence officials, for their part, are battling an effort by Mr. Trump and his top advisers to cast China and Iran as equal threats to the election, which runs counter to their intelligence.
A homeland security official, Brian Murphy, said in a whistle-blower complaint that the leadership of the Department of Homeland Security, including the agency’s acting secretary Chad F. Wolf, blocked the release of a threat assessment that contained warnings of Russian interference because of how it “would reflect upon President Trump.”
The senior officials instead directed analysts to highlight threats posed by China and Iran, which have generally targeted Mr. Trump, according to Mr. Murphy. While both are threats, officials say, their operations are neither as extensive nor as sophisticated as the Russians. They are longer-term concerns, though Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, Robert C. O’Brien, has sought to portray them on equal footing with Moscow.
Former officials say they are concerned that such contradictory assessments play into Russia’s hands. “If the adversary’s goal is to undermine confidence in the legitimacy of the process, then it’s incredibly important we have voices to counter that objective,” said Suzanne Spaulding, a former under secretary for cybersecurity and critical infrastructure at the Department of Homeland Security. “And if the credibility of those voices has been undermined, then it makes the adversary’s jobs that much easier.”