Mon. Jul 15th, 2024

U.S. spy agencies are ready to warn voters about foreign election interference — if it’s severe enough

By 37ci3 Jun13,2024

US intelligence agencies are closely monitoring foreign rivals’ attempts to influence the 2024 elections Through “deepfakes” or other false information, and are ready to alert the public if necessary, officials said Wednesday.

The decision to notify the public about an attempted election interference by foreign actors will rest with the nation’s intelligence chiefs, including intelligence chief Avril Haines, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, or ODNI, officials told reporters.

ODNI officials said the decision to issue a public warning will be reviewed by digital forensics and intelligence analysts. This will be based on an assessment of whether the disinformation is “serious enough to affect the results of the elections,” the official said.

Intelligence officials briefed reporters on Thursday amid the surge worries lawmakers that federal agencies are ill-equipped to respond to the rising tide disinformation is fueled by new technology and deep divisions in American society.

However, in a media briefing, ODNI officials said that the new office created to monitor the information operations of foreign enemies has gathered experts from various intelligence agencies of the country and is conducting regular training to prepare for the election.

“We are taking a very proactive approach,” an ODNI official said.

Haines, the director of national intelligence, established the Foreign Malicious Influence Center in September 2022, more than two years after Congress ordered its creation following the revelations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Russia continues to pose the most serious risk of foreign interference in the US election as it hopes to undermine Western support for Ukraine and weaken American democracy, officials said.

An ODNI official said: “We consider Russia to be our main threat for these elections.” China is taking a “more cautious” approach, the official said, while Iran is acting as an “agent of chaos” and trying to disrupt the democratic process.

US officials have already privately warned targets of harmful foreign disinformation, including local governments, companies and individuals. Intelligence officials declined to disclose the number of cases or other details.

Federal officials once issued a public warning about foreign election disinformation in 2020, when they were accused of sending emails to registered voters allegedly from the far-right extremist group Proud Boys. The emails threatened recipients with physical harm if they did not switch parties and vote for President Donald Trump.

To insulate the office from partisan political bias, officials said, career officials in the intelligence community oversee efforts to monitor foreign information operations aimed at elections.

Intelligence reporting forms the monitoring of external influence operations and intelligence analysts record events. If the case of disinformation is not “severe” enough or is orchestrated by a local actor, the case is dismissed, officials said. The FBI or other local agencies will then decide whether to pursue the matter.

“We will not look at local actors,” the official said. “It’s not in our power.”

The center is trying to build “partnerships” with state and local agencies, but officials are aware that some local officials may lack confidence in the federal government.

Some experts and members of Congress have expressed concern that the polarized political climate in America could cause intelligence agencies and the FBI to be overly cautious about threats to elections from disinformation spread by foreign powers. Trump and his supporters have portrayed the Justice Department and intelligence agencies as pursuing a hidden political agenda to harass him and undermine his agenda.

Intelligence analysts have flagged or “nominated” more incidents of potential foreign influence operations in recent months, surpassing levels seen in the past four to five years, officials said.

“There were more candidates than we always see,” the official said, declining to provide more information or other details.

When asked whether some foreign governments, which are considered partners or allies of the United States, also participated in operations to influence the election, the ODNI official answered: “We go where the intelligence leads us.”

ODNI officials said it takes about a week for a specific threat to be validated and reviewed by senior officials. The process is being “streamlined” and could take less than 24 hours if there is an emergency near election day, officials said.

ODNI officials also said that more foreign actors are spreading disinformation, including proxies employed by governments and private companies. Officials said intermediaries make it difficult to track down sources of false information.

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By 37ci3

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