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Intelligence officials warn Russia is a 'preeminent threat' to US elections

The country is working to promote divisive narratives and denigrate specific politicians, officials said.
Election 2024 Georgia
Posted at 4:07 PM, Jul 09, 2024

Intelligence officials are warning that Russia remains a “preeminent threat” in terms of foreign influence on U.S. elections, noting that they are beginning to see Russia target specific types of voters. In addition to Russia, U.S. officials are also watching Iran and China, which are part of the intelligence community’s “big three” in foreign election influence activity.

“Russia is undertaking a whole-of-government approach to influence the election, including the presidential race, Congress and public opinion,” an official from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence told reporters in a briefing call held on Tuesday.

“Iran is a chaos agent and China is holding fire on the presidential race,” the official added.

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In an effort toward transparency as the 2024 presidential election approaches, officials from the Office of Director of National Intelligence, the FBI, and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency vowed to continue to brief reporters and share information publicly about the election threat landscape as key dates in the 2024 presidential race approach.

Senator Mark Warner, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, praised the intelligence community’s efforts toward public updates, adding in a statement that he encourages Americans “to stay informed and alert."

"Social media, in particular, continues to be a popular vector for foreign covert influence attempts, and our adversaries remain focused on stoking social, racial, and political tensions among Americans," Warner stated.

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In addition to Russia’s activities targeting specific voter demographics, an ODNI official said the country is also working to promote divisive narratives and denigrate specific politicians. The goal for Moscow, according to the official, is to "shape electoral outcomes, undermine electoral integrity and amplify domestic divisions.”

The official reiterated several times that the intelligence community has not observed a shift in Russia’s preferences for the presidential race from past elections.

The ODNI official also stressed that the agency has not observed any plans or seen any efforts to degrade or disrupt the U.S.'s ability to hold an election.

However, officials pointed to artificial intelligence as an accelerant of malicious activities. One ODNI official revealed that Russia is implementing AI to target specific U.S. regions, using the technology to create voice messages spoken with a Southern or Midwestern accent.

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The warning from the intelligence community comes on the same day that the Justice Department announced that it had seized domain names and more than 900 social media accounts used by Russians to spread disinformation in the U.S. In conjunction with the FBI and international agencies, they uncovered a Russian bot farm that they say was created by the state-run RT news network alongside the Russian security agency FSB, which used X to spread pro-Russian government messages.

Lengthy affidavits included some of the social media accounts, which the Justice Department said relied on artificial intelligence to generate content at scale.

Scripps News asked if the intelligence community had tracked an uptick in online influence campaigns since the June presidential debate. An ODNI official said they don’t have specific post-debate activities because tracking the flow of that information is “fairly difficult,” though the official added those are the types of issues that would be used by foreign actors.

When it comes to Chinese influence, officials noted that current intelligence indicates the country does not plan to influence the presidential race because it sees both political parties as seeking to contain Beijing. But officials are watching for whether China might seek to influence select down-ballot races, even at the state and local level. China was accused of U.S. election influence in the 2022 midterm elections.

In a statement released before the briefing, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines sounded the alarm bells about Iran's influence in Gaza-related protests. She stated that Iran is “becoming increasingly aggressive in their foreign influence efforts, seeking to stoke discord and undermine confidence in our democratic institutions, as we have seen them do in the past, including in prior election cycles.” Haines revealed that her agency has observed actors tied to Iran’s government posing as activists online, seeking to encourage protests and offering financial support.

As Americans continue to participate in the democratic process leading up to the November elections, ODNI said it expects Russia, as well as other foreign actors, to increase their disinformation efforts the closer we get to Election Day.