FBI intensifies efforts to prevent 2020 election interference

The FBI issued a warning Thursday to everyone from presidential candidates to large companies and private citizens about foreign influence operations that are aimed at manipulating the 2020 elections.

The 2020 threat — on the heels of the 2016 Russian election-meddling operation — is one of the most dangerous threats the nation faces currently, according to bureau officials. Jason Fickett, the assistant special agent in charge of intelligence at the FBI’s Washington Field Office, said that foreign efforts to interfere since 2016 “have not diminished.”

The bureau, he said, “is concerned with three common foreign influence methods: cyber[criminality]; secret funding and influence operations; and disinformation campaigns to confuse, trick or upset the general public on social media platforms.”

Another key concern is vote tampering. But Nikki Floris, the deputy assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, told the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that “to our knowledge, no foreign government has attempted to tamper with U.S. vote counts.”

However, Floris said, “We do know that our adversaries are actively trying to influence public opinion and electoral processes in advance of the 2020 election.”

The most significant threats have originated in Russia, Iran and China.

The FBI activity this week coincided with Facebook’s announcement that it has taken down four separate networks of accounts, pages and groups for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior on Facebook and Instagram.

Nathaniel Gleicher, the head of cybersecurity policy at Facebook, said in a news release, “Three of them originated in Iran and one in Russia, and they targeted a number of different regions of the world: the U.S., North Africa and Latin America.”

All of these operations, Gleicher said, “Created networks of accounts to mislead others about who they were and what they were doing.”

The information from their investigation “has been shared with law enforcement, policymakers and industry partners,” he said.

The FBI and its partners in the venture — the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — are not just concerned about how perpetrators’ “inauthentic behavior” can distort election issues on social media. They also fear criminal actors could take over computers used by presidential campaigns.

October 25, 2019 | The FBI vs. election interference, Part 1 (J.J. Green)

“All significant [presidential] campaigns have either received a brief directly from us or participated in two separate webinars that we provided more information on,” Fickett said.

Seventeen videos have been loaded onto the FBI website’s “Protected Voices” page for the general public. Each five- to 10-minute video provides tips on defending against cyberthreats that are common among foreign actors seeking to influence elections.

“Protected Voices” works along with the FBI-led Foreign Influence Task Force, which is assigned to identify and counteract malign foreign influence operations targeting the United States.

October 25, 2019 | The FBI vs. election interference, Part 2 (J.J. Green)

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J.J. Green

JJ Green is WTOP's National Security Correspondent. He reports daily on security, intelligence, foreign policy, terrorism and cyber developments, and provides regular on-air and online analysis. He is also the host of two podcasts: Target USA and Colors: A Dialogue on Race in America.

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