No evidence to suggest foreign influence in mail-in voting, U.S. officials say


U.S. officials said on Wednesday there has been no evidence to suggest that foreign countries are working to undermine mail-in voting, despite several claims made by President Donald Trump. 

There were also no signs of co-ordinated efforts to commit widespread fraud through the mail-in voting process, according to officials at multiple federal agencies.

Intelligence officials previously have said Russia, China and Iran were employing disinformation campaigns and other means to interfere in U.S. politics before the election in which Trump is seeking a second term in office.

The officials were not authorized to discuss the matter by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.

One senior official with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said on a conference call with reporters on Wednesday that no foreign adversary was “engaged in any kind of activity to undermine any part of the mail-in vote.”

Another senior FBI official said officials had not seen to date a co-ordinated, nationwide effort to corrupt mail-in voting, adding that it would be “extraordinarily difficult” to tamper with results in a measurable way. But the official said the FBI remained committed to investigating fraud that emerges. 

Trump has called mail-in voting a ‘disaster’

With the Nov. 3 election a little less than 70 days away, Trump has made unsubstantiated claims that the election will be marred by fraud and is refusing to commit to accepting the results.

The Republican president trails Democratic challenger Joe Biden in opinion polls.

WATCH | Trump discusses mail-in voting at RNC:

In an impromptu appearance at the Republican National Convention, U.S. President Donald Trump again railed against mail-in voting, calling it a ‘scam’ and a way for Democrats to steal the election. 3:06

On July 30, he tweeted that mail-in voting was proving to be a “catastrophic disaster.” 

Democrats say that federal agencies haven’t been forthcoming with the public about possible threats, and the risk of foreign interference was underscored by a recent Senate report that provided new details of Russian meddling in 2016.

Warnings still in place against interference 

In a separate speech on Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen confirmed that the U.S. has “yet to see any activity intended to prevent voting or to change votes” but as in 2016, it is encountering foreign efforts to influence U.S. public opinion and undermine confidence in the elections.

“We cannot escape the reality that the opportunities for malign foreign influence in our elections are far-flung, so it remains a challenge for Americans as voters,” he said. 

Even without active efforts to corrupt the vote-by-mail process, intelligence officials have publicly warned about foreign countries who they say have a vested interest in the election.

Officials said this month that they have assessed that Russia is working to undermine Trump’s Democratic presidential opponent, Joe Biden. They have also said China prefers to see Trump lose and regards the current president as unpredictable, but have not detailed specific steps Beijing had taken to interfere in the election.

Significant security improvements made since 2016

Despite finding no evidence of interference, officials said on Wednesday that they were cognizant that the 2020 election presented its own unique challenges, including an influx of mail-in ballots that could lead to a potential weeks-long period of uncertainty as votes are counted.

But they emphasized the significant efforts that have been made since the 2016 election to improve communications and sharing of threat information with state and local election officials.

Use of threat-detection devices placed on state and some local election networks increased the ability to detect suspicious activity targeting such systems, although experts have noted these devices are limited to detecting known threats.

A senior official with the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity agency said cyber activities targeting elections have so far been routine and limited to scanning and probing for vulnerabilities.

“We’re way ahead of where we were in 2016, to even be able to understand what that activity looks like,” the official said.

U.S. intelligence agencies and former Special Counsel Robert Mueller concluded that Russia used a campaign of propaganda and hacking to boost Trump’s candidacy in the 2016 election.

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