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Senior administration officials warn of foreign influence campaigns ahead of Super Tuesday

Senior administration officials warn of foreign influence campaigns ahead of Super Tuesday
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The leaders of eight federal agencies on Monday jointly urged the public to be vigilant of foreign influence operations around the presidential primaries ahead of Super Tuesday, also emphasizing the federal government’s coordination in defending against threats to elections.

In a statement released Monday, the Trump administration officials — who included Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoFive takeaways from CPAC 2021 Pompeo: Release of Khashoggi report by Biden admin 'reckless' Trump wins CPAC straw poll with 55 percent MORE, Attorney General William BarrBill BarrMajority of Republicans say 2020 election was invalid: poll Biden administration withdraws from Connecticut transgender athlete case Justice Department renews investigation into George Floyd's death: report MORE and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad WolfChad WolfSunday shows preview: 2024 hopefuls gather at CPAC; House passes coronavirus relief; vaccine effort continues Liberal watchdog group files ethics complaint over Boebert's reimbursements Left-leaning group to track which companies hire former top Trump aides MORE — noted that they “continue to work with all 50 states, U.S. territories, local officials, political parties and private sector partners to keep elections free from foreign interference.”

The officials cautioned that Americans “must also remain aware that foreign actors continue to try to influence public sentiment and shape voter perceptions,” adding that foreign actors may attempt to “spread false information and propaganda about political processes and candidates on social media” in order to create doubt in the election system.

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“We remain alert and ready to respond to any efforts to disrupt the 2020 elections,” the officials said. “We continue to make it clear to foreign actors that any effort to undermine our democratic processes will be met with sharp consequences.” 

The statement was also co-signed by Defense Secretary Defense Mark EsperMark EsperCORRECTED: Overnight Defense: COVID-19 stymies effort to study sexual assault at military academies | Biden, Saudi king speak ahead of Khashoggi report Female generals' promotions held back over fears of Trump's response: report Overnight Defense: Army details new hair and grooming standards | DC National Guard chief says Pentagon restricted his authority before riot | Colorado calls on Biden not to move Space Command MORE, acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Richard Grenell, FBI Director Christopher Wray, U.S. Cyber Command Commander and National Security Agency Director Gen. Paul Nakasone, and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Director Christopher Krebs. 

The officials emphasized that the level of “coordination” between federal agencies and state and local election officials was “stronger than it’s ever been.”

“Our Departments and Agencies are working together in an unprecedented level of commitment and effort to protect our elections and to counter malign foreign influence, but voters have a role to play too,” the officials said.  

In order to defend against disinformation threats on social media, the senior officials recommended that American voters check their voter registration for correct information on where and when to vote, noting that the best source of information around elections was local or state election websites.  

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“A well-informed and vigilant republic is the best defense against disinformation,” the officials emphasized.

The federal government has stepped up its efforts to defend against foreign interference in U.S. elections in the wake of Russian interference during the 2016 presidential election cycle. 

According to U.S. intelligence agencies, the Senate Intelligence Committee and the report compiled by former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerWhy a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump MORE, Russian agents launched a sweeping interference campaign involving disinformation on social media and hacking attempts on election infrastructure in the run-up to the 2016 elections, with the goal of favoring the campaign of now-President TrumpDonald TrumpSacha Baron Cohen calls out 'danger of lies, hate and conspiracies' in Golden Globes speech Sorkin uses Abbie Hoffman quote to condemn Capitol violence: Democracy is 'something you do' Ex-Trump aide Pierson planning run for Congress MORE.

Disinformation campaigns online have remained a persistent threat since then, with Barr, Wolf, Krebs, Wray and former Acting DNI Joseph MaguireJoseph MaguireJudge dismisses Nunes's defamation suit against Washington Post Retired Navy admiral behind bin Laden raid says he voted for Biden Congressional Democrats request FBI briefing on foreign election interference efforts MORE penning an op-ed in USA Today in February also highlighting concerns about disinformation around elections.

“We cannot prevent all disinformation, foreign propaganda or cyberattacks on our infrastructure,” the officials wrote in the op-ed. “However, together, we can all help to mitigate these threats by exercising care when we share information and by maintaining good cyber hygiene to reduce the risks that malicious cyberattacks will succeed.”

CISA has been one of the key agencies involved in assisting state and local election officials with defending against election interference. The agency operated a situational awareness room on Election Day during the 2018 midterms to continuously monitor threats nationwide and plans to host a similar awareness room during the Super Tuesday primary elections.