China is targeting US electoral infrastructure with cyberattacks, O’Brien says

PHOTO PHOTO: National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien walks after interview at White House in Washington, USA, May 24, 2020. REUTERS / Joshua Roberts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Chinese government-linked hackers have targeted the U.S. election infrastructure for the 2020 presidential election, White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said on Sunday, indicating a more active level of heightened Chinese interference.

O’Brien’s remarks appeared to go above and beyond a statement issued Friday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which said that “China has expanded its tensions of influence”, and that Russia is already seeking democratic candidate Joe Biden to distinguish. But Beijing did not specifically accuse it of attempting hacking against U.S. election-related systems.

“They want to see the president lose,” O’Brien told CBS ‘Face the Nation. “China – like Russia, like Iran – they’ve been dealing with cyberattacks and phishing and that sort of thing with respect to our electoral infrastructure, with respect to websites and that kind of thing.”

China has consistently claimed by US governments that it hooks up American companies, politicians and government agencies. “The US presidential election is an internal affair, we have no interest in engaging in it,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in April.

O’Brien said U.S. hackers saw attempts to infiltrate websites belonging to Secretary of State offices around the country, which are responsible for conducting local-level elections, and collecting data on Americans.

“It’s a real concern and it’s not just Russia,” he said. “There will be dire consequences for any country that tries to intervene in our free and fair elections.”

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 “opponents” are trying to compromise the private communications of U.S. political candidates and move on to U.S. election systems before the November election. And that China prefers President Donald Trump not to win a reelection.

Several reviews by U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia is acting to boost Trump’s 2016 campaign and undermine the chances of his rival Hillary Clinton in those elections.

Report by Christopher Bing; Edited by Mary Milliken and Sandra Maler

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