Co-director Zack Cooper and Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer will join The City Club of Cleveland to discuss foreign interference in the 2020 U.S. elections and election security during the coronavirus pandemic. Tune into the virtual event at 7:30pm ET/1:30am CET on Tuesday, September 1.

Our Take

The most important thing the United States can do in the face of foreign interference is recognize that these operations are not about the benefit of one candidate or another; they aim to undermine the integrity of our democratic institutions, Director Laura Rosenberger said on KERA “Think.” 

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

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

The major through-line in messaging from Russia, China, and Iran last week was a focus on police brutality, racial justice protests, and violence and unrest in the United States, following a pattern established earlier this year in their respective responses to the killing of George Floyd and subsequent protests. Russian coverage of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, took on familiar themes, including emphasizing the brutality of the shooting, broader inequities in police responses, and highlighting images of chaos and destruction in the aftermath. Iranian government and state media accounts and websites used the shooting and protests to paint a picture of the United States as a crumbling society clinging to a broken model of governance. China’s coverage of the unrest was generally more measured, its key foreign ministry influencers on Twitter leveraged the platform to push out tweets supporting protestors and criticizing the U.S. government’s response. Outside of content related to U.S. protests, Russian diplomats disputed allegations of a Kremlin-directed cover-up of the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, with state media casting doubt on the poisoning diagnosis made by doctors in Berlin.

Read more here.

News and Commentary

Top intelligence official eliminates in-person election security briefings to Congress, while officials warn of threats to election: On August 28, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) informed the House and Senate Select Committees on Intelligence that it will no longer provide in-person briefings on election security and foreign interference issues, instead opting to provide Congress with written updates ahead of the November election. Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe ordered the change and said he believed that written briefings would help “ensure, to the maximum extent possible, that the information ODNI provides the Congress in support of your oversight responsibilities on elections security, foreign malign influence, and election interference is not misunderstood nor politicized.” In a joint statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff called ODNI’s decision a “shocking abdication” of its responsibilities and accused the Trump administration of engaging in a “politicized effort to withhold election-related information from Congress and the American people.” Meanwhile, last week election officials across multiple agencies warned the public of ongoing efforts by foreign adversaries to scan for vulnerabilities in election infrastructure in hopes of undermining the integrity of the vote. Regarding mail-in voting, however, senior intelligence officials reported that they have seen no evidence of a coordinated mail-in voter fraud scheme. Director Laura Rosenberger and Program Manager Brad Hanlon have urged democratic governments to publicly expose malign operations to raise awareness, reduce their effectiveness, and potentially deter against them. (CNN, CBS News, Speaker of the House, The Hill, Politico, The Wall Street Journal, ASD)

U.S. agencies take steps to improve cybersecurity ahead of the election: On August 26, Gen. Paul Nakasone, the commander of U.S. Cyber Command and the director of the National Security Agency (NSA), announced in a Foreign Affairs article that Cyber Command will deploy personnel abroad as part of a plan to gain information on potential cyber threats to the 2020 election. The statement coincides with efforts from both to monitor threats to the election from Russia, China, and Iran. Gen. Nakasone did not indicate where the military personnel would be dispatched, though he cited a similar “hunt forward” mission from last October in which Cyber Command deployed to Montenegro to help counter Russia-linked hackers. Also last week, the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) announced it will operate an election cybersecurity war room during the 2020 election. The war room will bring together election and campaign officials, social media companies, and voting-machine vendors to monitor and coordinate defenses against election-related cyberattacks and disinformation operations. CISA officials noted that the war room could be in operation for a week or longer as election results are calculated. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine has argued that the Department of Homeland Security can help states protect their election systems by conducting cyber threat hunts that assess the security of their networks. (Foreign Affairs, CyberScoop, The Washington Post, ASD) 

In Case You Missed It

  • Facebook removed a small network of fake pages and accounts linked to Russian operatives that recruited U.S. journalists to write articles targeting left-leaning readers. 
  • Black voters are being targeted by foreign disinformation campaigns on social media, a tactic that Russia has used in the past to amplify division and suppress voter turnout. 
  • Iranian government hackers impersonated journalists to target human rights activists, academics, and other members of the media with malware.
  • A Russian hacker has been charged with offering a $1 million bribe to a Tesla employee to install malware on the company’s computer system in order to steal sensitive data. 
  • Chinese diplomats helped Chinese military-linked researchers evade FBI scrutiny while collecting cutting-edge scientific research from U.S. universities.
  • The White House announced more than $1 billion in funding to establish 12 new federal research centers dedicated to AI and quantum sciences.
  • Amid rising tension between the U.S. and China, Chinese President Xi Jinping stated that Beijing is eager to work with “U.S. states, local councils and businesses.”  
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said the group of alleged Russian mercenaries detained by Belarusian authorities ahead of the country’s August 9 election were lured to Belarus by a Ukrainian-U.S. intelligence operation.
  • India is phasing out Huawei equipment from its telecoms networks over an escalating border dispute with China.

ASD in the News

Report: Foreign powers exploit election law weaknesses to interfere in U.S. elections, The Fulcrum. Covers Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph and Research Assistant Thomas Morley’s report, Covert Foreign Money

Who gets to vote in Florida?, The New Yorker. Comments from Director Laura Rosenberger

Experts tout election security gains since 2016, FCW. Comments from Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine

What does Washington know about Russia’s plans for the EU, Africa and Ukraine, TV Channel DOM. Interview with Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph

EU sounds alarm on critical raw material shortages, Financial Times. Comments from Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina 

Quote of the Week

“Auditability is a key tenet of ensuring you can have a secure and resilient system. Really what we’re talking about here is that if you’re able to detect any sort of anomaly or something seems out of the ordinary you want to be able to kind of roll back the tape. If you’ve got paper you’ve got receipts, and so you can build back up to what the accurate count is.” 

  • Chris Krebs, the director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, during an interview with CNET.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.