Announcements

Join us on Thursday, October 1 at 10:00am EDT/4:00pm CEST/5:00pm EEST for an interactive, virtual discussion on the threat malign financial activity poses to democracies across the transatlantic space, co-hosted by the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats. We will be joined by Federal Elections Commission Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, Hybrid CoE Director Teijia Tiilikainen, ASD Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph, Hybrid CoE Senior Analyst Janne Jokinen, and Foreign Policy reporter Amy Mackinnon. Register here.

Our Take

The results of the U.S. presidential election will have a significant impact on Europe’s relations with the United States when it comes to dealing with Iran, Middle East Fellow Ariane Tabatabai and GMF Visiting Senior Fellow Edward Tam write. They examine what President Trump’s reelection or a Biden administration would mean for Washington’s approach to the transatlantic relationship and the impact of its Iran policy on U.S.-European relations.

China’s propaganda network’s harsh reaction to the TikTok-Oracle deal suggests that Beijing may be reluctant to approve a deal that state media decried as “larcenous cronyism” and a “trap,” Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer and Research Assistant Etienne Soula write in the latest Hamilton analysis blog post.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Last week, Russian state media coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy largely mirrored domestic U.S. media coverage, but a small amount of content suggested that Justice Ginsburg’s passing and the nomination battle would have apocalyptic implications for the state of U.S. democracy, with Sputnik prophesying that it would be “the final nail in the coffin of American democracy.” Chinese diplomats focused on Xi Jinping’s virtual speech for the UN General Assembly on September 22. As a result, most of the coverage of non-UN speech topics came from state media, including a series of provocative tweets threatening war with Taiwan if it violates China’s anti-secession law and a chorus of angry reactions to Washington’s moves to ban Chinese social media aps. On the 40th anniversary of the start of the Iran-Iraq war, Iranian diplomats and state media focused much of their attention on framing Iran as a protector of the Iraqi and Kuwaiti people, and an enemy of their true enemies, namely Saddam Hussein, ISIS, and the United States.

Read more here.

News and Commentary

U.S. federal agencies warn foreign actors will likely exploit election result delays to spread disinformation: On September 22, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) published a bulletin warning that foreign actors will likely exploit predicted delays in election results to spread disinformation aimed at “discrediting the electoral process and undermining confidence in U.S. democratic institutions.” The joint announcement notes that malign actors could create new websites and manipulate existing websites as part of broader online campaigns to spread disinformation on subjects including voter suppression, the hacking of election infrastructure, and voting fraud. On September 24, the FBI and CISA issued a second statement reassuring voters that election officials have multiple safeguards to ensure voting processes will not be disrupted by cyberattacks, noting “attempts by cyber actors to compromise election infrastructure could slow but not prevent voting.” FBI Director Christopher Wray also told senators last week that it would be a “major challenge” for a foreign country to impact American voting systems and election infrastructure. On September 28, the FBI and CISA released a third joint statement to raise public awareness of disinformation narratives claiming that cyberattacks impacted voter registration databases or voting systems. ASD is a supporting partner of #TrustedInfo2020, a multi-sector initiative dedicated to promoting election officials as a trusted source of election information with the goal of reducing opportunities for malign foreign actors to spread disinformation. (FBI and DHS, The Washington Post, ASD)

Facebook removes hundreds of fake accounts tied to Russian intelligence and proxies: On September 24, Facebook announced that it had removed two information operation networks linked to Russia’s intelligence services and a third network operated by the Internet Research Agency, a government-linked company sanctioned for interfering in previous U.S. elections, for violating the company’s policy against foreign or government interference. The accounts, pages, and groups focused primarily on Syria and Ukraine, while also targeting several other countries, including the United States, by creating fictitious news outlets and think tanks, posing as journalists, and driving users to Russian-controlled off-platform sites. The networks had little reach in the United States, but did include one campaign aimed at appealing to Black communities in the United States and denigrating Democratic nominee Joe Biden. Facebook warned that the networks were associated with actors that carried out previous hack-and-leak campaigns—though the company reported no evidence of any such operations to date. Also last week, Facebook removed a small number of fake accounts and pages operated from China that sought to interfere in the 2020 presidential election. ASD Program Manager and Analyst Brad Hanlon has warned that journalists should be wary of malign information operations that often seek to exploit news outlets by soliciting coverage of disinformation or hacked information. (Facebook, The Hill, The Washington Post, Reuters, ASD)

In Case You Missed It

  • The Treasury Department imposed sanctions on eight individuals and seven groups linked to Russian election interference efforts around the world.
  • Election software vendor Tyler Technologies was hit by a ransomware attack, the most recent of nearly 1,000 such cyberattacks over the past year against government offices and contractors who operate voting systems.  
  • The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency announced that a hacker had infiltrated and extracted data from an unnamed federal agency. 
  • A federal judge postponed an order by the Trump administration that would have banned the popular video-sharing app TikTok from U.S. app stores. 
  • Hungarian financial institutions and telecoms infrastructure were briefly disrupted by a cyberattack from computer servers located in Russia, China, and Vietnam. 
  • The United States and the United Kingdom are set to announce a new agreement to cooperate on research and development of artificial intelligence. 
  • The Washington Post released guidelines to help its journalists responsibly report on any leaked material during the election cycle.
  • Google informed advertisers that it will temporarily ban all U.S. election-related advertising following Election Day, while Facebook announced it will prohibit ads that include unverified election results. 

ASD in the News

Why security experts are braced for the next election hack-and-leak, MIT Technology Review. Comments from Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer

Mail-in voting, police protests create fertile ground for disinformation in Minnesota, Star Tribune. Comments from Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer

Experts slam Xi Jinping’s hypocritical call for “multilateralism” at U.N., Washington Free Beacon. Comments from Co-Director Zack Cooper

US-Iran relations and upcoming presidential elections, Deutsche Welle. Comments from Middle East Fellow Ariane Tabatabai

Iranian luminaries join forces to say no to China deal, IranWire. Comments from Middle East Fellow Ariane Tabatabai

Data and national security, National Press Foundation. Virtual panel with Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman

Cybersecurity and election interference, Sierra College. Virtual panel with Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine

Biden says he’s confident Trump will leave office if he loses, NPR. Comments from Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine 

Putin asked Trump for a mutual ban on election interference. The White House said Russia should stop its ongoing meddling first, BuzzFeed News. Comments from Director Laura Rosenberger 

The Ansa-Xinhua relationship is risky for Italy, Lindsay Gorman explains, Formiche. Comments from Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman

Quote of the Week

“We all know that the election process will look different this year, in light of COVID-19, and we may not know the results on election night. The Intelligence Community (IC) warned that, as a result, the period immediately before and after the election could be uniquely volatile. But we should continue to have faith in the state and local officials who are responsible for the conduct of our elections and the IC and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) officials who help to protect them, and make sure that all the votes are counted.”

  • Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) wrote on Twitter 
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.