Our adversaries and strategic competitors probably already are looking to the 2020 US elections as an opportunity to advance their interests. More broadly, US adversaries and strategic competitors almost certainly will use online influence operations to try to weaken democratic institutions, undermine US alliances and partnerships, and shape policy outcomes in the United States and elsewhere. We expect our adversaries and strategic competitors to refine their capabilities and add new tactics as they learn from each other’s experiences, suggesting the threat landscape could look very different in 2020 and future elections.
- Russia’s social media efforts will continue to focus on aggravating social and racial tensions, undermining trust in authorities, and criticizing perceived anti-Russia politicians. Moscow may employ additional influence toolkits—such as spreading disinformation, conducting hack-andleak operations, or manipulating data—in a more targeted fashion to influence US policy, actions, and elections.
- Beijing already controls the information environment inside China, and it is expanding its ability to shape information and discourse relating to China abroad, especially on issues that Beijing views as core to party legitimacy, such as Taiwan, Tibet, and human rights. China will continue to use legal, political, and economic levers—such as the lure of Chinese markets —to shape the information environment. It is also capable of using cyber attacks against systems in the United States to censor or suppress viewpoints it deems politically sensitive.
- Iran, which has used social media campaigns to target audiences in both the United States and allied nations with messages aligned with Iranian interests, will continue to use online influence operations to try to advance its interests.
Adversaries and strategic competitors also may seek to use cyber means to directly manipulate or disrupt election systems—such as by tampering with voter registration or disrupting the vote tallying process—either to alter data or to call into question our voting process. Russia in 2016 and unidentified actors as recently as 2018 have already conducted cyber activity that has targeted US election infrastructure, but we do not have any intelligence reporting to indicate any compromise of our nation’s election infrastructure that would have prevented voting, changed vote counts, or disrupted the ability to tally votes.