US warns of foreign efforts to sway American voters

Federal officials are warning that both Russia and China are working to influence voters in the November midterm elections.

WASHINGTON – Federal officials are warning ahead of the November midterm deadline that Russia is working to raise doubts about the integrity of US elections while China is interested in undermining the US elections. American politicians that it considers a threat to Beijing’s interests.

An unclassified intelligence adviser, recently obtained by the Associated Press, said China is probably seeking to influence select races to “hinder candidates seen as particularly hostile to the United States.” Beijing.” In advice sent to state and local officials in mid-September, intelligence officials said they believe Beijing perceives a lower risk of midterm interference than an election. President.

While officials say they have not identified any credible threats to election infrastructure in the US, the latest intelligence warning comes amid the height of the campaign. tenure, during which a growing number of candidates and voters openly expressed a lack of confidence in the nation’s democratic processes. .

Foreign nations have long sought to sway public opinion in the United States, perhaps most notably in a covert Russian campaign to use social media to sow discord over prominent social issues. ahead of the 2016 presidential election. The US government has been on high alert ever since, warning about attempts by Russia, China and Iran to interfere in US politics and shape the way voters think. .

The United States faces foreign influence campaigns while dealing with growing threats to domestic election workers and the systematic spread of disinformation. and voter fraud bias. Former President Donald Trump and many of his supporters – including candidates running to oversee elections in several states – continue to lie about the 2020 presidential election even without proof about substantial voter fraud.

“The current environment is quite complex, arguably more complex than in 2020.

Russia is amplifying divisive topics that have spread on the Internet – including doubts about the integrity of US elections – but not creating content of its own, a senior FBI official told Reuters. reporters on Monday on condition of anonymity under terms set forth by the agency.

Overall, the official said, China’s efforts are more focused on shaping policy positions, including at the state and local levels, than on election results.

However, China appears to have focused its attention on a “small group of candidates” in the US that it sees as contrary to its policy interests, the official explained. to undermine the candidacy of a Chinese student and dissident leader during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, who was running for a congressional seat in New York.

Monday’s briefing came weeks after DHS distributed an advisory describing China’s approach to this midterm as different from the 2020 election, as the intelligence community assessed that China considered but did not launch an attempt to influence the presidential election.

There are publicly disclosed examples during the last presidential election of influence campaigns originating in China. In September 2020, Facebook removed pages that posted what it said were “small amounts of content” about the election; That effort focused primarily on the South China Sea.

The DHS adviser did not list specific races or states in which it said China-linked factors might be at work, but cited a March indictment alleging an effort to undermine the country’s response. New York congressional candidate. It also shows China’s interest in politics beyond the US, saying Australian intelligence since 2017 has been scrutinizing the Chinese government’s efforts to support lawmakers or applications. candidates, including those who have amplified Beijing’s stance on selected issues.

A DHS spokesperson said the department regularly shares threat information with federal, state and local officials.

Chinese and Russian state media and officials have historically denied US accusations of election meddling and in turn pointed to US influence efforts in other countries.

Larry Norden, an election security expert with the Brennan Center for Justice, said:

“I think there’s a lot that voters should do,” he added. “If they see messages about candidates presented in an alarming or emotional way, their radar goes up. They should check the accuracy of the claims, and if they find false claims, they should notify the social media companies. “

Scott Bates, Connecticut’s deputy secretary of state, noted that election officials in the state have been responding to warnings about foreign influence since 2016.

“Our best defense is to have an educated population,” he said.

He distinguished between misinformation about the election process and misinformation about a candidate or campaign.

“The electoral process, we can protect that,” he said. “If you’re talking trash about a candidate, we’re not supposed to patrol that.”

Some indications of influence activities from Russia and China have been made public.

Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, said in late September that it had neutralized a widespread Russian disinformation network involving fake news websites and hundreds of cyber accounts. fake society. The researchers also point to a much smaller network originating in China that spreads political content that is divisive in the US, but reaches only a small audience.

Officials at the FBI and DHS said Monday that they are not aware of any credible threats to election infrastructure. A senior FBI official said that while officials do not track any specific foreign government efforts to hack voting equipment, they remain concerned that adversaries could release claims that could be used to hack voting equipment. claim exaggerated or untrue compromises to undermine confidence in elections.

In addition to concerns about cybersecurity and foreign influence campaigns, the FBI has increasingly focused on physical threats to election workers.

The FBI established a task force in the summer of 2021 to deal with a range of threats to election security officers. Since then, it has received and reviewed more than 1,000 reports of harassing communications. Most of the harassment comes from emails, phone calls and social media, and most of it originates in states where election checks are taking place.

Of those tips, about 11% have reached the threshold of a potential federal crime. The task force made four arrests, the FBI said. Officials cite constitutional barriers to bringing more cases because the First Amendment strongly protects an individual’s political speech.

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