Securing Democracy Dispatch

October 29, 2018

Our Take

Laura Rosenberger and Jamie Fly joined Sirius XM to talk about how to secure democracies from election hacking and foreign interference.

Laura Rosenberger contributed to a European Commission collection of “ThinkPieces” on Election Interference in the Digital Age and elaborated on the Chinese Communist Party’s influence and interference operations at the Hudson Institute.

Jamie Fly provided insight on how the midterms will likely affect U.S. foreign policy.

Joshua Kirschenbaum and the Peterson Institute’s Nicolas Veron recommended a new European anti-money laundering authority.

Bradley Hanlon analyzed “Project Lakhta,” a Russian interference operation targeting citizens in the United States, EU, Ukraine, and Russia.

David Salvo assessed the persistent foreign threat to the American midterm elections and future elections.

News and Commentary

U.S. conducts cyber operation to protect the midterms: United States Cyber Command is “targeting individual Russian operatives to try to deter them from spreading disinformation” in the “first known overseas cyber operation to protect American elections.” State and federal officials are also preparing for the possibility that foreign actors will falsely claim that they altered election results, undermining confidence in the integrity of the vote. A Unisys survey found nearly one in five Americans is unlikely to vote, in part due to concerns about foreign interference. In the private sector, Facebook and Twitter have developed systems for users to flag false election information to accelerate the removal of false content from their platforms. (NPR, New York Times, The Hill, Wired, Buzzfeed News)

Vulnerabilities still plague Facebook’s ad review procedures: VICE News revealed that it successfully purchased Facebook ads on behalf of Vice President Mike Pence, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez, and the Islamic State, among others. The ads passed the company’s internal review process and ran with the “Paid For [by]” disclosure on the platform. A representative of Facebook responded, “Enforcement isn’t perfect.” (Vice News)

Chinese influence and interference campaigns target multiple actors: A member of New Zealand’s center-right National Party accused the party’s leader of covering up a large donation from Yikun Zhang, a Chinese-born businessman with close ties to the Chinese Communist Party, in return for “a promise to add the names of two businessmen to a list of candidates for Parliament.” Taiwanese officials reported that the Chinese government is conducting an information operation to “tarnish Taiwan and spread fake news among its residents.” As described by ASD’s director Laura Rosenberger, the Chinese Communist Party’s goal is to bolster its reputation by spreading positive messaging, particularly on social media, and to gain political and economic influence abroad using its financial resources. (CNN, Asia Times, The New York Times)

Facebook tackles Iranian information operation: On October 26, Facebook announced that it had removed “82 Pages, Groups, and accounts for coordinated inauthentic behavior that originated in Iran.” According to the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, the accounts impersonated U.S. citizens and mainly targeted American liberals with divisive political content focusing on racism, police brutality, and President Donald Trump. The information operation displayed much more subtle tactics than the previous Iranian operation that Facebook revealed in August, with accounts working to build engagement through organic Facebook content rather than attempting to steer traffic to obvious propaganda off-site. (Facebook, DFRLab)

In other news:

– German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that she will step down in 2021 and will not seek re-election as leader of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) party this December, following her coalition’s losses in a regional election in the state of Hesse.

– Facebook launched a new report for its Ad Archive tool, a searchable database of advertising spending, that provides a “weekly summary of the Archive and includes data for ads that have been viewed by people in the U.S.”

AP’s Frank Bajak explains that the U.S. election integrity depends on security-challenged firms.

– Traditional cybersecurity companies are now tackling disinformation.

– YouTube claims it is getting better at combating the spread of misinformation during breaking news events.

The Hill’s Gregory F. Treverton argues that Russia’s interference goes beyond election hacking and misinformation.

– At Apple News, former journalists rather than machines, select news for people to read.

– Far-right populist Jair Bolsonaro wins Brazilian presidency.

Hamilton 68 dashboard

Following the discovery of a series of pipebombs sent to prominent Democrats and critics of Donald Trump, Kremlin-oriented accounts seized on baseless conspiracy theories to decry the acts of domestic terrorism as a false flag operation carried out by Democrats. Focus on this fringe conspiracy theory propelled hashtags such as “falseflag,” “fakebombgate,” and “magabomber” into the top and trending lists on the dashboard. Pro-Kremlin accounts also promoted misleading and inaccurate articles asserting that George Soros organized a migrant caravan approaching the southern U.S. border.

Quote of the Week

“We are quite concerned about the role of China, not only in repressing its own citizens, but also in trying to export its influence beyond its borders.”

Michael Abramowitz, President, Freedom House

The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.