Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe told Fox News that China poses “a greater national security threat” to the United States “than any other nation,” detailing a web of threats that includes “election influence and interference.”
Intelligence officials say they are increasingly concerned about interference in the U.S. election by China, adding to existing concerns about meddling by Russia that have been around since 2016, as well as the threat of meddling from Iran.
“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.
While Russia was widely seen as favoring now-President Trump and generally seeking to sow chaos in America during the 2016 election, the difference with China is it is seen to be seeking a Trump loss in November. Yet congressional Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who ever since 2016 have issued dire warnings about Russian meddling, have not been quite so vocal about China’s potential to interfere in the 2020 election.
Pelosi, D-Calif., last week said the threats of interference from Russia and China are “not equivalent,” while urging the intelligence community to put out more information about Russian efforts, saying Moscow is “actively 24/7 interfering in our election.”
Ratcliffe said the threat from China is actually significant, and he is “committing the IC resources needed to fully understand the threat posed by China and provide U.S. policymakers with the best intelligence to counter China’s broad and deep malign activities.”
“China is concerned that President Trump’s reelection would lead to a continuation of policies that they perceive to be ‘anti-China,’” Ratcliffe explained, noting 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.”
“Fair and free elections are a bedrock of American democracy, and the IC remains vigilant against the various activities by China, as well as other threat countries and actors, which seek to affect our electoral process,” Ratcliffe said.
The intelligence community has acknowledged that Russia’s meddling remains a threat in 2020, but specifically mentioned China’s efforts, which an official within the intelligence community told Fox News has been ramping up in the last several months, citing rhetoric between the U.S. and China.
China’s cyber efforts, with relation to efforts to influence the election, are anti-Trump administration and largely include fake social media accounts to amplify certain anti-American beliefs.
According to a report released this month by Graphika, social media accounts from the pro-Chinese political spam network Spamouflage Dragon began posting English-language videos that attacked American policy and the Trump administration in June.
The report revealed that some of the accounts made on YouTube and Twitter used artificial intelligence-generated profile pictures, which is a common technique in disinformation campaigns, and did not appear to receive any engagement from “authentic users” across social media platforms.
The efforts also did not appear to “seriously attempt to conceal its Chinese origin as it pivoted toward messaging related to U.S. politics,” the report stated.
Specifically, the report revealed that some of the anti-Trump messaging is related to the coronavirus pandemic and racial justice protests across the U.S.
A video titled “Who is responsible for this national disaster in the United States?” posted on July 12, called Trump a “firm and creative ally” of the coronavirus, according to the report. The tone, according to Graphika, “wavered between scathing criticism of the American government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak and apparent sympathy for everyday American citizens exposed to the pandemic and the anti-racism protests.”
Meanwhile, as for the intelligence community’s preparedness in the 2020 election versus 2016 to handle malign influence activities, an ODNI official told Fox News that the intelligence community is “significantly ahead of where it was in 2016 in terms of providing updates to the American people on election threats, including China.”
The ODNI official also told Fox News that the intelligence community supports the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI in their efforts to support state and local officials in protecting election infrastructure.
The official also said that the ODNI is working with the FBI and its field office network to bring intelligence insights to state and local officials.
Earlier this month, Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center Bill Evanina, who is leading the intelligence community in election security, warned that rival nations once again are attempting to influence U.S. policy and elections in a variety of ways, declaring that Iran wants to “undermine” President Trump, while Russia is working to “primarily denigrate” former Vice President Joe Biden.
That election threat update also noted that China “prefers” that Trump “does not win reelection” in November.
Evanina said earlier this month that Bejing prefers a Trump loss because Chinese officials view him as unpredictable, adding that China has been expanding its attempt to influence the general election and shape U.S. policy, by pressuring political figures Chinese officials view as opposed to their country's interests.
“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 earlier this month.
China “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," Evanina said. "Beijing recognizes that all of these efforts might affect the presidential race.”
Last month, the Trump administration moved to close the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas, partially because of the Chinese Communist Party’s targeting of U.S. energy firms.
As for TikTok, the Trump administration has taken a tough stance on the Chinese social media platform, issuing an executive order this month that would see the platform banned in the U.S. within 45 days.
The U.S. ban put pressure on the China-based company to sell the app’s U.S. platform – Microsoft is reportedly a leading contender, but the deal will be closely monitored by the Trump administration.
Evanina has delivered nearly 20 classified briefings to both Trump and Biden’s presidential campaigns, political committees and members of Congress – including members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees and congressional leadership – on election threats since mid-May.
An ODNI official told Fox News that the briefings are led by Evanina and his team, but said that FBI and the Department of Homeland Security officials and other agencies often are present.
As for the FBI, Director Christopher Wray has been warning of Chinese efforts to influence U.S. opinion, and economic espionage, for months.
Earlier this summer, Wray told Fox News that China “certainly” has an interest “in influencing our political thought” and policies and is trying “to shift them in a more friendly, pro-China, pro-Chinese Communist party direction.” He warned that those efforts sometimes get “wrapped up in election issues.”
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Schiff, D-Calif., has warned that China could be using different ways of influencing the election than Russia and Iran, telling NBC News that the Chinese could use trade negotiations with the U.S.
But a spokesman for Schiff did not respond to Fox News’ request for comment on whether his committee would initiate an investigation into potential Chinese election interference, as the panel did with Russian election meddling efforts – an investigation that stretched throughout the Trump administration.
A GOP aide told Fox News that Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, though, have had an investigation focused on China dating back to previous congressional sessions, noting that China is something "we're very concerned about."
"We're looking at it and we've never stopped," the GOP aide told Fox News.
The Trump campaign, meanwhile, said the Trump administration has been tough on Russia while claiming China and Iran oppose Trump because he's been tough with them too.
“We don’t need or want foreign interference, and President Trump will beat Joe Biden fair and square,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said in a statement. "The intelligence community’s assessment that both China and Iran are trying to stop President Trump’s reelection is concerning, but clearly because he has held them accountable after years of coddling by politicians like Joe Biden.”