WASHINGTON (CN) — A top intelligence official said Friday that Russia is trying to boost President Donald Trump’s re-election chances by undermining his Democratic opponent Joe Biden, while China wants the former vice president to win because it sees Trump as unpredictable.
With just 88 days until the presidential election, the country’s leading counterintelligence officer warned multiple foreign actors have continued their attempts to influence American voters.
“Ahead of the 2020 U.S. elections, foreign states will continue to use covert and influence measures in their attempts to sway U.S. voters’ preferences and perspectives, shift U.S. policies, increase discord in the United States, and undermine the American people’s confidence in our democratic process,” William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said in a statement Friday.
Evanina, referencing a July 24 statement promising to update the American public on U.S. election security, said his agency has continued concern over Chinese, Russian and Iranian influence.
While these nations often engage in overt attempts to influence policy and leadership, covert influence efforts are rarer but come into play in elections — it would be hard for those countries “to interfere with or manipulate voting results at scale,” according to Friday’s update.
Evanina said Russia is “using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment.’” Kremlin-linked actors are said to be boosting Trump’s re-election campaign through social media and on Russian television.
“This is consistent with Moscow’s public criticism of [Biden] when he was vice president for his role in the Obama administration’s policies on Ukraine and its support for the anti-Putin opposition inside Russia,” the counterintelligence official wrote.
China, meanwhile, is trying to manipulate Americans to vote for Biden, according to Evanina. He said Beijing sees Trump as unpredictable and has expanded influence on pressure political figures it sees as opposed to its interests.
“For example, it has harshly criticized the administration’s statements and actions on Hong Kong, TikTok, the legal status of the South China Sea, and China’s efforts to dominate the 5G market,” the update states. “Beijing recognizes that all these efforts might affect the presidential race.”
Iranian efforts are not necessarily aimed at propping up Biden, but instead generally seek to undermine U.S. institutions and Trump, while dividing the nation before the election.
“Tehran’s motivation to conduct such activities is, in part, driven by a perception that President Trump’s reelection would result in a continuation of U.S. pressure on Iran in an effort to foment regime change,” Evanina wrote.
A year ago, state election officials urged lawmakers to support more funding for election security. Those bills, however, have been non-starters for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican. McConnell blocked votes last summer on key bills that would have provided additional security for U.S. election systems, including a bill mandating the use of paper ballots.
Evanina’s update links to various election security information sites, including a Department of Homeland Security information page about U.S. elections, and an FBI website with videos on protecting personal information.
“Our election should be our own,” Evanina wrote. “Foreign efforts to influence or interfere with our elections are a direct threat to the fabric of our democracy.”