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A just-released assessment by U.S. intelligence officials finds Russia and Iran, joined by a handful of other countries and groups, did seek to influence the outcome of the November 2020 presidential election. But the assessment also concludes that, despite repeated warnings by a number of top officials, China ultimately decided to sit it out.
The declassified report, issued Tuesday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, is the U.S. intelligence community’s final take on foreign meddling in the hotly contested race, in which then-presidential candidate Joe Biden defeated former President Donald Trump.
FILE – A newspaper with a front picture of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden is seen at a newsstand in Tehran, Iran, Nov. 8, 2020.
Initially completed and shared with the Trump administration in a classified form in January, the unclassified version, required by law, seeks to give U.S. voters an overview of the threats and of their impact on American democracy.
While the assessment concludes no adversary managed to infiltrate critical systems or change how votes were cast, the conclusions on China could lead to new questions about how the intelligence was initially presented to the public.
“We assess that China did not deploy interference efforts and considered but did not deploy influence efforts intended to change the outcome of the US Presidential election,” the newly released ODNI report said, adding it had “high confidence” in its finding.
“China sought stability in its relationship with the United States, did not view either election outcome as being advantageous enough for China to risk getting caught meddling, and assessed its traditional influence tools — primarily targeted economic measures and lobbying — would be sufficient to meet its goal of shaping U.S. China policy regardless of the winner,” the report stated.
Those findings contrast with earlier warnings from intelligence officials who spent months warning voters of the potential threats, specifically calling out efforts by China along with Russia and Iran.
“China is expanding its influence efforts to shape the policy environment in the United States, pressure political figures it views as opposed to China’s interests, and counter criticism of China,” then National Counterintelligence and Security Center Director William Evanina said in a statement issued last July, 100 days before the election. “Beijing recognizes its efforts might affect the presidential race.”
Other top officials were even more adamant about the threat from China.
FILE – Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe waits on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Dec. 12, 2020.
In August, then-Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe grouped China with Russia and Iran in an interview with Fox Business News.
“I don’t want to say this is only about China,” Ratcliffe said at the time. “China, Russia, Iran, other actors, are all trying to interfere or influence our elections for their own gain.”
He added, however, that Beijing’s efforts stood apart.
“China’s using a massive and sophisticated influence campaign that dwarfs anything that any other country is doing,” Ratcliffe said.
Another top Trump official, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, echoed those thoughts less than a month later.
“The intelligence community has made very clear, first you have China, which has the most massive program to influence the United States politically,” O’Brien told reporters at the time.
Trump, himself, also played up the notion China was seeking his defeat.
“China would love us to have an election where Donald Trump lost to sleepy Joe Biden,” Trump said during a news conference last August. “They would own our country.”
In the newly declassified report, however, U.S. intelligence officials concluded Beijing did not use its well-developed influence machine to alter the results.
“We did not identify China attempting to interfere with election infrastructure or provide funding to any candidates or parties,” the report said.
It said Beijing had previously sought to influence U.S. politics, including in the 2018 U.S. elections. “We did not, however, see these capabilities deployed for the purpose of shaping the electoral outcome,” the report said.
Voters who went to the polls last month in the United States’ midterm elections can rest assured that their votes were registered and counted properly.However, a new report by the U.S.
While stating it had high confidence in its findings regarding China, the ODNI report admitted there was some disagreement.
“The National Intelligence Officer [NIO] for Cyber assesses that China took at least some steps to undermine former President Trump’s reelection chances, primarily through social media and official public statements and media,” it said, explaining the NIO gave more weight to indications that Beijing preferred Biden, seeing him as more predictable than Trump.
The NIO also argued, with moderate confidence, that evidence suggested China increased its influence operations from June to August 2020, while calibrating its effort so as to “avoid blowback.”
Still, several former intelligence officials who spoke to VOA about the ODNI report said its prevailing view in regard to China was not surprising.
“[Former Director of National Intelligence] John Ratcliffe had the political mission of downplaying the whole Russian influence issue, with one way of doing that being to play up the idea that Chinese influence was at least as likely and significant as anything the Russians did,” said Paul Pillar, a former senior CIA officer who has been critical of Trump.
Pillar, now with Georgetown University, said, in his view, the more notable conclusion from the ODNI report was how Russia sought to push Trump’s candidacy.
FILE – Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting via a video conference at Novo-Ogaryovo state residence, Dec. 23, 2020. (Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via Reuters)
“[Russian President Vladimir] Putin clearly concluded he had gotten his money’s worth from his 2016 influence activities,” Pillar said. “Aspects of Trump administration policy toward Russia, such as some sanctions, that could be described as hardline, do not negate that fact and are still outweighed by how, in the Russian view, the many ways in which Trump divided and weakened America made his presidency a net gain for Russia.”
According to the declassified report, Russia’s efforts in the 2020 U.S. election were somewhat different than in 2016, when Russian cyber actors sought to gain access to U.S. election infrastructure.
Instead, Putin authorized “influence operations aimed at denigrating President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party,” while offering support for Trump, the report said.
“A key element of Moscow’s strategy this election cycle was its use of proxies linked to Russian intelligence to push influence narratives — including misleading or unsubstantiated allegations against President Biden,” it added.
That effort, according to intelligence officials, included making use of “some close to former President Trump and his administration,” though the report itself did not divulge any names.
As for Iran, the ODNI report said Tehran “carried out a multi-pronged covert influence campaign intended to undercut former President Trump’s reelection prospects — though without directly promoting his rival.”
