Our Take

As countries rush to change their electoral systems to account for the coronavirus pandemic, challenges to Poland’s recent elections provide some lessons for others, Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine, Fellow and Program Manager Nad’a Kovalčíková, and Brussels Trainee Daniel Tincu explain in an ASD blog post.

With modest changes, the United States can substantially grow its capacity to govern strategic industries and put their technological products to use for the public good, Christopher Kirchhoff, a senior fellow at Schmidt Futures, writes in a new ASD report. He lays out three reforms that will help the United States anticipate and capitalize on technology-driven shifts in the strategic environment.

In the wake of the parliamentary report on Russia, the U.K. should adopt Australia’s three-step playbook to respond to malign financial interference in its democracy, Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph argues in a

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

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

The Russian, Chinese, and Iranian networks monitored on Hamilton showed little topical overlap last week, save for the ever-present coverage of the coronavirus. Russian state-backed media and government officials pushed back on the U.K. Russia report, claiming that it lacked evidence and contained nothing significant. RT also reacted to Labour leader Keir Starmer’s call for RT’s U.K. broadcast license to be reviewed following the Russia report’s publication, returning to its typical claims that doing so would amount to censorship and is an example of Russophobia. Meanwhile, China’s information network focused on the tit-for-tat closures of Chinese and U.S. consulates in Houston and Chengdu, respectively. #Chengdu was the ninth most-used hashtag by government and diplomatic accounts, and four out of the ten most-shared stories on Facebook were about the Houston closure. Major themes in Iranian state-backed outlets and accounts last week included ongoing attacks against the United States over the killing of Maj. Gen. Soleimani, interwoven with commentary comparing (unfavorably) the U.S. role in Iraq and Syria with Iran’s. There was also substantial coverage of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s remarks about growing tension with China, with Iran framing itself as a key leader of opposition to the United States globally.

Read more here.

News and Commentary

U.K. Parliament publishes report on Russian interference: On July 21, the U.K. Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee published its long-awaited report on Russian interference in recent U.K. elections. The report covered a range of Russian tactics, including cyberwarfare and disinformation, but was especially focused on the U.K.’s vulnerability to foreign influence via malign finance. The report emphasized how tightly enmeshed Kremlin-connected business interests are in the U.K. system, noting that any action taken by the U.K. government to address this issue could only limit damage already done. Commentators have highlighted the ecosystem of “enablers,” including public relations agents, lawyers, and estate agents, that have helped guide the inflow of Kremlin-linked money into the country. Experts have also noted the part played by the U.K. investor visa program in facilitating malign activity. In response to the report, Fellow for Malign Finance Josh Rudolph recommended that the U.K. draw on the Australian model for countering malign finance, which would include increased the enforcement of financial regulations, the establishment of a foreign agent registration system, and the prioritization of other counter-foreign malign finance efforts. (Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, The New York Times, Bloomberg, GMF)

U.S. Senate report calls out China’s “digital authoritarianism” as diplomatic row escalates: Democratic staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee published a report on July 21 highlighting how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is using economic, political, and coercive means to shape the digital domain in ways that cater to authoritarianism. The report calls on the United States to work with allies and like-minded nations to develop a strategic response to prevent the CCP from solidifying an authoritarian future for cyberspace. Meanwhile, on July 22, the U.S. State Department ordered the Chinese Foreign Ministry to close down its consulate in Houston, citing “illegal spying and influence operations.” The Chinese government quickly responded, ordering the closing of the U.S. consulate in Chengdu as a “legitimate and necessary response.” As a past ASD report highlights, successfully countering the CCP’s efforts to solidify an authoritarian-friendly world order will require the United States to build resilience against Chinese interference, cooperate with allies and partners to expose and deter malign activity, and develop the capability to successfully compete against the techno-authoritarian model in shaping global norms. (Reuters, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, CNN, The Guardian, ASD)

In case you missed it

  • Court filings revealed that a Chinese researcher wanted by the FBI for lying about an affiliation with the Chinese military is believed to be sheltering at the Chinese consulate in San Francisco.
  • Twitter banned 7,000 accounts related to the QAnon conspiracy theory for violating its terms of service, while promising to take further action to limit the spread of the group on the platform.
  • The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science Foundation announced a $75 million investment to establish three new quantum computing centers.
  • French authorities have reportedly told telecoms operators to begin phasing out Huawei 5G equipment.
  • Twitter announced that the hackers who breached its system earlier this month had accessed the direct messages of 36 accounts, including the account of a Dutch elected official.
  • The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee unanimously advanced a bill to ban Chinese-owned app TikTok from government devices.

ASD in the News

The true nature of disinformation, CNN. Interview with Director Laura Rosenberger

“No one” protected British democracy from Russia, U.K. report concludes, The New York Times. Comments from Director Laura Rosenberger

Australia is having a strategy revolution, and it’s all about China,  Foreign Policy. Written by Co-director Zack Cooper and Charles Edel

National security podcast: Great power competition with Ali Wyne, Asia and the Pacific Policy Society. Interview with Non-resident Fellow Katherine Mansted

Force won’t slow Iranian nuclear progress, but something else can, Defense One. Written by Middle East Fellow Ariane Tabatabai and Jon Wolfsthal

Early Warning, “Press the Button.” Comments from Middle East Fellow Ariane Tabatabai

What options are on the table in the South China Sea?, War on the Rocks. Written by Co-director Zack Cooper and Bonnie S. Glaser

Money and might, War on the Rocks’ “Net Assessment” podcast. Hosted by Co-director Zack Cooper, Melanie Marlowe, and Christopher Preble

Quote of the Week

“As Americans, we are all in this together; our elections should be our own. Foreign efforts to influence or interfere with our elections are a direct threat to the fabric of our democracy. Neutralizing these threats requires not just a whole-of-government approach, but a whole-of-nation effort. Over the next 100 days, we will continue to update the American public and other key stakeholders on threats to the election and steps for mitigation.”

  • Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center William Evanina wrote in a public statement 100 days before the 2020 election.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.