Politics

U.S. Names Official to Counter Foreign Election Interference

Her office said Friday that Director of National Intelligence Avril D.

The new officer, Jeffrey Weishman, who has worked at the CIA for more than three decades, will take over as Director of Election Threats in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence next week, Nicole D. Haye, a spokeswoman for the CIA director, said. National Intelligence.

Individual intelligence agencies such as the National Security Agency and US Cyber ​​Command have already begun to ramp up monitoring of electoral threats ahead of this year’s midterm elections. But without a new electoral threats executive, some on Capitol Hill feared progress had stalled, coordination waned, and important analytical differences left unresolved.

Mr. Wechman’s appointment came after the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was forced to delay plans to create a center of foreign malign influence that would oversee efforts from abroad to influence elections and US politics in general. The establishment of this center has been slowed by controversies on Capitol Hill over the size and financing of the effort.

Mr. Wechman is currently the Director of Analysis at the CIA’s Counterintelligence Mission Center and previously served as a Senior Cyber ​​Analyst in the agency’s Digital Innovation Directorate. In addition to roles focusing on counterterrorism and the Middle East, he has also held a leadership role at the CIA School which trains analysts.

Once Congress approves funding for the broader Center of Malicious Impact, Mr Wichman’s electoral threats team will be incorporated into the new group.

“As we work with Congress to obtain funding for the center, the intelligence community remains focused on tackling malign foreign influence,” Ms. de Hai said.

The president on the new executive’s agenda is to create a common vision of what constitutes a pernicious influence on the elections. in 2020, Both Republicans and Democrats lamented that intelligence agencies used different criteria to judge Russian and Chinese efforts. Some analysts have been reluctant to categorize China’s attempts to promote its views as influence operations, and have suggested that intelligence agencies need a common standard.

Warnings this week in Britain and Canada about Chinese efforts to influence lawmakers in those countries have raised questions about malign influence and more severe electoral threats.

Government intelligence analysts are still assessing how outside threats are changing ahead of this year’s midterm elections. But a senior intelligence official said companies are increasingly campaigning for foreign countries, efforts that “include the manipulation of information and the laundering of misinformation narratives.”

The growth of these efforts threatens to make the public more vulnerable to manipulation, the senior official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the operations of the intelligence services, most of which are secretive.

Before the announcement of Mr. Wechman’s appointment, some former intelligence officers and Capitol Hill aides raised questions about whether the Biden administration had done enough to build an election defense team.

Shelby Pearson was appointed the Executive Officer on Election Threats in 2019 after working on security issues surrounding the 2018 midterm elections. But due to President Donald J. Trump’s sensitivity to discussions about Russian election interference, the job quickly became fraught.

Ms. Pearson led a February 2020 briefing to Congress that accurately stated that the campaign to influence the Russian election was continuing. But Mr Trump’s anger over the briefing eventually led to the dismissal of acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire. The Trump administration later prevented Ms. Pearson from briefing Congress.

Ms. Pearson remained in office during the start of the Biden administration through to the end of her term. In September, she took a senior position at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.

Intelligence officials said that even in the absence of Ms. Pearson, who reported her exit to The Associated Press, work continued to coordinate the various agencies and report to Congress.

But some congressional aides said leaving the office vacant for four months was a missed opportunity to quickly undo the damage to the office that occurred at the end of the Trump administration, when Ms. Pearson was barred from briefing Congress.

Other former intelligence officers said the leadership vacuum caused much of the coordination process to stop. Without an electoral threats executive, sharing information between multiple intelligence agencies has proven difficult.

Part of the reason the job was not filled immediately was that intelligence officials intended to expand the electoral threats executive team into a wider, malign foreign center of influence. While the annual defense policy bill that Mr. Trump signed into law in 2019 has created such a center, Congress has yet to fund it.

The center of the malign influence was originally the idea of ​​Senator Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island, who is now chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. This week he said the center would counter external efforts to influence the elections and “confront the full scope of these threats, which continue to evolve.”

It will focus on a group of countries trying to influence the United States, not just China and Russia.

As various intelligence agencies try to combat malign influence campaigns, Mr. Reed said there was not enough coordination between departments. He said that with the midterm elections approaching and other countries seeking to use information warfare to undermine infrastructure, the economy and the military, it is critical to operate the center.

Last year, Ms. Haines, the director of national intelligence, proposed redistributing positions to create a small center of up to 15 people without adding new jobs, congressional aides said.

But Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee have raised questions about whether a new effort could be legally funded with such a maneuver, according to congressional aides. The House Appropriations Committee put a series of questions to Ms. Haines’ desk.

“DNI’s initial application lacked important details about the center’s operations, size and scope, and I had unanswered questions,” said Representative Betty McCollum, D-Minnesota and chair of the Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.

Currently, with the federal government operating under the temporary spending law, the new center cannot be established, and it’s not clear if Congress will pass long-term spending bills before the end of the fiscal year in September. Ms McCollum said she has included funding for the center in this year’s defense spending bill, but without an agreement between the House and Senate, the legislation remains stalled.

“It is clear that disinformation and disinformation poses a serious national security threat, and I will continue to work with DNI to fund appropriate solutions,” she said.

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