FBI and NSA leaders on 2024 elections: worry about chaos, not vote counts

The number of foreign actors and nation-states seeking to disrupt America’s democratic process is growing, but the FBI and the NSA are ready to beat back interference, bosses of both agencies say.

Ahead of the 2024 presidential vote, FBI Director Chris Wray and NSA Director General Paul Nakasone warned of potential threats that could interfere with the election, but said that Americans should feel confident in their ballots.

Taking part in the International Conference on Cybersecurity, held at Fordham University, Wray and Nakasone both said that Americans should have confidence in the election system even if foreign governments are more actively seeking to meddle in it.

“None of the election interference efforts that we’ve seen put at jeopardy the integrity of the vote count itself in any material ways,” said Wray.

However, chaos can still ensue “if we’re not all collectively on board” because “we have adversaries that want to take action” in an important presidential election year, the FBI director added.

US Army General Nakasone, who is also the commander of US Cyber Command, noted that these foreign adversaries, namely China, are using artificial intelligence (AI) to try and interfere in American elections.

“But they are all using US AI models, which tells me that the best AI models are made by US companies. That tells me that we need to protect that competitive advantage of our nation, of our national economy going forward,” said Nakasone.

According to Wray, this is not particularly easy as China, for example, has definite advantages in the cyber realm.

“China has a bigger hacking program than that of every other major nation combined and has stolen more of Americans’ personal and corporate data than every nation, big or small, combined,” said Wray.

“If I took the FBI’s cyber personnel and I said, ‘Forget ransomware, forget Russia, forget Iran – we’ll do nothing but China,’ we would be outnumbered 50 to 1, and that’s probably a conservative estimate.”

Wray is calm, at least on the outside. He’s sure that the US government collaboration has a “force-multiplying effect that nevertheless grants us a qualitative advantage,” adding that the FBI is “determined not to let” China outpace the US in the field of AI.

“AI is expected to become a crucial component of economic and military power in the near future,” Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence Index Report 2023 stated, while America’s lead is not as clear-cut as many perceive – or even non-existent.

Chinese researchers published 40% of all global AI publications in 2021, exceeding the United Kingdom, Europe (15%), and the US (10%) combined, data shows. Nine of the top ten largest AI publishing institutions are also from China, with only the Massachusetts Institute of Technology making the cut from the US, taking tenth place.