AI gives Russia, China new tools to sow division in the U.S., undermine America’s image, intel agencies say – NBC News

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Russia and China are seeking to undermine America’s image in the world and aggravate divisions in U.S. society, with artificial intelligence offering both regimes new tools to interfere in American politics and elections, according to U.S. intelligence agencies.

“Russia is contemplating how U.S. electoral outcomes in 2024 could impact Western support to Ukraine and probably will attempt to affect the elections in ways that best support its interests and goals,” the intelligence community said in its annual assessment of global threats.

“Russia’s influence actors have adapted their efforts to better hide their hand, and may use new technologies, such as generative AI, to improve their capabilities and reach into Western audiences,” according to the assessment, which was presented to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Monday.

Russia will continue to employ information warfare to try to divide Western alliances, undermine America’s global reputation and “sow domestic discord, including among voters inside the United States and U.S. partners around the world,” it said.

As for China, the regime in Beijing has adopted a more assertive covert information campaign to extend its influence and undermine America’s power, with tactics that resemble Russia’s approach, the report said.

“Beijing’s growing efforts to actively exploit perceived U.S. societal divisions using its online personas move it closer to Moscow’s playbook for influence operations,” it said. China “may attempt to influence the U.S. elections in 2024 at some level because of its desire to sideline critics of China and magnify U.S. societal divisions.”

Chinese government “actors have increased their capabilities to conduct covert influence operations and disseminate disinformation,” the assessment said. “TikTok accounts run by a PRC [People’s Republic of China] propaganda arm reportedly targeted candidates from both political parties during the U.S. midterm election cycle in 2022.”

China is now displaying a greater sophistication in its influence efforts and is experimenting with artificial intelligence software, the report said.

Asked about foreign adversaries’ using AI-enabled tools to spread disinformation before the 2024 election, FBI Director Christopher Wray said at the hearing that “AI is something that all of our most significant adversaries are taking a hard look at to enhance their efforts.”

He added: “We have seen it used in a variety of settings. Whether it’s been used specifically to target voters, I’m not sure that I could say that. But we are actively concerned about that as the latest wrinkle in a long-standing effort to engage in information warfare.”

Under questioning from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., about the potential threat posed by TikTok, Wray acknowledged that TikTok’s U.S. branch could be directed by the Chinese government to use algorithms that could target certain political candidates in the U.S. election.

“That’s my understanding,” Wray said.

The Democratic chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner of Virginia, warned that an array of American adversaries is churning out disinformation before elections are held in the U.S. and dozens of other countries this year.

“And I am deeply concerned that democracy, including in the United States, is under greater threat than ever from these foreign adversaries. Bad actors like Russia are particularly incentivized to interfere, given what’s at stake in Ukraine,” Warner said at the hearing.

Iran, which has forged closer ties to Russia since Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, also is expected to keep up its information operations to try to sow division in the U.S., including possibly interfering in the 2024 election, the intelligence assessment said.

“Iran will continue to conduct malign influence operations in the Middle East and in other regions, including trying to undermine U.S. political processes and amplify discord,” it said.

“Ahead of the U.S. election in 2024, Iran may attempt to conduct influence operations aimed at U.S. interests, including targeting U.S. elections, having demonstrated a willingness and capability to do so in the past,” the assessment said.

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