FBI, NSA Leaders Talk Election Security, Power of Collaboration at Fordham ICCS
Wray: Partnerships combat foreign interference, provide competitive edge over China
FBI Director Christopher Wray (center) takes part in a fireside chat with U.S. Army Gen. Paul M. Nakasone—the National Security Agency director and U.S. Cyber Command commander—that was moderated by National Public Radio journalist Mary Louise Kelly (right) at Fordham University's Lincoln Center campus as part of the 2024 Fordham International Conference on Cybersecurity in New York City on January 9, 2024.
FBI Director Christopher Wray on January 9 said the Bureau is well-postured to defend against foreign interference heading into the 2024 election cycle, despite the growing number of foreign actors and nation-states seeking to disrupt our democratic process.
"Americans can and should have confidence in our election system," Wray said during a fireside chat with U.S. Army Gen. Paul M. Nakasone—the director of the National Security Agency and commander of U.S. Cyber Command—that was moderated by National Public Radio journalist Mary Louise Kelly. The FBI hasn’t witnessed any foreign interference effort that has jeopardized "the integrity of the vote count itself in any material way," he added.
The conversation was part of the 2024 Fordham International Conference on Cybersecurity, co-hosted by the FBI and Fordham University at the school’s Lincoln Center campus in New York City.
Information warfare and election interference aren’t new, Wray told the audience of public and private sector cyber experts, international partners, academics, and students.
But the uptick in the number of nation-states and overseas players who want to interfere with U.S. elections or otherwise exert foreign influence on American affairs—and the growing array of tools they can use to meddle in our democratic process—are, he said.
“"The threats are more challenging, but the defense is better," Wray said. "Everybody’s raising their game."
The FBI Director called Russia "a regular player in this space" and said that the country’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine hasn’t deterred it from trying to tamper with American politics. On the contrary, Wray noted, one could argue that American policy on Ukraine hits so deep a nerve that the Russian government is trying to simultaneously advance its agenda there and brainstorm ways to influence or interfere with business here at home.
"If anything, for them, the stars align in terms of those two efforts," he said. "And so we have to be even more effective in countering it."
But Wray said Russia isn’t the only nation-state seeking to sway American politics, noting that other countries—including Iran and China—are also active in this arena. “They're all pursuing slightly different agendas and using slightly different techniques, but we're watching all of it,” he explained.
The good news is that partnerships are allowing the Bureau and the government, more widely, to rise to the challenge of protecting U.S. elections from foreign interference. Wray said collaboration between the Bureau and its fellow U.S. government agencies, the federal government’s relationship with state election officials, and public-private partnerships, in general, have all become "exponentially more sophisticated and effective" with each new election cycle.
Partnerships also help the American populace become more resistant to foreign adversary efforts to use chaos as a tool for disruption. Wray also noted that it's imperative that Americans be eagle-eyed amid misinformation efforts by foreign governments and the rise of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence.
"I think that's a responsibility that every American has as an informed citizen and, ultimately, voter," he said.
The January 9 event marked the 10th iteration of the annual conference, co-hosted by the FBI and Fordham University.
'A Qualitative Advantage'
During the fireside chat, Wray also reiterated the intensity of the cyber risks posed by China.
Wray said the authenticity of the bonds that exist between U.S. government agencies like the FBI and the NSA, across sectors, and with foreign partners give our nation a competitive advantage over China despite the scale, severity, and persistence of the cyber threat it poses.
"We have partners across all those vectors who work together because of shared values and a common goal because they want to—not because they have to," he said. "And that is a kind of teamwork and partnership that the Chinese government can't hope to achieve."
China might have an outsized hacking program, but the U.S. government collaboration has a force-multiplying effect that nevertheless grants us a qualitative advantage, he said.
The FBI is "determined not to let" China outpace the United States in the field of AI, he added.
"The threats are more challenging, but the defense is better."
FBI Director Christopher Wray