Foreign interference in the 2020 United States elections

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Foreign interference in the 2020 United States elections has become a question of concern at the highest level of national security as well as in the computer and social media industries.[1]

Reports of attempted interference[edit]

In response to allegations that Russian operatives had interfered in the 2016 presidential election, special counsel Robert Mueller conducted a two-year-long investigation. The resulting report, released in March 2019, said that Russia had interfered in the 2016 presidential election in “sweeping and systematic fashion”.[2] In his July 2019 Congressional testimony, Mueller stated that the Russians continue to interfere in U.S. elections "as we sit here”, and that "many more countries" have developed disinformation campaigns targeting U.S. elections, based partly on the Russian model.[3][4]

Also in July 2019, the Senate Intelligence Committee released the first volume of a bipartisan report on Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections, a report that included recommendations for securing the 2020 elections.[5][6] The second volume of that report noted, based on social-media data from October 2018, that "Russian disinformation efforts may be focused on gathering information and data points in support of an active measures campaign targeted at the 2020 U.S. presidential election."[7]

U.S. officials have accused Russia, China and Iran of trying to influence the 2020 elections.[8][9][10][11] Between January and late July 2017, Twitter identified and shut down over 7,000 phony accounts created by Iranian influence operations.[12] According to Christopher A. Wray, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Russia is attempting to interfere with the 2020 United States elections.[13][14][15] Speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations in July 2019, Wray stated, "We are very much viewing 2018 as just kind of a dress rehearsal for the big show in 2020."[16] Dan Coats, the former Director of National Intelligence, believes that Russia and China will both attempt to influence the elections.[17][18]

Various disinformation campaigns on social media have targeted the Democratic Party candidates running in the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primaries.[19] This has prompted considerable concern regarding the ability of social media companies to cope with disinformation and manipulation.[20][21] By August 2019, Facebook and Twitter had banned advertisements that use misinformation to attempt the suppression of voter turnout.[22]

Microsoft developed an open source software called ElectionGuard to help safeguard the 2020 elections.[23] In mid-July 2019, Microsoft announced that it had, over the prior year, "notified nearly 10,000 customers they've been targeted or compromised by nation-state attacks". Based on attacks that had targeted political organizations, and on experience from 2016 and 2018, Microsoft anticipated "attacks targeting U.S. election systems, political campaigns or NGOs that work closely with campaigns".[24] Of the "nation-state attacks" that had originated from Russia, Microsoft claimed that they followed the "same pattern of engagement" as Russian operations in 2016 and 2018.[25] On September 20, 2019, Microsoft announced that it would provide free security updates for Windows 7, which will reach its end-of-life on January 14, 2020, on federally-certified voting machines through the 2020 United States elections.[26] On October 4, 2019, Microsoft announced that "Phosphorus", a group of hackers linked to the Iranian government, had attempted to compromise e-mail accounts belonging to journalists, prominent Iranian expatriates, U.S. government officials and the campaign of a U.S. presidential candidate.[27][28] While Microsoft did not disclose which campaign had been the target of the cyber attack, unnamed sources informed Reuters that it had been that of Donald Trump.[29]

On October 21, 2019, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that his company has detected a "highly sophisticated" set of campaigns to interfere with the 2020 elections. These campaigns originated from Russia and from Iran.[30] Fake accounts based in Russia posed as Americans of varied political backgrounds and worked to undermine the campaign of Joe Biden, aiming to sow discontent with Biden from both the left and the right.[31]

Government reaction[edit]

Dan Coats appointed Shelby Pierson as the U.S. election security czar in July 2019, creating a new position in a move seen as an acknowledgment that foreign influence operations against U.S. elections will be ongoing indefinitely.[32][33] Election-security task forces established before the 2018 midterm elections at the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Security Agency and the United States Cyber Command have been expanded and "made permanent".[14] The Department of Homeland Security indicated that the threat of ransomware attacks upon voter registration databases was a particular concern.[34]

Prior to resigning as U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen attempted to organize a meeting of the U.S. Cabinet to discuss how to address potential foreign interference in the 2020 elections. Mick Mulvaney, the White House Chief of Staff, reportedly warned her to keep the subject away from Trump, who views the discussion as questioning the legitimacy of his victory in 2016.[35] Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, has blocked various bills intended to improve election security from being considered,[36][37][38] including some measures that have had bipartisan support.[39][40] However, various states have implemented changes, such as paper ballots.[41] Florida has expanded its paper-ballot backup system since 2016, but experts warn that its voting systems are still vulnerable to manipulation, a particular concern being the electronic poll books that store lists of registered voters.[42] Democratic members of Congress have cited the lack of effort to secure U.S. elections against foreign interference, particularly from Russia, as among grounds to begin an impeachment inquiry.[43]

On September 30, 2019, the United States issued economic sanctions against seven Russians affiliated with the Internet Research Agency, an organization that manipulates social media for misinformation purposes. The sanctions were described as a warning against foreign interference in United States elections.[44]

