Beijing’s Election Interference a Major Threat, Director of National Intelligence Says

August 19, 2020 Updated: August 19, 2020

The biggest foreign threat to election security in the United States is the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), according to Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe.

U.S. intelligence officials have recently warned about Beijing’s capability to interfere in the election, during hearings with the Senate Intelligence Committee. Last year, a number of government agencies identified Russia, China, and Iran as actors seeking to interfere in the voting process by influencing voter perceptions.

But Ratcliffe went further in emphasizing the danger posed by Beijing.

“China poses a greater national security threat to the U.S. than any other nation—economically, militarily, and technologically. That includes threats of election influence and interference,” Ratcliffe told Fox News in a statement.

Ratcliffe said Beijing is concerned that President Donald Trump will win reelection, adding that the intelligence community has briefed “hundreds of members of Congress” to raise their concerns about China “and its increased efforts to impact the U.S. policy climate in its favor.”

The assessment by Ratcliffe follows a series of comments by U.S. intelligence officials making the point that the CCP doesn’t want Trump to remain in the White House for a second term.

National security adviser Robert O’Brien said earlier this month that China is targeting the nation’s election infrastructure with cyberattacks.

“They’d like to see the president lose,” O’Brien said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Aug. 9, referring to the CCP.

“China—like Russia, like Iran—they’ve engaged in cyberattacks and phishing and that sort of thing with respect to our election infrastructure, with respect to websites and that sort of thing,” the adviser said.

The State Department announced this month that its Rewards for Justice program is offering a reward of up to $10 million “for information leading to the identification or location of any person who works with or for a foreign government for the purpose of interfering with U.S. elections through certain illegal cyber activities.”

William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center said in a statement on Aug. 7 that “We assess that China prefers that President Trump—whom Beijing sees as unpredictable—does not win reelection.”

The CCP is working hard to influence the election and policy arguments, including putting pressure on elected officials and candidates that Party leaders view as being opposed to the CCP’s interests.

The Trump administration’s increasingly hard-line stance against China, including its forced closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston, has led to an increase in criticism against the administration, according to Evanina.

“Although China will continue to weigh the risks and benefits of aggressive action, its public rhetoric over the past few months has grown increasingly critical of the current Administration’s COVID-19 response, closure of China’s Houston Consulate, and actions on other issues,” Evanina said. He noted that recent statements from Beijing support his assessment.

The Trump administration, meanwhile, is utilizing an “all-of-government” national security approach to counter Beijing’s infiltration of the United States. It’s a large-scale effort not seen from previous U.S. administrations, which critics say failed to properly identify the threat.

A string of U.S. officials this year has given speeches dedicated entirely to exposing the CCP’s influence and how the different U.S. departments are handling the risks.

One example of how this all-of-government strategy is being rolled out has been the nation’s response to China’s Huawei technology as well as the recent bans on Chinese-owned TikTok.

On Aug. 6, Trump issued executive orders that ban transactions with TikTok and the social media app WeChat after Sept. 20. The orders also ban transactions with TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, and WeChat’s parent company, Tencent Holdings.

Zachary Stieber contributed to this report. 

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