Communist China is behind a massive online disinformation campaign aimed at undermining the upcoming U.S. midterm elections, according to findings by a cybersecurity group.
China is using a network of social media accounts and altered news articles to "sow division both between the U.S. and its allies and within the U.S. political system itself," according to a threat assessment by Mandiant, a cybersecurity and intelligence organization that works with governments and the public sector. China’s latest efforts to undermine the American democratic process come amid parallel attempts by Russia and Iran to interfere with the upcoming elections.
The CCP influence operation, dubbed Dragonbridge, is attracting concern in the cybersecurity sector for its "aggressive attempts to discredit the U.S. democratic process, including attempts to discourage Americans from voting in the 2022 U.S. midterm elections," according to Mandiant’s research. The organization assesses "with high confidence" that the online campaign is "operating in support of the political interests of the People’s Republic of China."
Efforts by foreign actors to meddle in the upcoming elections have fueled concerns among federal authorities, including the FBI, which recently warned that an Iranian government-backed hacking collective is working to target U.S. entities. Russia also "is working to amplify doubts about the integrity of U.S. elections" as voters head to the polls next week, according to the Associated Press.
The CCP’s Dragonbridge operation has similar hallmarks to those of other foreign actors, according to Mandiant. Dragonbridge, through a network of online social media accounts that obfuscate their true identity, is promoting "narratives that appeared intended to discredit and undermine the U.S. political system."
In September, for instance, Dragonbridge-affiliated accounts posted an English-language video on online platforms that included "content attempting to discourage Americans from voting in the upcoming U.S. midterm elections." Like the efforts helmed by Russia and Iran, China wants to sow doubts about "the efficacy of voting and of U.S. government institutions more broadly," according to Mandiant.
The video, portions of which were captured by Mandiant, claimed "the solution to America's ills is not to vote for someone," but to "root out this ineffective and incapacitated system"—a narrative that mirrors those promoted by U.S.-based radical groups on the left and right.
Chinese operators also promoted rhetoric meant to divide Americans and reinforce the impression that the country is irrevocably broken.
Dragonbridge content collected by Mandiant promotes the narrative "that political infighting, partisanship, polarization, and division had become fundamental aspects of American democracy. The campaign also pointed to frequent mentions of ‘civil war’ on social media and incidents of politically motivated violence, including confrontations between individuals supporting opposing parties and acts against the FBI, as evidence of the deterioration of the political process and its impending demise."
The group also has been observed altering actual news articles and pushing content that appears to be legitimate but is actually the product of CCP manipulation.
Throughout the 2022 election cycle, the CCP-orchestrated campaign has exhibited "aggressiveness through both the content of its narratives and its willingness to experiment with new tactics to accomplish its aims," according to Mandiant. This includes attempts to mobilize American protesters to take to the streets and potentially commit violent acts.
"Such persistence, combined with clear intent and scale, renders the campaign a priority for monitoring," the security group warned.
John Hultquist, head of threat intelligence for Mandiant, said in a statement that while Russia and Iran are more aggressive in their efforts to undermine U.S. elections, "what’s troubling [about the CCP groups is] their aggressive growth."