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China's "influence" vs. "interference" on midterms

AXIOS, Bill Bishop

Former CIA Director John Brennan. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

 

Axios' Joe Uchill reports ... John Brennan, the former CIA director and homeland security adviser, believes the debate over what China may be doing to influence or interfere in the 2018 midterm elections hangs on the meaning of those two words.

"The term 'interference' is loosely used. But there's a difference between 'interference' and 'influence.'"

— John Brennan tells Axios at SecureAuth event

Why it matters: At the UN, President Trump declared, "China has been attempting to interfere in our upcoming election." Pence made a similar case a week later at the Hudson Institute, saying that China was trying to influence the election.

We don't know whether either executive was using "interference" and "influence" to mean separate concepts, as Brennan does, or as a single mushy idea, they way he fears the public uses the terms.But it's clear the public took the statements to mean China was doing something like what Russia did in 2016.

The big picture: The difference, at least to Brennan, is that influencing an election doesn't cross over into illegality.

Attempts to influence the public could be completely aboveboard — like a factual statement to the press.Interference covers activities like hacking, propaganda or other components of the Russian meddling in 2016."I would assume China would have an influence campaign," Brennan says. "I'd be surprised if more nations did not have influence campaigns."

The administration has hinted it has proof that China is doing something untoward in the 2018 elections. But the public evidence the administration has offered — such as legally placed, clearly identified advertisements and tariffs targeted at Trump-supporting states — appears to fall cleanly under Brennan's definition of influence.

Read more of Joe's story here.

Go deeper: The Five Eyes intelligence alliance — Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and U.S. — is building a coalition to better coordinate on PRC influence, interference and investments. (Reuters)

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