As the Global Influence Operations Report (GIOR) reported earlier, the US Department of Homeland Security has released its October 2020 “Homeland Threat Assessment,” which contains a strangely couched assessment of Chinese influence operations. Similar to its assessment on Iran, the DHS report, using terms such as “probable” and “might,” the report fails to mention Chinese efforts regarding the upcoming US elections. Instead, it focuses on the Chinese operations centered on the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the report:
Chinese operatives probably are waging disinformation campaigns using overt and covert tactics—including social media trolls— to shift responsibility for the pandemic to other countries, including the United States. China might increase its influence activities in response to what it views as anti-China statements from the U.S. Government over China’s role in the pandemic.
- Since August 2019, more than 10,000 suspected fake Twitter accounts have been involved in a coordinated influence campaign with suspected ties to the Chinese Government. Among these are hacked accounts from users around the world that post messaging and disinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic and other topics of interest to China.
- China’s Foreign Ministry, state media, and official Twitter accounts promote overt narratives claiming the coronavirus may have originated in the United States, criticize the U.S. pandemic response, and publicize China’s COVID-19-related medical assistance to U.S. cities and states. China has doubled the number of official government posts disseminating false narratives about COVID-19 and has carried out persistent and large-scale disinformation and influence operations that correlate with diplomatic messaging.
- China most likely will continue amplifying narratives supportive of its pandemic response while denigrating U.S. official criticism that Beijing views as tarnishing its global image.
According to a Washington Post report recently discussed by the Global Influence Operations Report (GIOR), China has been actively trying to interfere in the elections, notably “bashing” US President Trump:
This month, new research from Graphika, a social media analysis company, showed that a network of fake Chinese accounts has been posting videos bashing Trump, criticizing his recent closure of China’s consulate in Houston, his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and his threats to ban the popular social media app TikTok. The researchers also found the first direct reference to Biden — a bunch of flattering pictures — from the Chinese network, which has a history of rapidly churning out videos with awkwardly worded English subtitles and narration. The group hasn’t been directly linked to the Chinese government and it isn’t clear whether the intended audience for the videos was Chinese, American or a combination. But its overarching goal seems to be defending Chinese interests, which is in line with the U.S. intelligence assessment.
A possible reason for the DHS failure to mention Chinese and Iranian influence operations targeting US elections is the potential accusation of politicization on the part of the agency. However, DHS seems to have no such concerns regarding its reporting on Russia.