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Professor Corri Zoli: US Intelligence Warns of Foreign Election Interference

Posted on Thursday 7/30/2020
Corri Zoli

With less than 100 days to go before the US election, US intelligence officials are warning of attempted interference by Russia, China and Iran, according to an update from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Professor Corri Zoli’s research focuses on contemporary problems of warfare from an interdisciplinary social science, public policy, and law perspective, and one track of her research investigates the changing nature of the US military force structure and the challenges of asymmetric warfare for military personnel.

“Election interference from foreign actors is a common and persistent concern in the United States (as well as in other democracies),” says Zoli. “Open systems with free markets, free speech, and robust public spheres are always subject to influence operations by actors, state and non-state, with their own agendas. These influence agendas may be motivated by political and economic interests, an opportunity for peer competitors to gain an advantage or edge over the US, or they may be efforts to simply test the strength and resilience of US public democratic institutions and processes, to see how far they can exercise power and influence on an unsuspecting American public.

“The recent statement by William Evanina, at the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence Director of National Counterintelligence and Security Center, should be read as a positive, proactive posture on the part of the federal government. It indicates that US Intelligence professionals are ready and aware of these multifaceted election threats. Part of the purpose of Evanina’s message is to publicize the issue—to make ordinary Americans aware that bad actors will try to influence them through information campaigns, including on social media platforms.  

"The reach of those influence campaigns also includes cyber acts targeting election systems and infrastructure. The US is somewhat distinctive in the diversity of our election systems among municipalities and states, with multiple redundancies and post-election auditing procedures, all of which makes voter fraud less likely. There are recent cases of US based election interference by vote tampering, evident in recent prosecutions of individuals, including over 900 criminal convictions across the US of individuals attempting to change or remove votes (false registration, buying votes, misuse of absentee ballots, etc.)—but still the scope of that problem is relatively small.

“Director Evanina’s message is also designed to educate Americans and all private and government entities to adopt an aware and ‘hardened’ posture about foreign influence campaigns in social and traditional media designed to shape US voters’ perspectives and preferences by manipulating fears—about COVID-19 and the pandemic response, recent protests and riots across the nation, political division, etc.”