Announcements

Co-Directors Zack Cooper and Laura Rosenberger will join the Biden Institute at the University of Delaware for a virtual conversation on election security and combating disinformation on September 21 at 7:00pm EDT. Register here

Our Take

The true danger of digital hoaxes like deepfakes and disinformation will come from their impact in the period between Election Day and the inauguration, Non-Resident Fellow Clint Watts and Tim Hwang write in The Washington Post

Democracies must learn from each other how to close loopholes that enable malign financial activity without sacrificing the values of our free and open system, Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph said on “The Europe Desk.”

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

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Russian, Chinese, and Iranian government and state media accounts and outlets covered well-trodden ground last week, with each country returning to familiar topics or themes. Russian state-directed media renewed its years-long defense of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, including claims that he is a victim of political persecution and assertions that his charges are an attack on press freedom, as his extradition hearing kicked off in the UK. Russian government officials and state media also continued to cast doubt on the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and to voice support for embattled Belarusian president Alexander Lukasheno, while accusing the United States of hypocrisy in its coverage of the protests in Minsk. Chinese government officials and state media waded into the controversy over the Disney film “Mulan,” using the debate to rehash Beijing-friendly talking points on the treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang province. Similar arguments were voiced by RT talking head and former UK Member of Parliament George Galloway, who defended China (and Disney) against “one of the greatest hoaxes in modern times” in an RT America segment. Iranian messengers used the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in the United States to remind readers of Saudi complicity in the attack, as well as of President Trump’s links to the Saudi regime.

Read more here.

News and Commentary

Cyberattacks target presidential campaigns, election-related advocacy organizations and think tanks: On September 10, Microsoft announced it had detected attempts from Russian, Chinese, and Iranian hackers to penetrate email accounts affiliated with the campaigns of President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, along with other advocacy organizations and think tanks, including ASD’s parent organization the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Among other findings, the announcement notes that Chinese hackers are focusing their attacks primarily on email accounts associated with the Biden campaign. Microsoft’s announcement comes on the heels of an intelligence community assessment, which states that the Chinese government has been expanding its influence efforts ahead of Election Day and allegedly prefers that Biden win the election. Despite reports of foreign interference attempts, there have been no signs of hacks on the computer systems used to record and count votes, according to a top U.S. election official. Also last week, the House Intelligence Committee announced it had received a whistleblower complaint from senior DHS official Brian Murphy in which he claimed that he was instructed to cease intelligence reports on the threat of Russian interference in the 2020 election, in part because it “made the President look bad.” Murphy, the former head of the intelligence division at DHS, was recently reassigned after reporting revealed his office had compiled intelligence reports on protestors and journalists in Portland, Oregon. Director Laura Rosenberger, former Co-director Jamie Fly, and Deputy Director David Salvo have argued that the U.S. government must separate politics from efforts to unmask and respond to operations against the U.S. electoral process. (Microsoft, The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, CNBC, The Washington Post, Politico, ASD).

Treasury Department sanctions Russia-linked individuals, citing election interference: Last week, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on four individuals, including Ukrainian lawmaker Andreii Derkach, accusing them of working as active Russian agents “attempting to influence the U.S. electoral process.” According to the announcement, Derkach has waged “a covert influence campaign” since late 2019, including by releasing edited audio recordings designed to damage the candidacy of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Last month, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence cited Derkach in an assessment that warned that Russia, China, and Iran are actively seeking to interfere in the election. In addition to Derkach, the Treasury Department announced sanctions against three employees of the Internet Research Agency (IRA), the Russian government-linked disinformation unit sanctioned for targeting the 2016 U.S. election. The IRA employees were accused of conspiring to steal the identities of Americans in order to open bank and cryptocurrency accounts to support IRA information operations and for personal benefit. ASD Director Laura Rosenberger has argued that sanctions are a useful tool to raise the cost of authoritarian interference and could help deter future interference operations. (The New York Times, The Treasury Department, The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, CNN, ASD) 

In Case You Missed It

  • A company with ties to the Chinese government and military amassed a database of detailed personal information on 2.4 million people around the world. 
  • TikTok’s owner Bytedance submitted a proposal to the Treasury Department to bring on Oracle as its “technology partner” in the United States after a bid from Microsoft was rejected. 
  • Facebook has ignored or been slow to respond to evidence of fake accounts being used to affect elections around the world, according to a memo by a former employee. 
  • Chinese intelligence-linked hackers have used phishing attacks in espionage operations to infiltrate U.S. government and private sector organizations in recent months, announced the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. 
  • The Department of Veteran Affairs announced that the personal information of more than 46,000 veterans was exposed in a recent data breach. 
  • The European Union plans to close legislative and technical loopholes that have allowed money laundering in many EU member states. 
  • Republican senators introduced legislation to weaken liability protections for online platforms.
  • Twitter announced that it will expand its efforts to counter election-related misinformation.

ASD in the News

Face off debate: Should Chinese diplomats be banned on Twitter?, GMF. Moderated by Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman 

Trump administration examining whether TikTok’s Oracle deal satisfies security concerns, The Washington Post. Comments from Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman 

Russia is back, wilier than ever—and it’s not alone, Politico. Comments from Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer 

Russian disinformation aims to create “widespread apathy” among American voters, MSNBC. Interview with Non-Resident Fellow Clint Watts

Biden audio first shared by “Russian agent” thrives online, Associated Press. Comments from Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer 

Russian state hackers are accused of trying to infiltrate Biden’s campaign firm, Salon. Comments from Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman

Quote of the Week

“There is no question the security of our election systems has vastly improved, thanks in large part to our election officials’ capability to understand where the risks lie in their systems and determine the most effective way to manage those risks.”

  • Chris Krebs, the director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, said this week. 
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.