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U.S. is bracing for complex, fast-moving foreign threats to elections, FBI director warns

FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies.
FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies on Capitol Hill in January.
(Mariam Zuhaib / Associated Press)
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The United States expects to face fast-moving threats to its elections this year as artificial intelligence and other technological advances have made interference and meddling easier than before, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said Thursday.

“The U.S. has confronted foreign malign influence threats in the past,” Wray said at 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.”

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.”

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

Wray suggested the FBI would share information 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 the election. China “considered but did not deploy” influence operations, while efforts by Iran sought to exploit vulnerabilities in state election websites 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.

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

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