Both Russia and Iran also used their influence operations in an attempt to sow existing divisions in U.S. society and to undermine confidence in the democratic process.
In addition, the report warned a range of other foreign actors, including Lebanese Hezbollah, Cuba and Venezuela took steps to influence the outcome of the presidential election.
FILE – Then-nominee for national intelligence director Avril Haines speaks during a confirmation hearing in Washington, Jan. 19, 2021. (Joe Raedle/Pool via AP)
“Foreign malign influence is an enduring challenge facing our country,” Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said in a statement Tuesday.
“Addressing this ongoing challenge requires a whole-of-government approach grounded in an accurate understanding of the problem, which the Intelligence Community, through assessments such as this one, endeavors to provide,” she added.
A separate report Tuesday, from the departments of Justice and Homeland Security, reaffirmed earlier findings that foreign adversaries failed to impact the tallying of ballots.
“We … have no evidence that any foreign government-affiliated actor prevented voting, changed votes, or disrupted the ability to tally votes or to transmit election results in a timely manner; altered any technical aspect of the voting process; or otherwise compromised the integrity of voter registration information of any ballots cast during 2020 federal elections,” the report said.
The second report also rejected claims made after the November 2020 U.S. election that foreign governments, including Venezuela, Cuba and China, were in any way in control of critical election infrastructure to manipulate the election’s outcome.
Such claims “are not credible,” the Justice Department and DHS concluded.
Some key lawmakers, though, reacted to the reports by warning it is more critical than ever for the U.S. to maintain its guard.
“The problem of foreign actors trying to influence the American electorate is not going away,” Democratic Senator John Warner, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. “Given the current partisan divides in this country, [it] may find fertile ground in which to grow.”
Voice of America – English
In the latest pushback against foreign criticism of China’s human rights abuses, Beijing has endorsed a series of lawsuits against U.S.-based German researcher Adrian Zenz, whose research and conclusions have been central to claims of human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
Zenz, a senior fellow in China studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C., was one of the first scholars to reveal the construction of detention camps in Xinjiang and the mass detention of millions of Uyghur and Kazakh Muslims using satellite imagery, official documents of the Communist Party of China (CCP) and eyewitness accounts.
His work also revealed the forced sterilization executed by the CCP on Uyghur women in Xinjiang to reduce their community’s population.
The suits, filed by companies and individuals in Xinjiang according to state media, dispute a report Zenz wrote last year in which he said hundreds of thousands of ethnic minority laborers in Xinjiang were “being forced to pick cotton by hand.” The plaintiffs seek apologies and financial compensation from Zenz.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian takes a question at the daily media briefing in Beijing on April 8, 2020.
In the regular news briefing last Thursday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian called Zenz’s reports “disinformation,” “with zero credibility,” which have caused “heavy losses” for “many companies and residents in Xinjiang.”
He said “their decision to seek legal redress against Zenz reflects a stronger awareness among the Chinese citizens to safeguard their rights through the law. We support this.”
This is the first time that such lawsuits have been filed in China against a foreign scholar who is studying China’s human rights issues. Reuters quoted Sarah Cook, the New York-based research director for China at the U.S. nonprofit Freedom House, as saying “it could set a worrisome precedent.”
Zenz told The Washington Post he believed the lawsuits were a sign that U.S. economic sanctions on Xinjiang were having a significant effect as it is the first time Beijing admitted “major economic losses” in the region.
He said Beijing was probably seeking to create a chilling effect on other researchers doing similar work, which shows “there is an element of desperation.”
Zenz told Bloomberg News that it would be a “welcome opportunity” for the world to examine the evidence of the abuses in Xinjiang.
Demonstrators take part in a protest outside the Chinese embassy in Berlin on Dec. 27, 2019, to call attention to China’s mistreatment of members of the Uyghur community in western China.
On social media, some China scholars and netizens expressed resentment at the lawsuits, saying China’s latest approach to fighting back against allegations of genocide in Xinjiang is “unacceptable.”
In an online article in The China Collection March 9 discussing the legal aspects of the lawsuits, Donald Clarke, a professor who specializes in Chinese law at The George Washington University Law School, said, “There is little doubt that the plaintiffs will win in China. But what can they do with their victory? Nothing, unless they can enforce it in a jurisdiction where Zenz has assets. (Note that they don’t need to do anything about Zenz the person; it’s his money to which their Chinese court victory entitles them.)”
He also said, “Under the common law of enforcement of foreign judgments, as well as the statutes in almost all states, neither a treaty nor even reciprocity is required to enforce a foreign judgment. There is generally a requirement that the foreign judgment comport with due process, but the burden is on the defendant to show that it didn’t, not on the plaintiff to show that it did. In this case, presumably that would be relatively easy for Zenz to show.”
Rayhan Asat, an attorney based in Washington, D.C., who is from Xinjiang, said that with due process, U.S. courts have to provide Zenz with a proper legal process to defend himself and will not accept rulings from a court in Xinjiang, especially in such a politically influential case. “China is not ruled by law, you cannot even guarantee this due process. They will rule themselves as winners. But U.S. courts won’t recognize it,” Asat said.
Clarke said Zenz does not need to be seriously concerned about the lawsuits as long as he does not go to China.
Chen Jiangang, a human rights lawyer and former visiting scholar at American University Law School, told VOA, “China’s domestic verdicts are written at will by the CCP. Such sentences would be a great harm to the world if other countries would recognize and enforce the sentences. Of course, I don’t believe this is possible. Civilized countries will certainly not conform to the CCP’s rules. It will be a joke, and it is just a harassment.”
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