Investigation reveals how CCP interfered in US election | Eastern North Carolina Now

‘Perceived themselves being under less scrutiny’ since the 2020 election

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By Andrew Thornebrooke at The Epoch Times

The Chinese regime interfered in the U.S. 2022 midterm elections through various means, according to a declassified intelligence report and multiple private-sector investigations.

The effort included a broad array of techniques orchestrated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), including retaliation against U.S. lawmakers, the promotion of divisive content, and the impersonation of American voters online.

Noted China hawk Rep. Tom Tiffany (R-Wis.) said the regime will continue its efforts to interfere in U.S. elections until the Biden administration deals more seriously with Beijing.

“Communist China has shown time and time again that they will stop at nothing to interfere in America’s elections,” Mr. Tiffany told The Epoch Times.

“The Biden administration needs to take a harder line on PRC meddling and espionage.”

PRC is the acronym for communist China’s official name, the People’s Republic of China.

A declassified assessment published by the director of national intelligence (DNI) in December 2023 found that the regime tried to “influence” U.S. congressional elections involving both Democrats and Republicans who espoused tough-on-China policy stances.

The report also found that the scale and scope of foreign activity targeting the elections surpassed that of the prior midterms but remained below the level expected in presidential years.

The report assessed that the CCP had a “greater willingness to conduct election influence activities than in past cycles,” partly because it didn’t fear retaliation from the Biden administration.

The report states that CCP officials gave operatives more freedom to interfere in U.S. elections because the regime “believed that Beijing was under less scrutiny ... and because they did not expect the current administration to retaliate as severely as they feared in 2020.”CCP Eyes Members of Congress
The CCP targeted congressional races out of a belief that the legislative branch was more likely to take action against its “core interests,” the DNI report states.
As such, the regime hoped to ensure that pro-China candidates won their races, regardless of party affiliation, according to Sam Kessler, a geopolitical adviser at the North Star Support Group risk advisory firm.

“The CCP’s influence of the 2022 midterms illustrated the continuation of their larger geopolitical strategy to ensure pro-China politicians and thinkers are elected in Congress,” Mr. Kessler told The Epoch Times.

“It is also used for painting a negative image of the U.S. democratic political system and election process in comparison to Beijing’s authoritarian-based system.”

The regime took action “to punish [candidates] for their anti-China views and to reward [candidates] for their perceived support of Beijing,” the report states.

The regime also sought to sow discord among Americans but focused primarily on undermining “a small number of specific candidates based on their policy positions.”

The efforts since 2020 have been directed by senior Chinese leadership, the report found, and based on broad directives to undermine public opinion or congressional policies that could be detrimental to the CCP’s strategic goals.

Mr. Kessler described the effort as “part of a big picture CCP strategy to combat U.S. efforts that promote democracy abroad.”

To act so brazenly, he said, the regime likely “perceived themselves being under less scrutiny” since the 2020 election.

Chinese Law Enforcement
In addition to influencing elections, the regime also sought to covertly use social media accounts, proxy websites, paid influencers, and public relations firms to manipulate U.S. public opinion about China, according to the report.
Those findings align with reports published last year by tech giants Meta and Microsoft.

Meta announced in August 2023 that it had purged thousands of China-linked accounts from its platforms, which it stated were part of the world’s largest online influence operation.

That operation was connected to known individuals in Chinese law enforcement who sought to influence the 2022 midterm elections, according to Meta.

Casey Fleming, CEO of the risk advisory firm BlackOps Partners, said the initiative was part of the CCP’s wider strategy of unrestricted hybrid warfare.

“Ongoing CCP influence operations are one of many methods of unrestricted warfare where our enemy (the CCP) follows no rules intended in constant weakening [of] their primary adversary (the U.S.),” Mr. Fleming told The Epoch Times in an email.

The regime’s influence operations were largely carried out by using accounts across multiple platforms to sow division in the United States and inflame tensions about divisive social issues such as abortion and gun control, as well as disparaging democracy and claiming that voting isn’t useful.

In all, Meta stated that it purged more than 7,700 Facebook accounts, 900 pages, 15 groups, and a smattering of Instagram accounts that were linked to the operation that spread pro-Chinese communist and anti-U.S. propaganda.

The “covert influence operation” was active on more than 50 platforms, including Medium, Pinterest, Quora, Reddit, TikTok, Vimeo, X (formerly known as Twitter), and YouTube.

The operation also focused on key U.S. allies and partners, including Australia, Japan, Taiwan, and the UK.

Meta stated that those behind the operation laundered disinformation through multiple channels in an effort to maintain a persistent presence online.

In one instance, China-based actors created and published a 66-page fake research paper on the open repository Zenodo. Other actors then created videos on YouTube and Vimeo to promote the fake research. They then created a new article that cited the fake research and embedded the two videos, which claimed that the United States had been “hiding the truth about the origin of [COVID-19].”

Finally, the group planted the last article on multiple platforms and used inauthentic social media accounts to artificially amplify links to it.

Despite these efforts, according to the report, the China-based actors struggled to reach beyond their own echo chamber, which consisted primarily of bots and paid-for followers.

“The goal of these malign actors is to typically divide and conquer by playing on perceived physical and cognitive weaknesses of a society and its people,” Mr. Kessler said.

“This also ties in with the CCP’s strategy of sowing division between the political parties and the American citizenry regarding heated issues that continue to be brought up in each election cycle.”

Mr. Fleming said Congress should seek to ban foreign influence in the government, business, military, and education sectors, including through “weaponized technology” such as the TikTok social media app.

“Why do we allow foreign influence in the U.S. when our adversaries do not?” he said.Impersonating American Voters
Microsoft released its own report in September 2023, which found that China-based hackers impersonated American voters online and used artificial intelligence (AI) to create and promote divisive content during the 2022 midterm elections.

“Ahead of the 2022 U.S. midterms, Microsoft and industry partners observed CCP-affiliated social media accounts impersonating U.S. voters—new territory for CCP-affiliated [influence operations],” the report reads.

“These accounts posed as Americans across the political spectrum and responded to comments from authentic users.”

A report by cybersecurity firm Recorded Future found that the CCP pivoted into a new phase of influence operations in 2022, marked by the creation of targeted messages for well-defined audiences that were segmented based on granular demographic data.

These new accounts, according to that report, likely received guidance or material support from both the CCP’s United Front Work Department, a powerful agency charged with overseeing global influence operations, and the Ministry of State Security, the regime’s top intelligence agency.

Mr. Kessler said he anticipates increased foreign influence operations to target the 2024 U.S. presidential election, particularly given the current hyperpolarization of the American electorate.

“Malign influence and subversive operations from foreign actors have risen and will keep on being significant threats to U.S. national security and overall security of the international system during the 2024 elections,” Mr. Kessler said.

“All indications illustrate that malign influence operations by China and other countries like Russia, Iran, and Cuba will increase efforts that result in disruption of the 2024 elections.”

Similarly, Mr. Fleming warned that adversarial nations will likely seek to leverage AI to sow chaos online in the runup to the election in November.

“The American people must assume massive election interference from China, Russia, and other adversarial nations with increasing boosts by AI,” he said.

“Election interference is a direct threat to our democratic processes and ultimately our freedom.”

 

 


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