Disinfo czar Jankowicz wrongly cast doubt on intelligence saying Iran tried to hurt Trump reelection
The Biden administration’s new disinformation czar wrongly undercut the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Iran was attempting to hurt then-President Donald Trump’s reelection chances just before the 2020 vote.
Nina Jankowicz, a disinformation fellow at the Wilson Center, will be the executive director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Disinformation Governance Board.
In October 2020, she tweeted, gave media interviews, and wrote op-eds downplaying Iranian election influence efforts in 2020, with critiques repeatedly lobbed at then-Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe.
The Biden Office of Director of National Intelligence agreed with the Trump ODNI’s thoughts on Iran trying to hurt Trump.
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On Oct. 21, 2020, Ratcliffe and FBI Director Christopher Wray held a press conference and warned that Russia and Iran had gained access to U.S. voter registration information.
Ratcliffe explained: “We have already seen Iran sending spoofed emails designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest, and damage President Trump. … Although we have not seen the same actions from Russia, we are aware that they have obtained some voter information, just as they did in 2016.” Jankowicz appeared on NPR’s On Point on Oct. 26, 2020, to trash Ratcliffe.
She said the Iranian emails had an “air of legitimacy” and rejected Ratcliffe’s assessment. “These are designed to suppress voters, first of all, and they’re also designed to cause chaos and confusion and distrust in the system writ large,” she said.
Jankowicz criticized Ratcliffe, saying he was “making it look like these campaigns are seeking to target President Trump when, in reality, it’s about targeting our democracy.”
She complained Ratcliffe made it look like, “OK, here’s Iran doing this horrible thing. Russia might have some voter files, but we’re not going to tell you about that.”
A Florida voter who received one of the emails told NPR she didn’t need the email to associate Trump with the Proud Boys and didn’t believe Ratcliffe’s conclusions stood up to logic, instead guessing Iran was just trying to suppress the vote. Jankowicz said she thought that was “exactly right.”
Jankowicz also put out a lengthy Twitter thread the morning after Ratcliffe’s October 2020 press conference, calling it “nuts” and saying that it “paints a confusing picture.” She also spoke to PolitiFact that day, saying: “I’m also not necessarily sure how Iran’s attempts at disinformation and voter suppression aimed at Democrats help President Trump.”
She penned an Oct. 28, 2020, piece for the Washington Post in which she attacked Republicans and Ratcliffe.
“We’ve also seen this politicization touch our intelligence community,” Jankowicz wrote. “In a news conference last week, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe discussed Iran’s email campaign to intimidate voters by impersonating the Proud Boys, presenting it as a threat to the election.”
She said: “Ratcliffe, however, claimed that Iran’s campaign, which targeted Democrats, was somehow detrimental to the president, turning what should have been an issue of collective concern into a one-sided pity party.”
She decried the Trump administration’s “attempt to shift the narrative away from Russia toward assessments that portray the president as a victim.”
A senior intelligence official at the time told the Washington Examiner that Iran “saw an opportunity here to manufacture blowback on Trump by creating a narrative that violent Trump supporters are sending out threatening emails.”
Jankowicz sent out a Twitter thread in March 2021 in which her only mention of Iran was when she said the ODNI concluded that “Iran worked against Trump.” But she insisted she had been right generally, saying: “Ahead of the election, we saw officials across government downplaying the Russian threat and emphasizing alleged Chinese operations. … It seems our fears about the Trump admin politicizing intel were borne out.”
The ODNI’s majority view said China didn’t influence the 2020 election, but the Biden ODNI said the national intelligence officer for cyber said China had taken steps to undermine Trump’s reelection, a minority view Ratcliffe shared.
Jankowicz also tweeted in March 2021 that the intelligence community “has a high degree of confidence that the Kremlin used proxies to push influence narratives, including misleading or unsubstantiated claims about President Biden.” She claimed this was “a clear nod to the alleged Hunter laptop.”
The ODNI report did not reference the laptop story and reached no public conclusions on it. Jankowicz cast doubt on the laptop in October 2020.
The ODNI’s report in March 2021 concluded: “We assess with high confidence that Iran carried out an influence campaign during the 2020 U.S. election season intended to undercut the reelection prospects of former President Trump.”
It added: “Tehran’s efforts were aimed at denigrating former President Trump. … Iran’s efforts in 2020 — especially its emails to individual U.S. voters and efforts to spread allegations of voter fraud — were more aggressive than in past election cycles.”
The Biden ODNI added: “In a highly targeted operation, Iranian cyber actors sent threatening, spoofed emails purporting to be from the Proud Boys group to Democratic voters in multiple U.S. states.”
The Justice Department charged Iranian hackers for their roles in the scheme in November 2021.
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Biden’s Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas described Jankowicz as “eminently qualified,” a “renowned expert,” and “neutral” on Sunday. Jankowicz has also touted insights from discredited dossier author Christopher Steele, and her efforts to tamp down on the Wuhan lab leak theory were repeated by Chinese state-run media.