Counterintelligenge chief warns of China, Iran, Russia efforts to influence U.S. election


William R. Evanina, director of U.S. counterintelligence, warned that China, Iran, and Russia have engaged in active measures to influence political opinion ahead of the election coming in 100 days.

Mr. Evanina said China’s influence efforts include “pressur[ing] political figures,” while Iran and Russia are both spreading disinformation with Iran using online tools and Russia utilizing internet trolls and several proxies.

“The American public has a role to play in securing the election, particularly in maintaining vigilance against foreign influence,” Mr. Evanina said in a statement. “At the most basic level, we encourage Americans to consume information with a critical eye, check out sources before reposting or spreading messages, practice good cyber hygiene and media literacy, and report suspicious election-related activity to authorities.”

Mr. Evanina said the coronavirus outbreak and recent protests nationwide have provided fodder for those seeking to sow discord in the U.S., but said that the American people should have confidence that any attempted tampering with votes will be detected.

“Our adversaries also seek to compromise our election infrastructure, and we continue to monitor malicious cyber actors trying to gain access to U.S. state and federal networks, including those responsible for managing elections,” Mr. Evanina said. “However, the diversity of election systems among the states, multiple checks and redundancies in those systems, and post-election auditing all make it extraordinarily difficult for foreign adversaries to broadly disrupt or change vote tallies without detection.”

Active measures from China, Iran, and Russia attempting to sway American politics and campaigns are hardly a new development. Google said last month it detected attempts by an Iranian group seeking to attack President Trump’s campaign and Google found a Chinese group targeting presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden.

While China may look to exert its influence over the coming election more than in recent election cycles, Russia appears to remain a more sophisticated threat. The Stanford Internet Observatory published a new report last week detailing China’s influence campaign and its clumsy efforts more focused on social media activity than audience engagement.

Russia’s goal to create chaos and erode adversary morale drives it to social media tactics that include high volume, multichannel information operations; repetitive narratives to exacerbate social divisions; no commitment to “objective reality”; and minimal commitment to consistency,” the Stanford Internet Observatory Researchers wrote. “China, meanwhile, still largely confines itself to topics it considers critical to the reputation or interests of China.”

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