Now armed with AI, America’s adversaries will try to influence election, security officials warn

WASHINGTON — America’s foreign adversaries will again try to influence the upcoming US elections, top security officials warned members of the Senate on Wednesday, harnessing the latest innovations in artificial intelligence to spread disinformation online, mislead voters and undermine confidence in democracy to undermine.

But the U.S. has significantly improved its ability to ensure election security and identify and combat foreign disinformation campaigns since 2016, when Russia tried to influence the election, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The latest warning from security officials comes as advances in AI make it easier and cheaper than ever to create lifelike images, video and audio that can fool even the most discerning voter. Other tools of disinformation include state media, online influencers and networks of fake accounts that can quickly amplify false and misleading content.

Russia, China and Iran remain the main actors seeking to interfere in the 2024 elections, security officials said, but due to technological advances, other countries or even domestic groups could try to mount their own sophisticated disinformation campaigns.

Russia remains “the most active foreign threat to our elections,” Haines said, using its state media and online influencers to erode trust in democratic institutions and U.S. support for Ukraine.

In recent months, Russia has seized on the American debate over immigration and spread messages that exaggerate the impact of migration in an apparent attempt to stoke outrage among American voters.

China did not directly try to influence the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, mainly because of concerns about the backlash, Haines said.

China’s ties to TikTok were among the things cited by members of Congress who recently voted to force TikTok’s Beijing-based owner to sell the platform.

“Needless to say, we will continue to monitor their activities,” Haines said of China.

Iran, meanwhile, has used social media platforms to make threats and confuse voters, Haines said. She cited a 2020 episode in which US officials accused Tehran of spreading false content and being behind a flood of emails sent to Democratic voters in multiple battleground states that appeared aimed at intimidating them into voting for President Donald Trump to vote.

Previous attempts by federal agencies to spread foreign disinformation on platforms like Facebook or X, formerly known as Twitter, have quickly become mired in debates over government surveillance, First Amendment rights and whether government agencies should be tasked with figuring out what the truth is.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the top Republican on the committee, questioned officials about what they could do and how they would respond to “obviously fake” AI-generated videos about candidates emerging before the election.

“Who would be the person who would stand before the American people and say, ‘We don’t interfere in the elections. We just want you to know that the video is not real. Who would be in charge of that?” Rubio asked.

Haines responded, “I could be the person to go out and make that decision,” but said there may be certain situations where it would make more sense for state or local authorities to make that announcement.

Wednesday’s hearing on foreign threats to the election also focused on the risk that an adversary could hack state or local election systems, either to change the vote or create the perception that the outcome cannot be trusted.

Jen Easterly, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, said the federal government has been working closely with state and local election officials to ensure the 2024 election will be the most secure ever.

“Election infrastructure has never been more secure,” Easterly said.