The Chinese government has stepped up its efforts to influence U.S. politics in the 2022 elections, according to a new report released Monday, and intelligence officials are trying to learn whether Beijing is preparing to further ramp up those activities in the presidential election. of the next year.
US intelligence agencies did not observe a foreign leader directing an interference campaign against the United States in 2022 in the same way that Russia did in 2016. But, according to the report, the US government found a number of countries involved in some kind of influence operations.
And Chinese authorities tacitly approved operations to influence a handful of political races in the United States in 2022, according to the report, which represents the intelligence agencies' joint analytical assessment.
Intelligence agencies have already begun preparing for influence efforts in the 2024 presidential election, which officials predict will be much more intense than those in 2022, and both China and Russia could try to carry out major operations.
In an interview this month, Gen. Paul M. Nakasone, head of the U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, said 50 people in the two organizations he leads were “working together to brainstorm” the upcoming elections. An important question, he said, is whether China will step up its work or change tactics.
“What will be China's role in 2024?” General Nakasone said. “How do they get in? Is it a Russian model? Is it a model that they executed in 2022? Is this something we haven't seen before?
The report found that China focused primarily on a few careers. While it included few details, U.S. officials have repeatedly highlighted how China worked against a congressional candidate in New York because of his support for the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.
Chinese officials trying to influence the vote were acting at the direction of long-time leaders to work against officials seen as opponents of the Chinese government. But the report also said that China's leaders had ordered officials to focus their influence operations on Congress, convinced that “it is a locus of anti-China activity.”
The Chinese campaigns were designed to portray the United States as chaotic, ineffective and unrepresentative, according to the report. But Chinese leaders did not authorize a “comprehensive” effort, fearful of the consequences if they were exposed.
However, according to the report, Chinese interference in 2022 was more significant than during the presidential race two years earlier because “they did not expect the current administration to retaliate as severely as they feared in 2020.”
The report's explanation of that conclusion was not declassified and remains redacted in the version released to the public.
Since the 2022 vote, China has been experimenting with artificial intelligence to spread disinformation, General Nakasone said.
The report also found that Russia attempted to denigrate Democrats during the 2022 election largely because of their support for Ukraine, which Russian forces invaded in February of that year.
“Moscow incorporated themes into its propaganda designed to weaken US support for Ukraine,” the report said, “highlighting how electoral influence operations are a subset of broader influence activity.”
Senior intelligence officials have said Russia was not as active in 2022 because its top officials were distracted by the war in Ukraine. But many intelligence officials believe Russia will likely try to step up its operations in 2024 as aid to Ukraine has become a more divisive political issue.
Furthermore, much of Russia's ability to influence the election was orchestrated by companies controlled by Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, including the Internet Research Agency. Prigozhin died in a plane crash in August after his failed rebellion and march on Moscow.
U.S. officials said they were unsure how easily Russian officials could interfere in the election without Prigozhin and with the apparent disappearance of the Internet Research Agency.
Intelligence agencies concluded that foreign governments have largely given up trying to directly alter votes or hack election infrastructure. Instead, they believe that influence campaigns are more effective.
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