US names official to counter foreign election interference

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) – The director of national intelligence, Ms Avril Haines, has appointed a new officer to oversee threats to elections, filling a critical role in the nation’s efforts to counter foreign election interference, her office said Friday (Jan 14).

The new officer, Mr Jeffrey Wichman, who has worked at the CIA for more than three decades, will take over as the election threat executive at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence next week, said Ms Nicole de Haay, a spokesperson for the director of national intelligence.

Individual intelligence agencies such as the National Security Agency and US Cyber Command have already begun stepping up election threat monitoring ahead of this year’s midterm elections.

But without a new election threat executive, some on Capitol Hill had feared progress had stalled, coordination had diminished and important analytical differences had been left unresolved.

Mr Wichman’s appointment came after the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was forced to delay plans to create a foreign malign influence centre that would oversee efforts from abroad to influence elections and American politics more generally.

Creation of that centre has been slowed by disagreements on Capitol Hill over the size of the effort and its funding.

Mr Wichman is currently director of analysis for the CIA’s counterintelligence mission centre, and he previously served as a senior cyber analyst in the agency’s directorate of digital innovation.

In addition to roles focusing on counterterrorism and the Middle East, he also held a leadership role at the CIA school that trains analysts.

Once Congress approves funding for the broader malign influence centre, the election threat team led by Mr Wichman will be folded into the new group.

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“While we work with Congress to get funding for the center, the intelligence community remains focused on addressing foreign malign influence,” Ms de Haay said.

Chief on the agenda for the new executive is creating a common view of what constitutes malign election influence.

In 2020, both Republicans and Democrats lamented that the intelligence agencies used different standards to judge Russian and Chinese efforts. Some analysts were reluctant to classify attempts by China to push its views as influence operations and suggested that the intelligence agencies needed a common standard.

Warnings this week in Britain and Canada about Chinese efforts to influence lawmakers in those countries have made questions about malign influence and election threats more acute.

Government intelligence analysts are still assessing how foreign threats are shifting ahead of this year’s midterm elections.


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