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Florida Senator Questions Intelligence Director on Election Security

U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Vice Chairman Marco Rubio recently questioned Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines at a hearing on foreign threats to the 2024 elections.

The Republican Florida Senator questioned the Director of National Intelligence after an exercise in which China creates a fake AI video showing a candidate destroying ballots.

“If, in fact, a scenario like this plays out, a video comes out…, what happens at that point?” Senator Marco Rubio asked.

Senator Rubio also said he didn’t want there to be any gray area.

Here is a transcript of the exchange between the Florida Senator and Avril Haines, Director of National Intelligence:

RUBIO: A CNN February 9th exclusive [described] a tabletop exercise…[in which] China creates a fake AI video showing a Senate candidate destroying ballots, and they’re able to identify that it’s fake. We have the ability to do that. I think that’s what you’ve described the DNI office is able to do through…the semantic forensics technology and all that…. What the article says is…, no one knew what happened next. They struggled on what the response should be. Who would notify the public?

According to this article…, nobody raised their hand and said, “We will do it, we want to be the ones in charge of notifying the public.” There was real consternation…that if we go out and say that this video is fake and this person is spreading it, people are going to say the government itself is interfering in our elections…. If so many Americans already don’t trust the federal government or the intelligence agencies, how can we get them to trust us that this is not a real video?

If, in fact, a scenario like this plays out, a video comes out…, what happens at that point? I’m now a week before the election, six days before the election. Does someone notify me? Is someone going to come out and say, “This is not real, he really didn’t say that”? What happens?

This article says it would be turned over to state and local officials. I don’t know what a state or local official is supposed to do. They’re going to turn around and say, “The DNI’s office or the FBI or somebody told us this was fake.” I don’t understand what the process that would happen at that point is. Do we have a process that would kick in in a situation like that one that I just described?

HAINES: I wasn’t at the tabletop exercise, so I don’t know what happened in that particular scenario, but I understand that’s not actually an accurate representation of what the discussion was. I would say that in terms of what would happen, there would be a statement. The model that I pointed to in 2020 is an appropriate model. If there is some deep fake or disinformation that’s being promoted, it could be that we find out about it through intelligence, it could be otherwise identified, and it would go through, if it’s intelligence, the notification framework. The notification framework is an interagency group that indicates, “We think this is something that deserves a public [notice].”

RUBIO: At a minimum, we have to be able to say this thing is not real. It could be the work of a foreign adversary. But who would be [the one to make the statement]? Would you be the one that would stand up? Is it the DNI? Is it the FBI? Who would be the person that would stand before the American people and say, “We’re not interfering in the election, we just want you to know that video is not real.” Who would be in charge of that?

HAINES: I could be the person that goes out and makes that determination. I’ll just give you an example…. There is a fake video that was basically promoted, we think, by Storm 1516. It’s a Russian-affiliated group. That video purports to show a whistleblower and a Ukrainian former employee of a made-up, CIA-supported troll farm tasked with interfering in the upcoming presidential election. The CIA immediately came out with a statement that…this is fake, and I am here to say categorically that this claim is patently false, that there is no such thing. It is disinformation. That is the kind of approach that we’ll continue to take across the board.

RUBIO: Okay, but…I don’t want there to be any gray area. Someone needs to be in charge of interfacing with the American people and ultimately saying, “We will be responsible for notifying the American people.”


RUBIO: Has that been established?

HAINES: The only hesitation that you hear from me is based on the fact that there may be certain circumstances in which, for example, a state or local official or other basically public authority is in a better position to make the public statement initially and for the rest of us to come back behind. It’s just a question of going through the process and determining what exactly is the issue that’s being raised, what’s the fake information that’s being put forward? Who is going to be the best official to immediately come out?

RUBIO: And who makes that decision about who is the best person?

HAINES: That [decision is made] through the notification framework.

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