By DEB RIECHMANN and DESMOND BUTLER
ASPEN, Colo. (AP) — FBI Director Christopher Wray said Wednesday that Russia continues to use fake news, propaganda and covert operations to “spin up” Americans on both sides of hot-button issues to sow discord in the United States.
Wray stood behind the intelligence agencies’ assessment that Moscow meddled in the 2016 presidential election, dismissing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim that his country was not involved.
“He’s got his view. I can tell you what my view is,” Wray said at the opening event of the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado. “The intelligence community’s view has not changed. My view has not changed.”
Wray spoke after a day of controversy in Washington over whether President Donald Trump accepts the intelligence agencies’ assessment and whether he believes Moscow is continuing to try to influence American elections or threaten the nation’s infrastructure.
Wray also dismissed Putin’s offer to allow the U.S. access to 12 Russian military intelligence officers who have been indicted on charges of interfering in the election in return for being able to interview Americans the Kremlin has accused of unspecified crimes.
The White House said it was under consideration. Wray dismissed the offer.
“I never want to say never about anything,” Wray said, “but it’s certainly not high on our list of investigative techniques.”
Much of the conversation with Wray, which was moderated by NBC’s Lester Holt, focused on Russia.
“Russia continues to engage in malign influence operations to this day,” Wray said.
He said that while U.S. officials have not yet seen an effort by Russia to target specific election systems, it is aggressively engaged in influence operations to sow discord and divisiveness in America. “To me, it’s a threat that we need to take very serious and respond to with fierce determination,” Wray said.
He said the Russians identify divisive issues, and through covert and overt operations, fake news and propaganda, they “spin people up on both sides of an issue and then kind of watch us go after each other.”
Russia isn’t the only country threatening the U.S., Wray said.
He said he thinks China, from a counterintelligence perspective, represents the broadest and most significant threat America faces. China wants to replace the United States as the most powerful economic engine in the world and is infiltrating American businesses to get an edge.
“We have economic espionage investigations in all 50 states” that can be traced back to China, Wray said. “It covers everything from corn seeds in Iowa to wind turbines in Massachusetts and everything in between.
“The volume of it. The pervasiveness of it. The significance of it is something that I think this country cannot underestimate.”