The US is bracing for complex, fast-moving threats to elections this year, FBI director warns

FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies during a House Select Committee focusing on China on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib) (Mariam Zuhaib, Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

MCLEAN, Va. – The United States expects to face fast-moving threats to American elections this year as artificial intelligence and other technological advances have made interference and meddling easier than before, FBI Director Christopher Wray said Thursday.

“The U.S. has confronted foreign malign influence threats in the past,” Wray told a national security conference. “But this election cycle, the U.S. will face more adversaries, moving at a faster pace, and enabled by new technology.”

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Wray singled out advances in generative AI, which he said had made it “easier for both more and less-sophisticated foreign adversaries to engage in malign influence.”

The remarks underscored escalating U.S. government concerns over sometimes hard-to-detect influence operations that are designed to shape public opinion. Though officials have not cited successful efforts by foreign governments to directly alter election results, they have sounded the alarms over the past decade about foreign influence campaigns.

Wray suggested the FBI would share information this year about threats that it sees.

“As intelligence professionals, we’ve got to highlight threats in specific, evidence-based ways so that we’re usefully arming our partners and, in particular, the public against the kinds of foreign influence operations they’re likely to confront,” he said.

In 2016, Russian operatives sought to boost Republican Donald Trump's election chances by stealing and leaking Democratic emails and by using a hidden but powerful social media campaign to sow discord among American voters.

In 2020, U.S. intelligence officials have said, Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized influence operations to denigrate Democrat Joe Biden and help Trump in that year's election. China “considered but did not deploy” influence operations, while aggressive efforts by Iran sought to exploit vulnerabilities in state election websites as Tehran sought to hurt Trump's reelection chances, officials have said.

Despite those threats, according to intelligence officials, there was ultimately no evidence that any foreign entity changed votes or otherwise disrupted the voting process.

In some instances, emerging technology has been used closer to home.

For instance, a political consultant confirmed this week that he had paid a New Orleans street magician to create a robocall that mimicked Biden's voice, though the consultant said he was trying to send a wake-up call about the potential malign uses of artificial intelligence, not influence the outcome of last month’s New Hampshire primary.

The possible specter of renewed foreign interference resurfaced again this month when the Justice Department charged an FBI informant with giving false allegations about purported Biden family corruption.

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