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Top Lawmaker Warns US ‘Less Prepared’ for Election Meddling


washington — The United States might not be ready for the onslaught of disinformation and cyberattacks expected to hit the country ahead of this year’s presidential elections, according to a top U.S. lawmaker.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner told a cybersecurity conference in Washington that despite efforts by various U.S. government agencies to protect against election meddling, there are still gaps, especially when it comes to foreign influence campaigns.

“I worry that we are less prepared for foreign intervention in our elections in 2024 than we were in 2020,” he told the Trellix Cybersecurity Summit.

He added that the prevalence of artificial intelligence could also make Russia’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election look “like child’s play.”

Top U.S. law enforcement and cybersecurity officials have repeatedly voiced confidence in their ability to protect the nation’s voting infrastructure from attacks from any number of U.S. adversaries.

“Americans can be confident in our election system and our democracy,” FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers last month, backed by the leaders of the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the National Security Agency.

But officials have expressed concerns about influence operations, especially from Russia, China and Iran, designed to exploit existing U.S. domestic political divisions.

Warner on Tuesday said he believes that is where Washington election defenses are most vulnerable, citing a court ruling that has prohibited social media companies from sharing information about potential foreign influence operations with the FBI or CISA.

“That ought to scare the hell out of all of us,” he said, adding that voter susceptibility may be at an all-time high.

“We’ve got a whole lot of more Americans in 2024, unfortunately, that are more willing to believe or have less faith in our system to start with,” Warner said.

Warner’s warning about Russian election meddling echoes comments by White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

“There’s plenty of reason to be concerned,” Sullivan told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “There is a history here in presidential elections by the Russian Federation, by its intelligence services.”

Those concerns, however, have riled some lawmakers and conservative commentators, who argue the White House is trying to resurrect what they call the “Russia hoax” — the narrative voiced by many Democrats that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to help former President Donald Trump win.

Warner, talking to reporters, dismissed such arguments.

“Anyone who doesn’t think the Russian intel services have and will continue to interfere in our elections … I wonder where they’re getting their information to start with,” he said in response to a question from VOA.

In a declassified intelligence report on the U.S. 2022 elections, released late last year, the National Intelligence Council assessed with high confidence that Russia, along with China and Iran, ran operations that sought to influence the outcomes.

“The Russian Government and its proxies sought to denigrate the Democratic Party before the midterm elections and undermine confidence in the election, most likely to undermine U.S. support for Ukraine,” the report said.

China targeted a “handful of midterm races involving members of both U.S. political parties,” it added.

Both Russia and China have previously denied allegations of running influence operations aimed at U.S. elections.