WASHINGTON – The FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency warned that foreign actors and cybercriminals could try to discredit the electoral process by spreading false information as state and election officials work to certify 2020 election results.
The widespread use of mail-in ballots because of COVID-19 will cause delays in announcing the results of elections, as some states allow the ballots to be postmarked on election day.
"Foreign actors and cybercriminals could exploit the time required to certify and announce elections' results by disseminating disinformation that includes reports of voter suppression, cyberattacks targeting election infrastructure, voter or ballot fraud, and other problems intended to convince the public of the elections' illegitimacy," the agencies said in a public service announcement released Tuesday.
The agencies said false information could be found on social media or new or altered websites. The agencies urge people to think critically about the sources of information they consume.
An intelligence assessment published last month found that Russia is actively working to "denigrate" Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. The findings by the National Counter-Intelligence and Security Center called out pro-Russia Ukraine parliamentarian Andriy Derkach for spreading false corruption claims to undermine Biden's presidential bid.
The assessment also concluded that China saw President Donald Trump as "unpredictable" and wants him to lose the election.
FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before a House panel last week that Russia remains "very active" in its effort to sow discord in the U.S. electoral process. Reports by the Senate Intelligence Committee have backed findings by former special counsel Robert Mueller that Russia sought to sway the 2016 presidential race in Trump's favor.
Trump attacked Wray following his testimony, telling reporters Friday that he "did not like" the FBI director's answers.
"The big problem is China, and why he doesn't want to say that ... that certainly bothers me," said Trump, who has frequently tried to discredit evidence of Russian interference and has unleashed relentless attacks on the legitimacy of mail-in voting.
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Attorney General William Barr echoed Trump, telling CNN that China, not Russia, is the most aggressive in efforts to interfere in U.S. elections.
"Because I've seen the intelligence. That's what I've concluded," Barr said, declining to elaborate further.
On Tuesday, Facebook said it removed fake accounts and pages that originated from China and posted content favoring and opposing Trump, Biden and former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. The company, however, said the activity was not linked to the Chinese government and gained very little following.
Contributing: David Jackson and Joey Garrison
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: FBI: Foreign actors may cast doubt on 2020 election amid COVID delays