Russia aims to undermine Biden in November election, intel officials say



Russia’s efforts to influence this year’s U.S. election through information warfare have the same aim as in previous elections — to undermine President Joe Biden’s campaign and the Democratic Party and weaken public confidence in the electoral process, intelligence officials said Tuesday.

Russia’s election influence operations, which include covert social media accounts and encrypted direct messaging channels, are targeting key voter groups in swing states to exploit political divisions in the U.S. and erode support for Ukraine in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion, officials with the Office of the Director National Intelligence, or ODNI, told reporters. 

Asked whether Russia’s information campaign is trying to boost or undermine one of the presidential candidates, an ODNI official said: “We have not observed a shift in Russia’s preferences for the presidential race from past elections, given the role the U.S. is playing with regard to Ukraine and broader policy toward Russia.”

In its assessments of previous elections dating to 2016, the intelligence community concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime sought to sway American public opinion in favor of Donald Trump’s candidacy and denigrate the Democratic Party and its presidential nominees.

Former U.S. intelligence officials and regional analysts say the Kremlin has long viewed Trump as more sympathetic to Russia, citing his frequently expressed skepticism toward the NATO alliance, his reluctance to criticize Putin and his critical portrayal of Ukraine’s government.

The Justice Department said Tuesday that Russian actors had created an artificial intelligence-enhanced social media bot farm to spread disinformation in the U.S. and abroad. The U.S., Canada and the Netherlands issued a cybersecurity joint advisory warning companies about the Russian social media bot farm and how to identify the technology it uses. 

Russia, China and Iran are the “Big Three” players when it comes to election influence efforts, the ODNI official said. “Russia is a pre-eminent threat, Iran is a chaos agent, and China is holding fire on the presidential race,” the official said.

“We are beginning to see Russia target specific voter demographics, promote divisive narratives and denigrate specific politicians. Moscow seeks to shape electoral outcomes, undermine electoral integrity and amplify domestic divisions,” the ODNI official said. 

“To accomplish this, Moscow is using a variety of approaches to bolster its messaging and lend an air of authenticity to its efforts. This includes outsourcing its efforts to commercial firms to hide its hand and laundering narratives through influential U.S. voices,” the official said.

China is taking a more cautious approach than Russia, as it believes both political parties are “seeking to contain Beijing,” the official said. But China’s information operations are aimed at influencing public opinion more broadly, and it is trying “to expand its ability to collect and monitor data on U.S. social media platforms, probably to better understand and eventually manipulate public opinion,” the official said.

China’s information operations are being carried out on TikTok, as well as other social media sites, the official added.

U.S. intelligence agencies are looking to see whether China will try to shape the outcomes of specific congressional races, as it did in the 2022 midterm elections, the official said.

The emergence of AI technology is an “accelerant” for election influence efforts by foreign actors, the official said, allowing the rapid creation of false content that appears authentic.

In the run-up to the November election, U.S. agencies will be looking out for foreign actors to create deepfakes of politicians, “to flood the information space with false or misleading information” and “to sow doubt about what is real,” the official said.

In Taiwan’s elections in January, operatives most likely linked to the Chinese government posted dozens of videos online featuring AI-generated newscasters describing purported scandals about Taiwan’s president at the time, the official said. And in India’s recent elections, millions of people clicked on AI-generated ads purporting to show Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other politicians, both living and dead, talking about controversial issues, the official added.

U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies are also tracking information operations that are not necessarily directly tied to the election but illustrate how foreign governments try to seize on certain issues to worsen divisions in the U.S. or embarrass the U.S. government.

In an example of “election adjacent” information warfare, Iran has sought to amplify domestic criticism of U.S. policy on the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, National Intelligence Director Avril Haines said in a statement earlier Tuesday. 

“In recent weeks, Iranian government actors have sought to opportunistically take advantage of ongoing protests regarding the war in Gaza, using a playbook we’ve seen other actors use over the years,” Haines said. “We have observed actors tied to Iran’s government posing as activists online, seeking to encourage protests and even providing financial support to protesters.”

Haines acknowledged that Americans “in good faith” take part in protests over the conflict in Gaza and that freedom to express diverse opinions is “essential to our democracy.” She added that “it is also important to warn of foreign actors who seek to exploit our debate for their own purposes.”

Her statement about Iran’s influence activities and the ODNI’s news briefing on the election “threat landscape” are part of a new effort by the intelligence community to keep the public informed about foreign efforts to influence America’s democratic processes, officials said.

Lawmakers have urged U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies to take a more proactive approach and alert the public about foreign interference efforts. The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner, D-Va., praised the agencies’ latest efforts.

“I have long pushed the intelligence community to be more open with the public about the complex and serious foreign influence threats targeting the United States — particularly in the context of U.S. elections. Today’s press briefing is a strong step in that direction,” Warner said in a statement.



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