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US elections face more threats from foreign actors and AI: NPR

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines testified before a Senate hearing earlier this month. At a May 15 hearing, she identified Russia as the biggest foreign threat to this year’s U.S. elections.

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Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines testified before a Senate hearing earlier this month. At a May 15 hearing, she identified Russia as the biggest foreign threat to this year’s U.S. elections.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

U.S. elections are under more threat than ever from foreign actors, enabled by rapid developments in artificial intelligence, the nation’s top intelligence official told lawmakers Wednesday.

Federal, state and local officials charged with protecting voting integrity face a “diverse and complex” threat landscape, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told the Senate Intelligence Committee during a hearing on risks to the 2024 election. But she also said the federal government “has never been better prepared” to protect elections, thanks to lessons learned since Russia tried to influence voters in 2016 .

This year, “Russia remains the most active foreign threat to our elections,” Haines said. Using a “vast multimedia influence apparatus” encompassing state media, intelligence services and online trolls, Russia’s goals “include eroding trust in American democratic institutions, exacerbating sociopolitical divisions in the United States and the deterioration of Western support for Ukraine.

But it’s a crowded field, with China, Iran and other foreign actors also trying to influence American voters, Haines added.

Additionally, she said the rise of new AI technologies capable of creating realistic “deepfakes” targeting candidates and commercial companies through which foreign actors can launder their activities is enabling more sophisticated influence operations at more large scale, more difficult to attribute.

Wednesday’s hearing was the first in a series focused on elections, committee chairman Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said, as lawmakers seek to avoid a repeat of 2016, when the Russia’s meddling has taken lawmakers, officials and social media handlers by surprise. -guard.

Since then, “the barriers to entry for malign foreign influences have unfortunately become incredibly low,” Warner said. Foreign adversaries have greater incentive to intervene in U.S. politics in an effort to shape their own national interests, he added, and at the same time, Americans’ trust in institutions has eroded overall. of the political spectrum.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the committee’s top Republican, questioned how those tasked with protecting elections themselves would be received amid a climate of distrust. He raised the specter of a fake video targeting himself or another candidate in the days leading up to the November election.

“Who is responsible for letting people know that this thing is fake, this thing is not real?” He asked. “And I wonder, whoever is responsible for this, what are we doing to protect the credibility of the entity that…says it, so that the other side doesn’t say, ‘Our own government is interfering?’ in the elections’?”

Haines said that in some cases it would make sense for her or other federal agencies to debunk the false claims, while in others it might be better for state or local officials to speak out .

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