Dec 4, 2023 - World

FEMA chief "very concerned" about disinformation from U.S. adversaries after disasters

 FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell (left), U.S. Fire Administrator Moore-Merrell (right) and Hawaii Gov. Josh Green tour wildfire damages. (FEMA photo).

FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell (left) and other officials examine the damage following the Maui fires. Photo: Handout/

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell told Axios on the sidelines of COP28 on Monday that she is "very concerned" about the ability of U.S. adversaries to spread disinformation and sow distrust in the wake of natural disasters in the U.S.

Driving the news: She pointed to misinformation and disinformation spread by nation-state actors — namely, China and Russia —  following this year's devastating fires in Maui and train derailment and chemical spill in East Palestine, Ohio.

What she's saying: "I'm very concerned about convergence cyberattacks with our natural disaster — that our adversaries know when we are most vulnerable and know how to take advantage of those times," Criswell said at the Axios event in Dubai.

  • "I'm very concerned about this new threat landscape that is coming into our environment and creating challenges that we haven't faced before," she said, adding that this includes the spreading of misinformation and disinformation.
  • "It's creating so much difficulty for us to get people who really need our help to come ask us for the help because it's created this level of distrust," she said. "It's a whole new challenge."

Zoom in: Pro-Russian social media accounts tried to "discourage the people of Lahina from going to the agencies that could help them," Brad Smith, the vice chairman and president of Microsoft, testified before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee meeting in September. Microsoft, along with several organizations, examined the misinformation and disinformation spread online following the August fires.

  • Smith said researchers also saw "what we believe is Chinese-directed activity, trying to persuade the world in multiple languages that the fire was caused by the United States government itself using a meteorological weapon," he added.
  • Pro-Russian accounts on X, formerly Twitter, spread misleading claims after the East Palestine train derailment that appeared to be an attempt to sow distrust, the AP reported, citing a report by Reset, a nonprofit based in London.

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