Watch CFR’s Instagram story on Wednesday, 2:00pm ET/8:00pm CET for an Instagram live conversation with Director Laura Rosenberger. 

Our Take

To successfully push back on authoritarianism, the United States needs to show that democracy produces results that benefit everyone and to recognize that democracy’s erosion at home undermines our ability to compete effectively with authoritarian systems abroad, Director Laura Rosenberger writes in The Dallas Morning News.

The United States should institute a federal data privacy framework that limits murky and non-consensual sharing of user information and demands more robust transparency on social media algorithms to address the risks posed by Chinese social media apps like TikTok and WeChat, Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman explains in an ASD Q&A blog post

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

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Last week, the Russian, Chinese, and Iranian networks monitored on the Hamilton dashboard covered several major news events, including the Democratic National Convention (DNC), geopolitical developments in the Middle East, the poisoning of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny, and the ongoing protests in Belarus (which will be covered in a forthcoming ASD blog post). Although coverage of the DNC was limited, Russian state media played up the supposed lack of enthusiasm for the Biden-Harris ticket among progressives and painted the candidates as part of the pro-war, Washington establishment. Efforts to emphasize and/or manufacture divisions within the Democratic Party—long a staple of Russian messaging—were most evident in a series of articles on the potential formation of a third party from “disaffected” Democrats. Russian accounts and outlets also disputed allegations (which were later confirmed) that opposition leader Alexei Navalny had been poisoned, framing the allegation as mainstream media propaganda. Chinese state media presented a more positive image of the DNC, suggesting that a President Biden would be “smoother” for Beijing to deal with than President Trump. However, they criticized the DNC for not endorsing the “one-China” principle. Iranian messengers largely ignored the convention, instead directing their ire towards the announcement of the normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Coverage of the deal was universally negative and emphasized protests against the agreement in Iran, Yemen, Gaza, and elsewhere. 

Read more here.

News and Commentary

Reports reveal Chinese Communist Party’s global network of tech recruitment: The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is using an elaborate network of “overseas talent-recruitment stations” in the United States and other advanced countries to gain scientific and technological expertise through illegal and non-transparent means, according to a new study by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. These programs recruited around 60,000 overseas scientists and technologists between 2008 and 2016, including from organizations such as Tesla and Harvard University. The recruitment stations often operate in concert with China’s United Front Work Department, the Chinese Communist Party unit used to collect intelligence, to encourage technology transfers, counter dissident movements, and advance support for Beijing’s objectives. The report associates these programs with stealing intellectual property, conducting espionage, advancing the modernization of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and conducting human rights abuses. The Justice Department has brought a series of cases against talent-recruitment participants for allegedly lying about their ties to the CCP or PLA in the past. On August 19, the State Department urged universities to divest Chinese stocks and disclose Chinese assets as part of an effort to limit Beijing’s influence. An ASD report argued that the CCP employs recruitment programs in advanced industrialized countries to steal technology and trade secrets as part of its effort to gain a decisive edge in developing emerging technologies. (Australian Strategic Policy Institute, The Wall Street Journal, ASD)   

U.S. officials continue to raise alarms of potential foreign interference ahead of election: On August 19, William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, warned that foreign actors could conduct cyberattacks against the election infrastructure that will be used to deliver, count, and transmit votes in the 2020 election. The U.S. intelligence community has recently observed state-backed hackers conducting “surveillance” operations on infrastructure that could “considerably have an impact come election day,” according to Evanina. He also said that a surge in mail-in voting might delay election results and extend the threat of foreign influence operations “all the way through November,” with countries like Cuba, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia seeking to interfere alongside separate Russian, Chinese, and Iranian operations. On August 23, Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, called for the intelligence community to release more information about Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2020 election to ensure Americans aren’t “unwittingly” being used in a “Russian disinformation campaign.” ASD Head of Research and Policy Jessica Brandt argued that confusion in the election process could be fodder for foreign information operations designed to create distrust in democratic institutions. (CyberScoop, Bloomberg News, The Hill, ASD)

In Case You Missed It

  • A former Army Green Beret captain was charged with violating espionage laws after allegedly providing information to Russian intelligence operatives for years.
  • Russian journalists replaced the staff of a Belarusian state-controlled TV company after its employees went on strike in opposition to President Alexander Lukashenko. 
  • The FBI launched a national messaging campaign to inform citizens about foreign malign interference ahead of the 2020 U.S. election.
  • The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency released a strategy on Monday to protect U.S. 5G networks from threats. 
  • CNN journalists in the Central African Republic last year were subject to constant surveillance by a team of Russian operatives, according to an investigation by Bellingcat.
  • Taiwan accused Chinese government-linked hackers of targeting ten Taiwanese government agencies and 6,000 email accounts in an escalation of Beijing’s long-running espionage on the island.

ASD in the News

With a mix of covert disinformation and blatant propaganda, foreign adversaries bear down on final phase of presidential campaign, The Washington Post. Comments from Director Laura Rosenberger and Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer

Foreign election observers prepare for challenging presidential race, National Journal. Comments from Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine 

TikTok sues Trump administration to block pending ban, Digital Trends. Comments from Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman

Time to rethink U.S. policy toward Putin’s Russia?, War on the Rocks’ “Net Assessment” podcast. Co-hosted by Co-director Zack Cooper 

Mail-in votes require special cybersecurity attention, FedTech. Comments from Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine

The future Indo-Pacific order, Security Challenges. Written by Co-director Zack Cooper

Phase one is a failure, Real Clear World. Written by Co-director Zack Cooper and Derek Scissor


Quote of the Week

“I believe we’re going to have a lot of things that occur in the next 70 days that are going to impact and influence those [election] issues, from nation-state threat actors, whether it be Iran, China, and obviously Russia. We have other countries getting in the nexus because they think it works. They want to be able to provide their optics for discord in the United States … countries like Cuba, and North Korea, and Saudi Arabia.”

  • William Evanina, the Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, during a virtual event at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on August 19, 2020.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.