Aug. 7 — China and Iran are working to undermine President Donald Trump’s chances of re-election, while Russia prefers former Vice President Joe Biden loses in November, the top U.S. elections intelligence official said Friday.
William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said the foreign states are attempting to influence the 2020 presidential election to work in their respective favors. He warned that not only are the countries trying to sway Americans’ opinions, but they also seek to steal sensitive data, call into question the integrity of the election system and increase discord in society.
“We assess that China prefers that President Trump — whom Beijing sees as unpredictable — does not win re-election,” he said.
Evanina said the country has increased its efforts to influence the election and policy. Among other policy topics, the Chinese government has grown increasingly critical of the United States’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“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,” he said. “Beijing recognizes that all of these efforts might affect the presidential race.
Tensions increased further this week between Beijing and Washington, D.C., after Trump signed an executive order barring Chinese social media app TikTok from doing business with firms in the United States.
Yang Jiechi, a top member of the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee and director of its Office of Foreign Affairs, criticized the state of U.S.-China relations in a statement Friday.
“We urge U.S. decision makers to respect facts of history, recognize the trend of the times, heed the visionary calls in the U.S., and listen to the voice of the international community,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, Iran is similarly hoping to see Trump fail in the 2020 election, in part because of the pressure his administration has put on the country in hopes of a regime change, Evanina said. He said the country seeks to undermine democratic institutions and divide the country.
“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,” he said.
Working in favor of Trump is Russia, which Evanina said views Biden negatively due to the Obama administration’s stance on Ukraine and support of the Russian opposition.
“For example, 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. Some Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to boost President Trump’s candidacy on social media and Russian television,” Evanina said.
Special counsel Robert Mueller determined last year that Russia worked to influence the 2016 election in favor of Trump, mostly through an online and social media campaign.
Evanina said the intelligence community is working to combat both cyber and other outside influence efforts in the 2020 election.
“Our election should be our own. Foreign efforts to influence or interfere with our elections are a direct threat to the fabric of our democracy.”