Our Take

To compete with authoritarian regimes like China in AI, the United States should work with its democratic allies to develop more competitive strategies that play to its strengths, Andrew Imbrie, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, argued in a new ASD report.

The authors of the Trump administration’s new China strategy faced an impossible task. They had to build a coherent and consistent approach to China out of an incoherent and inconsistent set of administration positions and actions, Co-Director Zack Cooper explained in War on the Rocks.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Besides ongoing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, there was little narrative overlap in messaging from Russian, Chinese, and Iranian government officials and state media this week. For most of the week, Russia’s messengers covered topics closer to home, with Victory Day celebrations receiving significant coverage, particularly on Twitter. Russian state media also continued to stir up controversies related to Joe Biden and Ukraine, with a series of tweets and articles alleging malfeasance by the former vice president and presumptive democratic presidential nominee. The big news of the week was the allegation by The New York Times that Russian military intelligence covertly paid bounties to the Taliban for attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan. Although much of the Kremlin’s response occurred outside the date range of this report, initial denials followed a familiar pattern, with the Russian Embassy in the United States labelling the report “fake news” and RT calling it a “spy fantasy.” Chinese government officials and state media last week covered simmering tensions with India, but their most aggressive messaging targeted the United States— particularly after President Trump referred to the coronavirus as the “Kung Flu” at a campaign event in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Finally, Iranian messengers continued to criticize the United States over racial and gender-based injustice, while also taking aim at American allies France and Israel. Venezuela also remained a popular topic, with emphasis placed on Iranian efforts to support the Maduro regime in the face of U.S. sanctions.

Read more here.

News and Commentary

Increases in mail-in ballots lead to longer vote counts in primaries: Last Tuesday, New York, Kentucky, and Virginia held statewide primaries where surges in absentee voting, particularly in New York and Kentucky, led to longer processing times for ballots. Kentucky’s mail-in ballots are expected to make up over 50 percent of the election returns, while New York officials received 1.7 million absentee ballot requests as of June 23rd, both marking significant increases from previous elections. Some counties in both states are not expected to count mail-in ballot returns until this week, and mail ballot results are tentatively set to be released by both states on June 30. The long processing times in New York and Kentucky mark a continued trend of increased mail-in participation and slower reporting of election results that could persist through the presidential election in November. Election experts have noted that such long processing times are not evidence of fraud or poorly conducted elections; however, foreign adversaries may still try to exploit perceived delays to undermine confidence in U.S. elections. ASD Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine argued that states should allow election officials, when possible, to begin processing mail-in ballots before Election Day to speed up vote counting and help ensure confidence in results. (The New York Times, AP, Los Angeles Times, Politico, NPR, Washington Post)

Bipartisan groups of U.S. Senators propose legislation to target the legal protections of social media platforms: Two separate bipartisan groups of senators are sponsoring pieces of legislation that would modify protections afforded to social media companies in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields platforms from liability for illegal content posted by users. The first piece of bipartisan legislation, the PACT Act, would require more transparency from social media platforms in their content moderation practices and would mandate the removal of illegal material within 24 hours. The second bill, the EARN IT Act, would impose civil liability on platforms that do not adequately crack down on child sexual abuse content, directly targeting platforms’ liability protections under Section 230. EARN IT has come under criticism from the tech industry and First Amendment groups for threatening user privacy and for the risks it could pose to the use of end-to-end encryption. ASD Director Laura Rosenberger and Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman have emphasized the need for democracies to advance a robust information environment that prioritizes quality content, while approaching regulation carefully to avoid mirroring authoritarian regimes’ methods of information control. (Legal Information Institute, The Verge, Senate.gov, The Washington Post, United States Congress, Politico, Lawfare, Gizmodo, The Washington Quarterly)

Chinese government targets non-English speaking journalists to expand its influence, study finds: The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is attempting to use foreign journalists in an effort to reshape the global news landscape and promote its policies abroad, according to a report by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). In a survey of 58 journalism unions, IFJ found that the CCP most commonly targets journalists from developing nations and nations involved in China’s Belt and Road Initiative. It reportedly targets these journalists through journalism exchanges, control of media infrastructure, and the provision of pro-CCP content in foreign languages, including Italian, Portuguese, and Arabic. Such influence operations aim to suppress narratives that contradict Beijing and to embed CCP-approved perspectives in foreign media ecosystems. According to an ASD report, the CCP often cooperates with or co-opts foreign media outlets to launder pro-CCP narratives through perceived credible or neutral individuals in order to further align foreign discourse, norms, and rules with those of the party. (The Guardian, International Federal of Journalists, ASD)

In case you missed it

  • As companies continue to boycott ad placements on Facebook, the tech company will begin rolling out new labels on political content that violate its policies; although, it will still allow users to share some of the labelled content.
  • India banned multiple Chinese apps, including TikTok and WeChat, citing cybersecurity concerns after a clash between the two countries earlier this month.
  • Fifteen Senate Democrats signed a letter calling on the Trump administration to establish a congressionally mandated office to coordinate government efforts to counter foreign influence ahead of the 2020 election.
  • The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center reported a spike in cyber threats using the coronavirus crisis to target Americans.
  • Led by the Cyberspace Solarium Commissioners, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House of Representatives introduced the National Cyber Director Act to create the position of a National Cyber Director within the White House.
  • Less than a week after the U.S. Senate passed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which would impose mandatory sanctions on people or companies that back efforts to restrict Hong Kong’s autonomy, the Chinese government passed a new controversial national security law that empowers authorities to crack down on opposition in Hong Kong.

ASD in the News

Election Night is turning into election week amid surge in mail-in voting, The Washington Post. Comments from Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine

Domestic disinformation, foreign focus on George Floyd’s death create a tinderbox for unrest, Minneapolis Star Tribune. Comments from Digital Media and Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer

Israel’s annexation of the West Bank would be a gift to Iran, Foreign Policy. Written by Middle East Fellow Ariane Tabatabai and Henry Rome  

What’s next for NATO in a digital age?, Women in International Security. Comments from Fellow and Program Manager Nad’a Kovalčíková

Because of COVID-19: EU threatens USA with entry ban (German), Euronews. Comments from Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina

Quote of the Week

“We have to work together to continue the transatlantic awakening to the China challenge in the interest of preserving our free societies, our prosperity, and our future. It won’t be easy. It’s tempting for many, particularly in our business communities, who make money in China to say we must calm tensions and simply accept an increasingly belligerent CCP. That’s nonsense. I don’t accept that argument. There is no compromise between freedom and authoritarianism.”

  • U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the German Marshall Fund’s Brussels Forum, announcing the United States’ acceptance of High Representative Borrell’s proposal to create a U.S.-EU Dialogue on China (June 25, 2020).
Newsletter Sign Up

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