While millions of Americans are still undecided on who they’ll cast their vote for come November, America’s foreign adversaries already made up their minds and, according to U.S. intel, are actively working to bolster their chosen candidate.
In the lead up to 2016, Russia’s attempt to stir division through the purchase of less than $200,000 worth of Facebook ads, and the creation of political memes ranging from pro-Bernie to pro-Trump images led to a two-year investigation by special prosecutor Robert Mueller and the degradation of Americans trust in the political process.
According to the New York Times, memes created and shared by Kremlin backed Internet Research Agency, or IRA, included depictions of Satan & Jesus arm wrestling over whether Trump would beat Hillary in 2016, a buff Bernie Sanders in a speedo promoting LGBT rights, a statement claiming the government unjustly dissolved the Black Panthers while letting the KKK continue to exist, Sanders calling out the Clinton Foundation, anti-Muslim and anti-illegal immigration petition, #NotMyPresident rallies, and posts both supporting and slandering police officers. It’s clear Russia attempted to maximize American division and supported candidates likely to shake up the establishment, specifically Trump and Sanders.
It’s worth noting the IRA only reached 126 million users during the 2016 election. While that number seems high, most public meme pages with over 50,000 followers can rival those numbers organically.
According to a statement released by NCSC Director William Evanina on August 7th, “foreign states will continue to use covert and overt 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.”
Evanina warns foreign actors could take actions such as, “interfering with the voting process, stealing sensitive data, or calling into question the validity of the election results.” He added, “it would be difficult for our adversaries to interfere with or manipulate voting results at scale,” giving some relief to worried Americans.
While many countries have a preference in who wins, Evanina detailed three main hostile nations who have taken active steps to maliciously shift voter sentiment in the direction they’d find most beneficial: China, Iran, and Russia.
The statement continues, “we assess that China prefers that President Trump – whom Beijing sees as unpredictable – does not win reelection. China has been expanding its influence efforts ahead of November 2020 to shape the policy environment in the United States, pressure political figures it views as opposed to China’s interests, and deflect and counter criticism of China.” Trump is a prominent critic of China, from levying tariffs and trying to shift production out of the area to his attempts at weakening their influence in the South China sea, Hong Kong, and more recently criticizing their handling of the Chinese Coronavirus.
Similar to 2016, Russia is, while not entirely ‘pro-Trump,’ they’re anti-Biden. Evanina writes, “we assess that Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia “establishment.” This is consistent with Moscow’s public criticism of him 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.” He adds, “pro-Russia Ukrainian parliamentarian Andriy Derkach is spreading claims about corruption – including through publicizing leaked phone calls – to undermine former Vice President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party.” Russia is continuing to share Pro-Trump information and memes on social media. Despite accusations, the Mueller report found the Trump campaign in no way colluded with the Russians during their 2016 attempt to sway the election.
In a move that shocked no one, Iran is working to keep Trump out of a second term. “We assess that Iran seeks to undermine U.S. democratic institutions, President Trump, and to divide the country in advance of the 2020 elections. Iran’s efforts along these lines probably will focus on online influence, such as spreading disinformation on social media and recirculating anti-U.S. content.” From tariffs, to pulling out of the Iran Nuclear deal, and more recently taking out one of Iran’s top generals and terror cell leaders in a precision airstrike, Iran does not want four more years of Trump.
CNBC recounted an exchange between the President and reporters last week, addressing this new report:
At a press conference Friday evening, Trump himself pushed back on the findings of his own intelligence agencies.
“It could be,” Trump began when a reporter asked if he believed the assessment that Russia was attempting to meddle in the election against Biden.
But he quickly added: “I think that the last person Russia wants to see in office is Donald Trump.”
When the reporter noted that the statement from U.S. intelligence in fact says the opposite, Trump shot back, “Well, I don’t care what anybody says.”
“Nobody with any common sense would say” that Russia wanted him to win, Trump said.
Asked what he planned to do about the alleged interference, Trump said, “Well, we’re going to look at it very closely.”CNBC
The Intelligence Communities are continuing to provide candidates and Congressmen with briefings about ongoing election interference attempts, and Evanina promised to continue releasing public statements on the matter as new information comes out.