China tried to shape the outcome of specific races in the 2022 midterm elections, reflecting a more aggressive approach by Beijing to try to influence American politics and exploit societal divisions, according to a newly released assessment from U.S. intelligence agencies.
The intelligence assessment found that “China tacitly approved efforts to try to influence a handful of midterm races involving members of both US political parties,” hoping to counter certain candidates deemed to be “anti-China” and support others viewed as “pro-China,” the declassified intelligence community report on foreign threats to the 2022 midterm elections said.
Beijing likely sees its information operations in the U.S. as a response “to what they believe is an intensified US effort to promote democracy at China’s expense,” the report said.
Since 2020, Chinese senior leaders gave orders to intensify efforts to influence U.S. policy and public opinion in China’s favor, according to the report released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
“We assess that these directives gave PRC (People’s Republic of China) influence actors more freedom to operate ahead of the midterms than the presidential election in 2020, probably because PRC officials believed that Beijing was under less scrutiny during the midterms and because they did not expect the current Administration to retaliate as severely as they feared in 2020,” it said.
A spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., called the contents of the intelligence report “groundless and fabricated.”
“China has always adhered to the principle of non-interference in internal affairs and has no interest in interfering in the internal affairs and elections of the US,” Liu Pengyu said in an email. “The relevant accusations are purely groundless and fabricated out of thin air.”
China, Russia and Iran and other governments all undertook efforts to influence the 2022 midterm elections, but there was no sign that foreign adversaries undertook cyberattacks to try to gain access to or tamper with U.S. election infrastructure or ballot counting, the report said.
There has been no sign of a concerted bid to hack into U.S. election networks since 2016, “when Russia almost certainly reconnoitered election networks in all US states and accessed election-related infrastructure in at least two states,” it said.
“We assess that most foreign actors now appear largely focused on amplifying authentic US public narratives to try to influence electoral outcomes, increase mistrust in US election processes, and stoke sociopolitical divisions,” said the report, which was released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
“This approach provides deniability as foreign actors propagate US content to try to exploit existing fissures,” the report said.
Unlike China, Russia tried to affect the overall election, aiming to undercut the Democratic Party and political support for Ukraine, the report said.
The intelligence agencies concluded that “the Russian Government and its proxies sought to denigrate the Democratic Party before the midterm elections and undermine confidence in the election, most likely to undermine US support for Ukraine,” the report said, adding that the intelligence community had “high confidence in this assessment.”
“Elements of the Kremlin and its intelligence services conducted extensive research and analysis of US audiences to inform their election-related efforts, including identifying target demographics and the narratives and platforms that they perceived would appeal to these audiences,” according to the report.
Iran’s influence activities focused on trying to “exploit perceived social divisions and undermine confidence in US democratic institutions during this election cycle,” it said, saying the intelligence community had “moderate confidence” in that assessment.
“Tehran’s efforts during the midterms probably in part reflected resource limitations because of competing priorities and the need to manage internal unrest,” the report said.
The level of foreign activity exceeded that of the 2018 midterm elections but was not at the level usually seen in a presidential election year, the report said.
The influence operations involved the covert use of social media accounts and proxy websites, payments to influencers and the use of public relations firms, the report said.