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China interfering with US elections, trying to influence local officials Nat’l Security Advisor O’Brien says

President Donald Trump speaks as National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien, right, listens in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., on December 13, 2019. (Oliver Contreras/SIPA USA/TNS)
October 22, 2020

After Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and FBI Director Chris Wray announced Iran and Russia have obtained U.S. voter information to sway the election, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said China and “several other countries” are also involved in election interference efforts.

“We want the voters to know what’s going on,” O’Brien said Thursday during an interview with ‘Fox & Friends,’ adding, “and I’ve been talking about this for many months as you know. It’s not just Russia and Iran, it’s China and there are several other countries we have not gone public yet on.”

O’Brien did not provide specifics about how China has been interfering in the 2020 U.S. elections but did note U.S. observations of Chinese efforts to cultivate local officials in the U.S. that they could try to influence.

“China goes about trying to cultivate local leaders, mayors and governors and congressmen and convince them that if they don’t vote China’s way or they don’t do what China wants, China won’t invest in their districts or their cities or that sort of things,” O’Brien said. “And there are other countries that are attempting to do things via cyber, and Twitter and Facebook, so what we ask the American people to do is just make sure that the information they get is from a trusted source.”

O’Brien’s comments come after an August intelligence community report which assessed Russian interests to denigrate presidential candidate Joe Biden and promote President Donald Trump, along with Chinese and Iranian interests to undermine Trump’s reelection chances.

In their announcement Wednesday evening, Ratcliffe and Wray offered few specifics about Russian election interference efforts, but Ratcliffe noted Iranian efforts included targeting Democratic Party voters, sending them intimidating emails purporting to come from right-wing groups like the Proud Boys. Ratcliffe said the Iranian efforts were made to “intimidate voters, incite social unrest and damage President Trump.”

O’Brien on Thursday said U.S. security officials were taking “major steps to protect the elections.”

O’Brien noted he has held over 20 “high-level” meetings with the White House National Security Council. O’Brien also said the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with the secretary of state for all 50 states and National Guard units have also deployed their cybersecurity units to help in state-level election security, such as in Iowa.

“Across the country, we’re making big efforts to ensure that our election infrastructure is hardened and that people when they go out to vote they know their vote’s going to be counted,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien said one of the primary strategies being taken to stop election interference by foreign actors is to increase U.S. public awareness of those influence efforts, so they are more likely to know when foreign actors are attempting to sway their opinions.

“The president wanted to get out early on this and let the American people know what’s happening,” O’Brien said. “This is not something we’re sweeping under the rug, we’re trying to shine a light on it because sunshine and transparency is the best disinfectant to anyone who tries to interfere with our elections.”