Home Mark Warner: Ukraine-Russia politics, TikTok ownership, all linked to 2024 election
Politics, US & World

Mark Warner: Ukraine-Russia politics, TikTok ownership, all linked to 2024 election

Chris Graham
mark warner
(© mark reinstein – shutterstock.com)

Ukraine funding, the proposed TikTok ban, it all runs together, if you listen to U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

But then, Warner used to refer to himself as a “radical centrist,” and is still one of the few people in elected politics who doesn’t think bipartisanship is a dirty word.

So, that Republicans don’t want to back Ukraine against Vladimir Putin, and Democrats have misgivings about trying to force the Chinese Communist Party to divest itself of TikTok, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to Warner, because he sees the issues as being part of something bigger.

First, on Ukraine: “Ukraine is critical. If we don’t honor this commitment, we could see American forces in harm’s way, I think within a couple of years, because Putin will not stop at Ukraine’s border, and the adjacent states, the Baltic nations and Poland, are all NATO members,” Warner told reporters on a conference call last week.

Then, on TikTok: “I don’t underestimate TikTok’s aggressive tactics, both in terms of lobbying, or advertising or, frankly, putting out misinformation and disinformation,” Warner said, adding a little later: “This is a national security threat. China is literally has the potential to take up a lot of American data, has the potential to use TikTok as a, frankly, a more powerful propaganda tool than any of our existing American networks. And again, remember, at the end of the day, it is controlled by the Communist Party of China, and that is a huge concern.”

Warner has been the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee for seven years, and has been instrumental in the committee’s efforts to investigate foreign interference in recent U.S. elections, starting with the 2016 presidential election.

Russia and China, along with Iran, our top three foreign adversaries, have been found to have initiated several election-interference programs, and are expected to be players again in our 2024 election cycle.

And to that point, it’s already happening.

“We continue to see, and there’s plenty of public reporting about how Russia continues to spread misinformation and disinformation. They love to see America in conflict,” Warner said. “It’s clear in this election cycle, and the intelligence community is completely clear on this, is that China, Russia, Iran, and potentially other nation-states, will try to intervene because it’s effective and cheap.

“In a time, now, unfortunately, where Americans are so polarized, and so many people are willing to believe almost anything, and are suspicious of an even our electoral system, that, combined with these new artificial intelligence tools, particularly around deep fakes, having your voice or my face appear and in, say things that we don’t really say, could be catastrophic.

“I think it’s pretty clear, at least based upon past efforts and comments, that Putin has made himself, he’s got a pretty clear choice in terms of how he’d like to see elections play out in America this year. So, I am concerned, I am concerned about Russia’s efforts,” Warner said.

A reporter asked Warner if this interest of Putin in the outcome of our elections is behind why Republicans are holding the line on funding for Ukraine to fight back against Russia’s two-years-and-counting invasion – if, basically, it’s Putin is incentivizing the GOP to do its bidding in Congress.

“We have no evidence of that,” Warner said.

Interesting, evasive, legalese answer there, eh?

(© chathuporn – stock.adobe.com)

The issues raised by Democrats on TikTok – that it’s widely used, by an estimated 170 million Americans, more than half the population; that potentially millions of people who rely on the app for at least part of the way they make a living – are no doubt valid.

“There’s a lot of people who are social influencers who make the money off of that. I think that’s all great. And I think that creativity and that platform should be able to continue, it should just not be ultimately controlled by an adversary like the Chinese Communist Party,” Warner said.

“The ability in the magic of TikTok is that it kind of knows what you like before you know what you like. The ability for that algorithm that spits out what video you see next could be used as a tremendous propaganda tool. For the CCP, we’re in an election year in America, you could end up seeing messages that might say, well, Taiwan is actually part of China, or Putin has a right to Ukraine. And when young people in huge numbers, look to get all their news from TikTok, that is an enormous national security threat,” Warner said.

Warner and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, have vowed to give the TikTok ban bill that passed the House earlier this month a full hearing.

“There may need to be certain changes made,” Warner said. “But I think, you know, having this debate on the floor of the Senate is making sure people realize what’s at stake, that we’re not trying to eliminate something that a lot of people like, but we’re just trying to make sure that ultimately that control is not held by the Communist Party of China.”

Which is using its hold over U.S. TikTok users to its advantage.

“TikTok’s heavy-handed tactics last week of soliciting user information, and then almost forcing TikTok users to call their congressmen, was so heavy-handed, and it showed how that platform could be abused,” Warner said. “Think if they made that same decision a week before the election and sent out information that said, well, the date for the election has been changed, or we’re going to change or put forward views on a particularly politically hot topic.

“I mean, we should remember, China does not allow Facebook or Google or other American social media companies to be to operate in China,” Warner said. “We would never say it’s OK for an adversarial nation to buy Fox News or MSNBC, but that’s the equivalent of what we have right now. We have a platform that 170 million Americans use, and TikTok’s information is that they’re on there about 90 minutes a day. That’s a lot more time that folks spend on any individual cable channel on average, controlled by an adversary. There’s got to be a change here.”

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].