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Cuba will attempt to influence 2024 elections in Florida, U.S. intelligence warns

Michael Wilner and Nora Gámez Torres, Miami Herald on

Published in Political News

The U.S. intelligence community believes the Cuban government will attempt to influence U.S. elections in 2024, possibly deploying targeted campaigns to affect state and local races in Florida, officials with the Office of Director of National Intelligence said.

The assessment comes after the director’s office assessed last year that Havana attempted to affect midterm elections in Florida in 2022.

“We’ve seen interest in downballot races,” one of the intelligence officials said. “On Cuba, we very much expect that the same kind of activity will occur.”

The intelligence community had found that, in 2022, Cuba conducted influence operations in the United States “aimed at denigrating specific U.S. candidates in Florida.”

After the assessment became public in December last year, U.S. Rep. Carlos Gimenez said he believed he and fellow Miami Republicans Reps. Maria Elvira Salazar and Mario Diaz-Balart had been targeted, though he said he had not been told that directly by U.S. intelligence officials.

Cuban officials worked to build relationships with members of the U.S. media who held critical views of Havana’s critics in Congress, a U.S. intelligence report found, and that a network of social media accounts “almost certainly covertly tied” to Cuba “amplified derogatory content” on U.S. politicians viewed as hostile to the Cuban state.

Cuba’s efforts are of concern, even though they are at a smaller scale than the attempted influence campaigns of Washington’s major adversaries in Russia, China and Iran, the officials said.

Last year, Meta, Facebook’s parent company, said it had taken down hundreds of fake accounts linked to the Cuban government and its institutions that were posting propaganda on Facebook and Instagram and attacking critics in Cuba and the United States.

The Cuban government network targeted Cubans on the island and abroad and reached a broad audience. The Facebook pages had 650,000 followers, and the groups were joined by 510,000 accounts. The Miami Herald previously reported on an effort to expose hundreds of fake accounts that were posting Cuban propaganda on Twitter, currently known as X.

Since Cuba started to expand internet service, dissidents and independent journalists started denouncing the hacking of their phones and social media accounts and receiving online harassment from fake accounts linked to the Cuban government. Former students have described how Cuban state security ran online operations from within the University of Informatics Sciences to attack dissidents and critics.

 

In 2020, Special Envoy Lea Gabrielle, then coordinator of the Global Engagement Center at the U.S. State Department, said the agency had noticed “an increasing alignment of efforts between accounts that promote Russian, Cuban, and (Venezuelan government) disinformation and propaganda narratives.”

More recently, Cuban government outlets and influencers have been very active in promoting Russian disinformation about the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

While Cuba has leaned on China for building its internet and cybersecurity infrastructure, Cuban authorities have recently signed agreements with Russian officials in that area, including on developing artificial intelligence capabilities.

This year, the U.S. intelligence director’s office’s Foreign Malign Influence Center is preparing for adversaries to deploy more complex tools, including AI, in their influence campaigns.

Intelligence analysts and experts trained on commercial and proprietary forensic capabilities will be deployed to counter A.I.-driven threats, the intelligence officials said.

Analysts across the intelligence community are on the lookout for potential foreign malign influence threats, and nominate intelligence information that they view as concerning to the center for consideration. The group then decides – anywhere between 24 hours and a week from receiving the material – whether to take action on the item, either privately informing the target of the attack or issuing a notification to the public.

“Could this influence the outcome of the election? That is what we’re guided by,” one of the officials said.

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©2024 Miami Herald. Visit miamiherald.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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