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China targeting U.S. election infrastructure with cyberattacks

Chinese government-linked hackers have been targeting U.S. election infrastructure ahead of the 2020 presidential election, White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien warned on Sunday.

O’Brien’s comments appeared to go beyond a statement released on Friday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence which said China ‘has been expanding its influence efforts,’ and that Russia was already trying to undercut Democratic candidate Joe Biden. But did not specifically accuse Beijing of hacking attempts against U.S. election-related systems.

‘They’d like to see the President lose,’ O’Brien said on CBS’ Face the Nation. ‘China – like Russia, like Iran – they’ve engaged in cyberattacks and phishing and that sort of thing with respect to our election infrastructure, with respect to websites and that sort of thing.’  

‘It’s a real concern,’ O’Brien continued, adding that hackers have been trying to access government websites as well as ‘influence operations, whether or Twitter and other spaces.’

O’Brien claimed that President Trump has made a number of enemies by being ‘tougher on China than any president in history’.

‘Whether it’s China, Russia or Iran, we’re not going to put up with it,’ O’Brien said. ‘And there will be severe consequences with any country that attempts to interfere with our free and fair election.

‘Whether their leaders prefer Joe Biden or prefer Donald Trump, it doesn’t matter. We’re Americans.

‘We’re not going to have foreign countries deciding who our next president is going to be. That’s outrageous.’

China has consistently denied U.S. government claims that it hacks U.S. companies, politicians or government agencies. 

‘The U.S. presidential election is an internal affair, we have no interest in interfering in it,’ Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in April.

O’Brien said the United States had seen hackers try to infiltrate websites belonging to Secretary of State offices around the country, which are responsible for administering elections at the local level, and collecting data on Americans.

The National Security Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The ODNI declined to comment or clarify whether O’Brien’s comments contradicted their own.

The ODNI previously said that ‘adversaries’ seek to compromise the private communications of American political candidates and penetrate U.S. election systems ahead of November’s election.

The body also recently stated that China would prefer President Donald Trump does not win reelection.

Multiple reviews by U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia acted to boost Trump’s 2016 campaign and undercut his rival Hillary Clinton’s chances in that election. 

O’Brien said the Trump administration had ‘made it very clear’ to Russia to stay out of the election.

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