Election meddling poses a threat to Black Americans

By Nedra Rhone

About 100 days before Americans headed to the polls to vote, U.S. intelligence officials issued an ominous but vague statement about the possibility of foreign countries interfering with the 2020 presidential election in the United States.

“Many foreign actors have a preference for who wins the election, which they express through a range of overt and private statements; covert influence efforts are rarer,” said William R. Evanina, director of the U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center. “We are primarily concerned about the ongoing and potential activity by China, Russia, and Iran,” Evanina added.

The news comes as no surprise to Malcom Nance, an author, news commentator and former U.S. Navy senior chief petty officer with expertise on terrorism, intelligence and security issues.

“We have foreign actors who have been emboldened and are playing in the American electoral process,” Nance said.

Meddling in the U.S. presidential election started long before 2020. In 2016, Nance said, Russian hackers stole material from the Democratic National Committee’s computer servers then used subcontractors to release the information to the news media to damage Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

“[They know] the psychological makeup of the Trump campaign ... and they also understand the U.S. news media,” Nance said. “They have our number, and we don’t really know as much about them.”

Nance said the particular type of meddling depends on the country. China, he said, collects information and uses it subtly and carefully, if at all. Russia is far more direct and savvy, said Nance.

With the exposure of some of their past activities, foreign actors intent on interfering with U.S. elections have had to shift their methods in 2020 from releasing bots on social media to using human trolls. Such bots and trolls typically spread misinformation and false or misleading information online, including fake news, conspiracy theories or doctored videos. Nance said the trolls along with cyber vigilantes invested in the philosophy of President Donald Trump have joined forces to amplify misleading themes, such as the idea that absentee ballots encourage election fraud or that Joe Biden is demented.

Other concerns for the 2020 election include the possibility of foreign actors hacking state offices where votes are tallied. Nance said that North Korea could, for example, hack voting results on election night by dropping millions of Democratic ballots into voting machines and allowing the Trump administration to claim malicious actors cheated on behalf of the Democratic party, Nance said.

In September, a whistle-blower revealed that intelligence officials in the Trump administration have edited their reports to conceal Russian activity just two weeks after John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, said he would no longer allow in-person briefings about election interference to Congress.

“This is an election to save America,” said Nance, noting that it will require the power of African-American men and women to build coalitions and vote. If Black people don’t vote, he said, “All the progress America has made in 244 years will essentially go out of the window.”

Nance said he is proud of how the Black community has pursued the truth in the 2020 election. “We are the clearest viewing population politically in the U.S.,” he said. “We know a threat to our community when we see one.”

The Crisis magazine is a quarterly journal of politics, culture, civil rights and history that seeks to educate and challenge its readers about issues facing African-Americans and other communities of color.

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