Our Take

To counter authoritarian information manipulation and control, the United States needs to support free expression and harness innovation through organizations like the Open Technology Fund, Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman and Karen Kornbluh, Director of GMF’s Digital Innovation and Democracy Initiative, argue in NBC Think.

Iranian state and nonstate actors, including the QAnon offshoot Restart, are all vying for influence in the United States, where they leverage partisanship and other divisions in an attempt to shift U.S. policy to their liking, Middle East Fellow Ariane Tabatabai explains in Foreign Policy.

To counter online disinformation, presidential campaigns must have absolute visibility into the false narratives that are being pushed, so they can effectively debunk them, Director Laura Rosenberger highlights in Politico.

Read ASD’s latest coronavirus and information manipulation work here.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Coronavirus coverage was again the primary through line in messaging from Russia, Iran, and China last week, with Russian state media and diplomats touting an alleged breakthrough in the country’s development of a vaccine (a claim boosted by Iran), and Chinese messengers hammering the Trump administration for botching its response to the pandemic. Outside of coronavirus coverage, Russia took aim at Ukraine, levelling familiar accusations against its neighbor for supporting far-right extremism and discriminating against Russian-language speakers. China lashed out at both the United States and United Kingdom over the latter’s decision to ban Huawei from its domestic networks and the former’s alleged hypocrisy in criticizing China over a host of issues ranging from repression in Xinjiang to security concerns with the popular social media app TikTok. Iran celebrated the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Iran nuclear deal by slamming the U.S. withdrawal and subsequent “maximum pressure” campaign. Iranian diplomats and media also criticized Saudi Arabia’s role in Yemen, as well as the EU and UN’s role in enabling the massacre of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica 25 years ago. China, which has sought greater influence in Serbia, did not mention the anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre in any state media or diplomatic posts. Russia (a longtime ally of Serbia) used its wide arsenal of Sputnik outlets to push different narratives tailored to each outlet’s target audience: In Serbia, the anniversary was used to lament the current lack of political rights for Serbs in Srebrenica, while in countries with Muslim majorities (Turkey) or significant Muslim minorities (France and Germany) the event was remembered as a “genocide” and a “massacre.”

Read more here.

News and Commentary

Recent reporting reveals Russian cyber campaigns targeting U.K. elections, coronavirus vaccine research: Last week, U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab officially stated the government’s conclusion “that it is almost certain that Russian actors sought to interfere in the 2019 general election through the online amplification of illicitly acquired and leaked government documents.” This is the first time the U.K. government has directly acknowledged Russian interference in the 2019 election. The statement came prior to the U.K.’s Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee’s report on Russian influence in British politics, which concluded that Russia’s interference efforts have been largely ignored by successive British governments. Also last week, the U.K., U.S., and Canadian governments alleged that Russia is attempting to hack academic and pharmaceutical research institutions currently working to develop coronavirus vaccine research. Australia joined the condemnation, as four state agencies delivered a separate statement calling for Russia to cease cyber interference. ASD Director Laura Rosenberger stressed that Russia’s interference efforts are not isolated events, but reflective of the changing nature of geopolitical competition in the 21st century in which the information space is a key domain for contest. (BBC, The New York Times, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Associated Press, Sydney Morning Herald, Foreign Affairs)

Hackers breach verified Twitter accounts, reaching former and current political officials and celebrities: Last Wednesday, the Twitter accounts of prominent politicians, celebrities, tech leaders, and companies were hacked in an attack that posted tweets about a bitcoin scam from said accounts. After deleting the tweets, Twitter disabled tweeting abilities for verified users for several hours in an attempt to prevent further spreading of the scam. The FBI, Twitter, and the New York State Attorney General are investigating the incident. Twitter is working directly with those affected to assess the compromise of non-public data. It stated in a blogpost on Saturday that hackers were able to view personal information and downloaded a large swath of information, though not from verified users. Congress is also demanding information and remedies for the Twitter-confirmed administrative attack. Rosenberger highlighted how this attack underscores the weaknesses of U.S. infrastructure, particularly as the compromising of government official accounts can be used to sow confusion and chaos in both election results and national security responses. (The New York Times, CNN, Axios, The Washington Post, Twitter)

In case you missed it

  • A bipartisan group of former senior U.S. national security officials urged Congress to provide additional funding to states to support safe and secure elections this fall.
  • Congressional Democratic leadership requested a counterintelligence briefing from FBI Director Chris Wray for all Congressional members, highlighting that Congress appears to be the “target of a concerted foreign interference campaign.”
  • The U.S. Justice Department accused the Chinese government of sponsoring criminal hackers that are targeting biotech firms around the world working on the coronavirus vaccine.
  • U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced that the U.K. is “immediately and indefinitely” suspending its extradition treaty with Hong Kong following China’s passage of a new national security law for the territory.
  • U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced visa restrictions on Chinese technology company employees that provide materials to regimes that engage in human rights abuses. The Trump administration is also contemplating a travel ban on Chinese Communist Party members and their families.
  • The United States is considering adding the social media platform TikTok to a blacklist in order to prevent China from obtaining personal data from U.S. citizens.
  • Facebook is planning to add accurate voting information to any post about voting by federally elected officials and candidates.
  • The United States imposed sanctions on a network of individuals and entities linked to the blacklisted Russian businessman Yevgeniy Prigozhin. The U.S. Treasury Department stated that the network enabled Prigozhin to evade U.S. sanctions.
  • The European Court of Justice ruled that the data of EU citizens is not sufficiently protected from government surveillance when it is transferred to the United States.

ASD in the News

Twitter hack shows national vulnerabilities, CNN. Comments from Director Laura Rosenberger

How your local election clerk is fighting global disinformation, Pew. Comments from Director Laura Rosenberger

Russia is trying to steal virus vaccine data, Western nations say, The New York Times. Comments from Director Laura Rosenberger

What the Twitter hack revealed: An election system teeming with risks, The New York Times. Comments from Director Laura Rosenberger

Information integrity is not just for election season: New challenges and old pitfalls facing European (dis)information sphere, Globsec. Interview with Fellow and Program Manager Nad’a Kovalčíková

Ohio elections boards getting $23M from feds, but is it enough for pandemic-plagued vote?, The Columbus Dispatch. Cites ASD research

Serbia set to join US on EU’s travel ban list, say sources in Brussels, Euronews. Comments from Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina

US appears to change policy on Beijing’s ‘unlawful’ actions in South China Sea, Fox News. Comments by Co-director Zack Cooper

How Iran’s oil infrastructure gambit could imperil the Strait of Hormuz, War on the Rocks. Written by Middle East Fellow Ariane Tabatabai and Elisa Catalano

Tough talk between the U.S. and China is making a diplomatic resolution harder than ever, TIME. Comments from Co-director Zack Cooper

Eight Chinese fighter jets show up at Woody Island in the South China Sea, Radio Free Asia. Comments from Co-director Zack Cooper

Quote of the Week

“The CCP has launched an orchestrated campaign, across all of its many tentacles in Chinese government and society, to exploit the openness of our institutions in order to destroy them. To secure a world of freedom and prosperity for our children and grandchildren, the free world will need its own version of the whole-of-society approach, in which the public and private sectors maintain their essential separation but work together collaboratively to resist domination and to win the contest for the commanding heights of the global economy. America has done that before.  If we rekindle our love and devotion for our country and each other, I am confident that we—the American people, American government, and American business together—can do it again. Our freedom depends on it.”

  • U.S. Attorney General William Barr remarked about the global ambitions of the Chinese Communist Party in a speech at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum (July 16, 2020).
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.