On December 9, 2019, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray told ABC News: "as far as the [2020] election itself goes, we think Russia represents the most significant threat."[45] According to William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, Russia is "using social media and many other tools to inflame social divisions, promote conspiracy theories and sow distrust in our democracy and elections."[46]

Bloomberg News reported in January 2020 that American intelligence and law enforcement were examining whether Russia was involved in promoting disinformation to undermine Joe Biden as part of a campaign to disrupt the 2020 election.[46]

Presidency of Donald Trump[edit]

In a June 2019 interview with George Stephanopoulos, President Donald Trump said that he would accept information from other nations about his opponents in the 2020 United States presidential election.[47][48]

According to reporting by The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and The New York Times, Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani repeatedly pressed the Ukrainian government to investigate Hunter Biden, the son of Joe Biden, leading to the ongoing Trump–Ukraine scandal.[49][50][51] Biden is a potentially strong Trump challenger in the 2020 presidential election.[52][53] The purpose of the requested investigation was alleged to be to damage Biden's election campaign for president.[54][55] Reports suggested that Trump threatened to withhold military aid from Ukraine unless they investigate Biden.[55][56] The controversy triggered the commencement of the formal process of impeachment inquiries against Trump on September 24, with House speaker Nancy Pelosi directing six House committee chairmen to proceed "under that umbrella of impeachment inquiry".[57]

On October 3, 2019, Trump said that "China should start an investigation" into presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. Moments before, while discussing negotiations on a possible agreement in the ongoing China–United States trade war, he said that "if they [China] don't do what we want, we have tremendous power." Chair of the Federal Election Commission Ellen Weintraub then retweeted a June statement explaining that "it is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election".[58]

As of early October 2019, there is evidence President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, U.S. Attorney General William Barr, as well as Trump's personal attorney Giuliani have solicited help from Ukraine, Australia, Italy, the United Kingdom, and China for assistance in discrediting Trump's political opponents.[59][60][61][62][63][64][65][66][67]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kroll, Andy (January 17, 2020). "Hackers Are Coming for the 2020 Election — And We're Not Ready". Rolling Stone. Retrieved January 17, 2020.
  2. ^ Mueller Report, vol. I, p. 1: "The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion"
  3. ^ Tucker, Eric; Jalonick, Mary Clare; Balsamo, Michael (July 25, 2019). "Mueller rejects Trump's claims of exoneration, 'witch hunt'". The Washington Post. And [Mueller] said of the interference by Russians and others: "They are doing it as we sit here. And they expect to do it during the next campaign."
  4. ^ "Robert Mueller's testimony: The biggest takeaway is Russia's interference in US elections". CNN. July 25, 2019. Retrieved July 26, 2019.
  5. ^ Sanger, David E.; Edmondson, Catie (July 25, 2019). "Russia Targeted Election Systems in All 50 States, Report Finds". The New York Times. But while the bipartisan report's warning that the United States remains vulnerable in the next election is clear, its findings were so heavily redacted at the insistence of American intelligence agencies that even some key recommendations for 2020 were blacked out.
  6. ^ "Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence, United States Senate, on Russian Active Measures, Campaigns, and Interference in the 2016 U.S. Election" (PDF). Retrieved July 27, 2019.
  7. ^ "Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence, United States Senate, on Russian Active Measures, Campaigns, and Interference in the 2016 U.S. Election, Volume 2" (PDF). Retrieved October 8, 2019.
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  9. ^ "U.S. Sees Russia, China, Iran Trying to Influence 2020 Elections". Bloomberg. June 24, 2019.
  10. ^ "US says Russia, China and Iran are trying to influence 2020 elections". The National. June 25, 2019.
  11. ^ "2020 Election Meddling by China, Iran, N. Korea Likely, Administration Officials Warn". Yahoo News. June 28, 2019.
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  13. ^ "FBI Director Wray: Russia intent on interfering with U.S. elections". Reuters. July 23, 2019. Retrieved July 24, 2019.
  14. ^ a b Goldman, Adam (April 26, 2019). "F.B.I. Warns of Russian Interference in 2020 Race and Boosts Counterintelligence Operations". The New York Times. Retrieved July 24, 2019.
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  21. ^ O'Kane, Caitlin (May 31, 2019). "Russian trolls fueled anti-vaccination debate in U.S. by spreading misinformation on Twitter, study finds". CBS News. Retrieved July 28, 2019. Facebook also said it would crack down on the spread of vaccine misinformation by de-prioritizing medical myths across the platform ... however, misinformation about vaccines is not the only threat, as Russia is focusing on spreading misinformation around health care issues ahead of the 2020 election.
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  23. ^ Parks, Miles (May 6, 2019). "Ahead Of 2020, Microsoft Unveils Tool To Allow Voters To Track Their Ballots". NPR.
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